The fulsomely paternal Sydney Greenstreet handed him over to the cops on a silver platter.
A “luminously wicked” Marie Windsor (above) two-timed and belittled him in what has been perversely referred to as film noir’s “most perfectly married couple.”
A crazed Peter Lorre was thrilled when he was framed for a brutal murder that you-know-who committed.
Born on the West Coast in 1903, Elisha Cook Jr. was making movies in earnest by the mid-Thirties, and was routinely cast as collegian rah-rah types — check out two Twentieth Century Fox films of the period: 1936’s Pigskin Parade costarring a pre-Wizard of Oz Judy Garland and a young Betty Grable; and a year later, Life Begins in College with the Ritz Brothers and Tony Martin.
Cook’s entrance into the world of film noir came most famously four years later in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon remake costarring Humphrey Bogart, Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Gladys George.
He played “the fat man’s” gun-toting sidekick, Wilmer Cook, loathed by Sam Spade and set up to take the fall for at least one murder. (Conveniently, the pint-sized Cook was three inches shorter than the relative diminutive Bogart, who stood all of 5-feet-8.)
He led a long and fruitful life, dying in 1995 at age 91 after appearing in more than 200 film and tv titles. He was the very definition of what we call an honest working actor. No fuss, no muss, just do your job and go home.
As director Huston wrote: Elisha Cook Jr., lived … up in the High Sierra, tied flies and caught golden trout between films. When he was wanted in Hollywood, they sent up word to his mountain cabin by courier. He would come down, do a picture and then withdraw again to his retreat.
He was a working actor, and a superb one. Let’s see how much you know about Elisha Cook Jr. As usual, answers tomorrow.
- Question: In Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 thriller, The Killing, Cook’s character is two-timed by his wife played by Marie Windsor. Who plays the guy she’s fooling around with? a) Charlton Heston; b) John Gavin; c) George Raft; or d) Vince Edwards.
2. Question: Cook’s career flourished on and off for decades, and experienced a resurgence in the Sixties and Seventies. Which one of the following films did he NOT appear in? a) Rosemary’s Baby; b) Electra Glide in Blue; c) Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid; d) Blacula.
3. Question: Cook would proudly say that in playing his character, Wilmer the gunsel in The Maltese Falcon, he was actually moved to tears. a) True; b) False.
4. Question: How did Cook really land the part of Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon? a) He relentlessly wooed studio boss Jack Warner; b) He was chosen by random from hundreds of actors; c) He shared the same agent as the movie’s director (Huston) and star (Bogart); or d) None of the above.
5. Question: Cook appeared in the movie debuts of which of the following? a) Betty Grable; b) Marilyn Monroe; c) Judy Garland; or d) Jane Mansfield.