After WWII, Elam worked as a bookkeeper for Samuel Goldwyn Studios and then as controller for William Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy production company. Staring at small figures on ledger sheets for hours on end strained his good eye and doctors told him he risked losing his sight if he continued his lucrative accounting business. When a movie director friend was having trouble getting financing for three western scripts, Elam told him he would arrange the financing in exchange for roles as a "heavy" in all three pictures. The first was The Sundowners (1950), starring Robert Preston, which helped launch his long career.
Daughters: Jeri Elam and Jacqueline Elam.
Died two months after Charles Bronson.
He once described the career of a character actor. It went like this: "Who's Jack Elam? Get me Jack Elam. Get me a Jack Elam type. Get me a young Jack Elam. Who's Jack Elam?"
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1994.
Interviewed in "Bad at the Bijou" by William R. Horner (McFarland, 1982).
Made a career with his eerie, immobile eye, which was caused by a fight with another kid at the age of 12. It happened during a Boy Scout meeting when another boy took a pencil, threw it, and it jabbed his eyeball.
Son: Scott Elam.
Was known to be great at all forms of gambling. Also great at winning games played with people on sets.