James Ellison in 1938
James Ellison Smith
May 4, 1910
|Died||December 23, 1993 (aged 83)|
|Cause of death||Broken neck|
|Gertrude Durkin (1937-1970) (her death) (2 children)|
Lois Bretherton (1972-1993) (his death)
|Children||Durk and Trudy|
James Ellison (born James Ellison Smith; May 4, 1910 - December 23, 1993) was an American film actor who appeared in nearly 70 films from 1932 to 1962.
Ellison was born in Guthrie Center, Iowa, the son of Edward James Smith and Ona Mary Ellis. He worked for a time in a film laboratory and while there was offered a screen test. He developed the film footage himself, and after he saw it, decided it was not satisfactory so he would not show it to the director. But the director saw it anyway and Ellison got a contract.
He spent much of his career in westerns, including a stint in the mid-1930s as Johnny Nelson, the sidekick of Hopalong Cassidy in Paramount's highly successful series. Although he was a "supporting player" in the series, his name is oddly billed the same size and format as veteran actor and matinee idol William Boyd's. Though it is not confirmed, this is believed to be because the character Johnny Nelson is very prominent in the original Hopalong Cassidy book series.
In 1936, he played his highest-profile role as Buffalo Bill in Cecil B. DeMille's The Plainsman, which also starred Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. Although this film was a success, DeMille reportedly hated Ellison's performance and wanted to be certain the young actor never appeared in a film of equal quality again.
Ellison spent most of the remainder of his career shuttling between cowboy pictures and more varied roles, primarily in B movies like Mr. District Attorney in the Carter Case and The Undying Monster. He had a supporting role in 1941's Charley's Aunt (which starred Jack Benny) and played the romantic lead in 1943's The Gang's All Here, a Twentieth Century Fox musical in which he seemed somewhat lost among the vivid antics of Carmen Miranda, Charlotte Greenwood, and Edward Everett Horton (and was the only principal not to sing a note). He also co-starred with Tom Conway and Frances Dee in Val Lewton's production of I Walked with a Zombie, directed by Jacques Tourneur.
Ellison landed another romantic lead role as Jerry Gibson in the musical film Lady, Let's Dance (1944) which starred ice-skating sensation Belita. In 1950, Ellison landed the leading role in a series of B-western movies for Lippert Pictures, where he was billed as "Shamrock" Ellison.
In the early 1950s, Ellison moved from acting to real estate. Joining fellow veteran Jackie Coogan, Ellison returned to the screen to play Axel 'Longhorn' Gates in a picture called When the Girls Take Over (1962).