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James Ellison (actor)

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Occupation  Actor
Books  Never Talk to Strangers
Role  Film actor
Name  James Ellison
Years active  1932-1962

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Full Name  James Ellison Smith
Born  May 4, 1910 (1910-05-04) Guthrie Center, Iowa, U.S.
Died  December 23, 1993, Montecito, California, United States
Spouse  Lois Bretherton (m. 1972–1993), Gertrude Durkin (m. 1937–1970)
Children  Trudy Ellison, Durk Ellison
Movies  I Walked with a Zombie, The Plainsman, The Gang's All Here, The Undying Monster, Next Time I Marry
Similar People  Russell Hayden, Jacques Tourneur, Thomas Carr, Ron Ormond, John Brahm

James Ellison, also known as Jimmy Ellison, (May 4, 1910 – December 23, 1993) was an American film actor, born James Ellison Smith in Guthrie Center, Iowa, son of Edward James Smith and Ona Mary Ellis.


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Ellison appeared in nearly 70 films between 1932 and 1962.

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Ellison 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.

Despite his rugged good looks and height of 6 feet 3 inches, Ellison's limited range and somewhat wooden screen presence kept him from the first (or even second) ranks of stardom. He spent much of his career in westerns, including a stint in the mid-thirties 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.

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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 that 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.

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In 1938, he played the role of Keith Morgan in the Oscar-nominated romantic comedy Vivacious Lady, receiving third billing to Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart.

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The same year, he played a charming, romantic character opposite 26-year-old Lucille Ball in the RKO Pictures comedy, Next Time I Marry, a film in which Ball had her first top-billed screen credit. He later shared top billing with Ball in 1940's You Can't Fool Your Wife.

Ellison spent most of the remainder of his career shuttling between cowboy pictures and more varied roles, primarily in B movies with titles 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 only once to play Axel 'Longhorn' Gates in a picture called When the Girls Take Over (1962).


James Ellison died at age 83 in Montecito, California after suffering a broken neck as the result of a fall. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.


James Ellison (actor) Wikipedia