The Cowardly Countenance of Elisha Cook Jr

One day after writing about Humphrey Bogart we are delighted to contribute a squib on Elija Cook Jr (1903-1995) who played Wilmer, the mean-spirited punk who Bogart gets the better of several times in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Cook had a weak, worried looking face, with pale blue eyes that registered terror like nobody’s business. It was a peculiar niche, but it kept him working as a supporting player for over half a century.

Cook grew up in Chicago, where he started out performing in vaudeville and with stock companies as a teenager as early as 1917. He was an experienced stage veteran by the time he made his Broadway debut in Hello, Lola in 1926. Cook appeared in over a dozen Broadway shows over the next decade, including the original production of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! (1934).

Meanwhile, he’d begun to amass film credits, beginning with Her Unborn Child (1930). Just a handful of his most notable pictures: Hellzapoppin (1941), Ball of Fire (1941),  A-Haunting We Will Go (1942), The Big Sleep (1946), Shane (1953), The Killing (1956), House on Haunted Hill (1959), One Eyed Jacks (1961), The Haunted Palace (1963), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Blacula (1972), the original The Night Stalker tv movie (1972), 1941 (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), and Hammett (1982). And there were memorable TV turns as well, on shows like Star Trek, The Odd Couple, and The Bionic Woman, which were undoubtedly where I first saw him as a kid. He also had a recurring role on Magnum P.I., on which he appeared 13 times between 1981 and 1988.

For more on vaudeville and vaudeville veterans like Elisha Cook Jr please consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous;