Colorful American character actor equally adept at vicious killers or grizzled sidekicks. As a child he worked in the cotton fields. He attended Santa Monica Junior College in California and subsequently became an accountant and, at one time, manager of the Bel Air Hotel. Elam got his first movie job by trading his accounting services for a role. In short time he became one of the most memorable supporting players in Hollywood, thanks not only to his near-demented screen persona but also to an out-of-kilter left eye, sightless from a childhood fight. He appeared with great aplomb in Westerns and gangster films alike, and in later years played to wonderful effect in comedic roles.