In the thirties, forties, and especially the 1950's, if a director wanted a short, fat actor to play a windy storekeeper or a raucous conventioneer, he might well cast Dick Elliott. He was one of those actors who, whenever he appeared on screen, often for less than a minute, the audience would think, "Oh, it's that guy." Yet few would ever know his name.
Elliott was certainly short, probably not much more than five foot four. And he was certainly fat. His belly was large and round, so he looked a bit like a huge ball with arms and legs. One imagined him soft and pink, and always happy. A Hobbit, perhaps. Santa Claus without the whiskers. And like another short, fat actor, Eugene Pallette, Elliott had a distinctive voice. Not the bullfrog basso that rumbled out of Pallette's gullet, but higher-pitched, whiney or honey-smooth as the role demanded, with an "sh" in place of a lot of "s" sounds.
Elliott appeared in over 240 films. He was most often cast as judges, mayors, newspaper reporters, policemen, and blowhards, usually one who can't stop talking except when he'd burst into a loud laugh that bordered on a cackle.
As was the case with many character actors who never became featured players, not much record remains of his personal life. He was born Richard Damon Elliott on April 30, 1886, in Salem, Massachusetts. His gravestone says he was a loving husband and father. And we know he began performing in stock in 1931 and was on stage for nearly thirty years before his film debut, including appearing in the long-running hit, "Abie's Irish Rose." Other than that, we have only his film and television appearances to go on, and I'll mention some highlights.
His first movie was "Central Airport" in 1933 and he was Ned Buntline in "Annie Oakley" with Barbara Stanwyck in 1935. He was perfect for the role of Marryin' Sam in "L'il Abner" (1940), was amusing as the Judge in "Christmas in Connecticut" (1945) again starring Stanwyck, and made the most of his small role as a Whiskey Drummer in "The Dude Goes West" (1948) with Eddie Albert. Many film fans remember him best for another small role, as the man on the porch in the holiday perennial "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), who tells Jimmy Stewart to stop jabbering and go ahead and kiss Donna Reed. Often his role in a film was so small his character didn't even have a name, and was sometimes listed in the cast simply as "Fat Man." He did have a good part in the under appreciated film "Park Row" in 1952. His last film role was in "Go, Johnny, Go!" in 1959.
The advent of television opened up a whole new world of roles. An unending stream of weekly comedies, dramas, and even variety shows needed performers. Some featured character actors like Gene Lockhart and Cecil Kellaway might star in an episode of an anthology series. Actors who had little screen time in films became invaluable featured players, and a few even attained the Holy Grail of being a series regular, Elliott among them. In the fifties he appeared in dozens and dozens of TV shows, including "Dick Tracy" (1950), in which he had a recurring role as Chief Murphy, "My Little Margie" (1952-55), "The Adventures of Superman" (1952-58), "I Love Lucy" (1954-56), "I Married Joan" (1955, in which his character was called "Fatso," "December Bride" (1957-59), and "Rawhide" (1959-61). One of his best roles was in the "Buffalo Bill, Jr." episode "The Rain Wagon" (1955), in which he played Osgood Falstaff, the Shakespeare-quoting rainmaker who is secretly a bank robber. It was rare for Elliott to play a villain, but he pulls it off, making his eyes look devious and sinister -- a cuddly fat man, but don't turn your back on him. At the other extreme, he often played Santa Claus on Christmas episodes of the Jimmy Durante, Red Skelton, and Jack Benny shows.
To many people, Elliott will always be remembered as Mayor Pike in "The Andy Griffith Show." Sadly, Elliott died during the second season of the show, on December 22, 1961, in Burbank, California.
Dick Elliott was one of those character actors who were almost anonymous, though they lit up the screen in short roles. Fortunately, because of "It's a Wonderful Life" every Christmas and "The Andy Griffith Show" in frequent reruns, his fans can still delight in the little fat man.
Name: Dick Elliott
Known for: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
BirthDay: 30, Apr ,1886