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            James Ellison


            American light leading man, primarily of Westerns, James Ellison was born James Ellison Smith in Guthrie Center, Iowa, in 1910. He grew up on a ranch in Valier, Montana, where he learned the skills that would stand him in good stead as a movie cowboy. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was a young man, and it was there that he first became interested in the theatre. He studied at the Pasadena Playhouse briefly, traveled to New York (and by some accounts played some minor roles in productions of the visiting Moscow Art Theatre, probably as a supernumerary), then returned to California where he was spotted by a Warner Bros. talent scout at a production of the Beverly Hills Little Theatre. He played a number of bit parts for Warners and MGM before landing the plum part of Hopalong Cassidy's sidekick Johnny Nelson in 1935. Ellison played Nelson for eight films before being plucked by Cecil B. DeMille for the role of Buffalo Bill Cody in De Mille's epic Western The Plainsman (1936) opposite Gary Cooper. De Mille reportedly hated Ellison's performance and wanted to ensure that Ellison never had as good a part in quite as good a film ever again. In the late 1930s and 1940s Ellison did follow up with quite a number of romantic leads in a wide variety of films, from musicals and light mysteries, with such co-stars as Maureen O'Hara (They Met in Argentina (1941)) and Ginger Rogers (Vivacious Lady (1938)) to the cult horror classic I Walked with a Zombie (1943). In 1950 Ellison returned to the "B" western, this time as the lead (along with his Hopalong replacement Russell Hayden) in a series of 11 westerns featuring them as two frontier lawmen, Lucky (Hayden) and Shamrock (Ellison). With the demise of the "B" western in the late 1950s, Ellison retired from movies and became a successful real estate broker. He died in 1993, as the result of a fall in which he broke his neck, at the age of 83.