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Elisha Cook Jr.

By Melanie


This month, I didn’t know who I wanted to write about and had a hard time deciding. Even though I am celebrating the birthday of three of my favorite actors as I am writing this, I did not want to write about them.  I really wanted to talk about someone less known and mostly forgotten.  I started thinking about characters I loved and what character actors I could talk about.  So, this month, I would like to talk about Elisha Cook Jr.  I think that one of the reasons he is so memorable, besides being a good actor, is his eyes.  He had large expressive eyes; I don’t know if anyone could do surprised as well as him.

Elisha Cook Jr. had 219 credits to his name but my favorite role of his, by far, was in 1959's House on Haunted Hill, starring my one of my birthday boys, Vincent Price.  In House on Haunted Hill, Elisha plays Watson Pritchard, the owner of the house who feels his family is cursed by it. If you saw the remake (which I actually liked), the same role was played by Chris Kattan. Pritchard was terrified yet resigned to the fact that the house will kill everyone by morning.  Pritchard is clearly crazy due to what he has experienced in the house but he remains calm and resigned to his fate during all of the insanity that happens in the movie. He is one of the best parts of this movie.

The other big film he was in that I saw is The Haunted Palace.  The Haunted Palace starred Vincent Price (who was wonderful) and Lon Chaney Jr. (who was fun but not given enough to work with).  Elisha Cook Jr. played the roles of Micah Smith, who puts Price’s Curwen to death at the beginning of the movie for his dark magic, and Peter Smith, his modern descendant.  Peter Smith survives a good amount of time in this tale, though paranoid, until his ultimate fiery demise.  I wish his role would have been larger but the film did not spend too much time with the cursed descendants that Price would be killing.

While researching the actor, I found a lot of things that I now need to see! Elisha Cook Jr. started in movies beginning in the 1930s and, as TV became popular in the 1950s, he moved into television. He appeared in a lot of TV shows that I watched occasionally but I never saw him on, such as Adventures of Superman, The Philip Morris Playhouse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Perry Mason, The Odd Couple and the 1980’s remake of The Twilight Zone.  His last role was in Magnum, P.I. where he played recurring character Francis 'Ice Pick' Hofstetler, although I did not see this show.

Thankfully, there are 3 shows he appeared in that I have seen every episode of so I was lucky enough to catch him in these episodes. Elisha Cook Jr. appeared in the classic Star Trek episode “Court Martial."  In this episode, he played defense lawyer Samuel T. Cogley.  When Kirk finds his future attorney, Kirk comments he is either "an obsessive crackpot who's escaped from his keeper, or Samuel T. Cogley, attorney at law." That seems to be a good way to describe him, as his room is filled with books, which is not something you see very often in Trek.  Cogley is extremely dramatic and theatrical when he defends Kirk.  Thankfully for the series, Cogley was able to prove Kirk's innocence. He was an interesting character but I won’t claim I remembered this episode immediately when I started writing. It wasn’t until I saw him listed in this episode that I remembered this at all.

The next show he was in I watched was Batman. Now, as much as I love Batman (especially this series), this is not one of the episodes I have seen many times because the villain of this episode is Mr. Freeze, played by Eli Wallach this time.  During the '60s, Mr. Freeze was never a great villain and I often skip his episodes.  Elisha Cook Jr. appeared in the episodes “Duo Defy” and “Ice Spy” as Professor Isaacson. Professor Isaacson is kidnapped by Mr. Freeze in an attempt to get his formula for instant ice.

The last show I saw Elisha Cook Jr. in was an episode of ALF called “We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert” where he played Uncle Albert. I remember this role much better than the other three shows! The last time the Tanners saw Uncle Albert, he was not a popular member of the family but, in his old age, he had decide to change his ways. While he had been a cheapskate who charged for “gifts” he brought, he now brought expensive gifts and offers to make dinner for the family.  Unfortunately, the shock of seeing ALF ends up killing Uncle Albert but it was nice seeing Elisha Cook Jr. in a sweeter role.

Writing this article I have found a lot of movies I need to watch, so please pardon me, I have some TV viewing to do.


Previously on Minion Musings...