Biff Elliot, the First Mike Hammer of the Movies, Dies at 89

Biff Elliot 1953 - P 2012
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Biff Elliot 1953 - P 2012

The character actor played the famed private eye in 1953’s "I, the Jury" and appeared in films directed by Billy Wilder, Sam Fuller, Nicholas Ray and Jack Lemmon.

Biff Elliot, a tough-guy actor who starred as hardboiled Mike Hammer in the enduring private investigator’s first appearance on the big screen, died Aug. 15 at his home in Studio City. He was 89.

An amateur boxer from Lynn, Mass., who served as an infantryman during World War II, Elliot worked in live television in New York before coming out to Hollywood to make his movie debut as Hammer in United Artists’ I, the Jury (1953).

Based on Mickey Spillane’s 1947 novel that originated the character, the picture was directed by Harry Essex (Creature From the Black Lagoon) and filmed in 3D.

Others to have played Hammer throughout the years include Ralph MeekerStacy Keach, Darren McGavin, Robert Bray, Armand Assante and, when he wasn’t doing Miller Lite commercials, Spillane himself.

Elliot, the younger brother of late CBS Radio sportscaster Win Elliot, later appeared in several war films through the early 1960s, including Between Heaven and Hell (1956), The Enemy Below (1957), Pork Chop Hill (1959) and PT 109 (1963). He also played the character Schmitter, a mining colony crewman, in the 1967 Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark."

He was pals with Jack Lemmon and appeared in several of his films, including 1971’s Kotch (which Lemmon directed), Billy Wilder’s take on The Front Page (1974) and Blake EdwardsThat’s Life! (1986). Elliot also co-starred with Jeffrey Hunter in Nicholas Ray’s The True Story of Jesse James (1957) and Brainstorm (1965), directed by William Conrad.

Elliot’s résumé also includes the films Good Morning Miss Dove (1955), Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo (1955) and Blood Bath (1966) and the TV series Hawaiian Eye, Route 66, 77 Sunset Strip, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ripcord, The F.B.I., Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mission: Impossible, Cannon, CHiPs and Starman.

He was a member of AFTRA, SAG and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Win Elliot served as the announcer for the beer-sponsored Schaefer Circle of Sports broadcasts of New York Rangers and Knicks games and other events related to Madison Square Garden in the 1960s before anchoring Sports Central USA for CBS Radio. He died in 1998. Biff worked as a CBS Radio stringer in Los Angeles starting in the mid-'80s.

Elliot is survived by his wife Connie and many nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be planned. Donations in his memory can be made to Actors and Others for Animals, the Actors Fund or the Motion Picture & Television Fund.