(Below is a biography on Biff that
was written prior to the release of I, The Jury.)
Biff Elliot was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, on July 26,
Biff is the youngest of three brothers. Both his mother and
father, Susan and Jack Shalek, were born and raised in
Boston, his father coming from the Hub's T-Wharf section.
Biff's father, an ex-semi-pro baseball player, has owned a
successful burlap-bag manufacturing business in Presque
Isle, Maine, for the past 20 years. Biff's eldest brother is
Win Elliot, the popular radio and television master of
ceremonies, announcer and sports commentator. His other
brother, Stanley, is the president of his father's business.
The kid brother, Biff's real name is Leon. As a youngster,
his brothers called him Bith, which became Biff when he got
into the prize ring. He spent his boyhood in Everett,
Mass., where he early took to fighting in every local boxing
competition he could find.
When he was 16, Biff's family moved to Presque Isle, an
industrial town near the Canadian border. On his first day
in town, he wandered into a tavern by mistake, thinking it
was a restaurant. Two local drunks were hanging on the bar
and promptly ordered Biff out. When he failed to move, they
started swinging. Biff pushed one and he fell to the floor.
He repeated on the second, with the same result.
"They were so drunk, they just couldn't stand up", he
remembers. "But the upshot was that, within a matter of
minutes, the word has spread through town that a tough kid
had just moved in. And they put me up to fight in the Golden
Under the name of Biff Harris (he didn't want his mother to
know about his fighting), he entered the local Golden Gloves
competition in the 126-pound class. The bout was in an empty
airplane hanger outside Presque Isle and Biff went into the
ring wearing swimming trunks and a pair of 98-cent sneakers.
There were two fights the first night. Biff won the first by
a first-round technical knockout and the second by a
decision. He went on to become North Maine champion and
fought his way to the New England regional championship.
Biff was about to move on to New York when his mother
learned about his fighting and cancelled any further bouts.
Biff turned his energy toward other sports. In high school
at Presque Isle, he played baseball, ran on his school's
national championship cross-country team and became Maine
quarter-mile champion, running the distance in 49 seconds.
He was president of the senior class that was graduated in
June, 1941, and went on to the University of Maine, where he
played on the state championship freshman football team.
On February 9, 1943, Biff went into the army. He was sent to
Anniston, Alabama, for basic training and, because of an
incurable habit of talking back to sergeants, he set
something of a record for time spent on digging trenches. He
was promptly shipped to Oran, North Africa, where he learned
"dirty fighting" from members of the French Foreign Legion.
Biff was an infantryman, a foot-soldier in the 34th Infantry
Division, who walked from one end of Italy to the other. He
went through Salerno, Naples, Cassino, Anzio, Rome, the Po
River crossing and ended up in Milan on the day the Italian
partisans brought in Mussolini and hung il Duce from his
heels in the main square.
A sergeant himself by then, Biff was leading a
reconnaissance patrol in Milan, well ahead of the main body
of troops. "I've never seen anything like that," he recalls.
"The Italians were lined up for blocks waiting their turn to
hack at the body until it looked like there would be nothing
left of it. The partisans finally dispersed the crowd."
After the armistice, Biff put in six months on occupation
duty near Trieste and the shipped home. He landed at Newport
News, Virginia, and received his discharge at Fort Devens,
Mass. It was the end of 1945.
Biff decided to finish his education and went back to the
University of Maine. He wanted to pick up where he left off
three years before. But he found he couldn't do it. He had
been 18 when he went into the army and now he was 22, with
all the experiences of war behind him.
"It wasn't fun like before," he remembers. "Too many things
had happened to me."
He forsook all sports, refused to try out for any teams. He
was determined to study and try to find out what he should
do with his life.
He took courses of every kind, including -- home economics.
He wrote a column, "Scotch and Soda", for his college paper,
served as local correspondent for the Bangor Daily News and
ran a disc jockey show on station WGUY, then affiliated to
the ABC network.
His post-war collegiate career was distinguished by two
things, Biff says. Through his newspaper column, he
conducted a campaign for a five-year course for technology
students on the ground that "men who learned how to make a
gun should also learn to accept the responsibility for it"
-- and such a five-year course has since been instituted.
The second event that distinguished his college life was
that he was married. Biff's wife, whom he met in his
sophomore year and whom he married in 1948, is the former
Betty Dole. Betty became a successful new York model, is a
direct descendent of Nathan Hale and comes from a family of
Maine sea captains and loggers.
Biff was graduated from the University of Maine on June 12,
1949. On June 13, he was in New York City. He was going to
become a writer. He tried his hand at short stories, radio
plays, magazine articles for a short while, but nothing came
"I did get an interesting assortment of rejection slips," he
says, "but that's about all."
Betty managed to get a job as a photographer's model and,
after a few months, was able to get assignments that paid
enough to keep their debs at a minimum.
They found a 1 1/2 room basement apartment, applied enough
elbow grease to clean it up and furnish it and then settled
Biff's rejection slips began to get out of hand. He decided
to switch from writing to acting. He had had some experience
on the stage. Among the great variety of courses he had
taken at college was one on acting. Through a college
dramatic teacher, he also had put in one summer at the
Camden Hills (Me.) playhouse. In fact, he was a charter
member of that summer theatre and is now considered its star
He started making the rounds that every young actor and
actress in New York must make. He took courses at the Actors
Studio and walked from producer's office to producer's
office. He walked for a year ("covered as much ground as in
the infantry") without success. The only work he got
resulted from the fact that his wife had been hired by a
popular magazine to portray "The Bride" for a picture story
about "A Honeymoon Couple in New York". Betty convinced the
editors to let her own husband audition for the part of "The
Groom". He got the job.
Finally, after a year of knocking at producer's doors, Biff
was hired for a television show on the ABC station. He had
no lines to speak; he merely danced in front of the cameras
for an instant in a night club scene.
Some weeks later, Biff got the chance to read for the
leading role in a "Lights Out" television show. A friend,
Bill Allyn, who used to bring his own eggs to breakfast at
the Elliot's so that he wouldn't deprive them of their own,
had just read for the part. He found Biff in the big drug
store in Rockefeller Center where young actors hang out and
told him that the part was a natural for Biff. He insisted
that Biff to up to read for it. Biff refused, saying he
wouldn't compete with Bill. But Bill persisted and Biff read
for the producers, John Gerstad and Herbert Swope. They
hired him and Biff, in his first speaking part, became a
From that first role -- "My lucky break", he says -- Biff
became one of television's busiest actors. He appeared in
every important dramatic show -- Kraft Theatre, Studio One,
Philco Theatre, Lux Video, Suspense and many others -- time
after time. "You name it,", he says. "I've been on
For three years, he appeared regularly in leading television
roles. He was rehearsing for a 'Crime Syndicated" show one
day when he got a call from Marion Parsonnet, who was making
films for television. Parsonnet wanted Biff for the lead in
the first show of a new series called "The Doctor". Because
the part afforded him an opportunity to appear before motion
picture cameras, Biff asked John Peyser, the director, to be
let out of his "Crime Syndicated' part. Feyser agreed and
Biff played the lead in the show, "A Letter From a Soldier."
Among the millions of television viewers who saw "A Letter
From a Soldier" was I. H. Prinzmetal, the noted Hollywood
attorney. Prinzmetal saw Biff and instantly called Victor
Saville, the producer who was preparing "I, The Jury" and
was searching everywhere for an actor to play Mike Hammer.
He urged Saville to test Biff. Saville agreed and brought
Biff to Hollywood.
Biff was given 15 minutes in which to show the producer how
he would play Mike Hammer. He spent the entire night before
the test re-reading "I, The Jury" and other Spillane books.
By the time he appeared for the test, Biff was steeped in
the Spillane character. He played one brief scene with
Preston Foster -- and became Mike Hammer.
Biff's looks are deceiving. Sports writers in New England
recall that Biff's innocent appearances led his boxing
opponents to think he would be a pushover -- and they would
still be thinking that as they lay on the canvas from one of
Biff's rights. He has always been a fighter, his
mother says, remembering not too fondly how many patches she
had to put on him when he came home after a street battle.
The Elliot's (Biff and Betty) recently moved all their
furnishings to Hollywood where they have an apartment. Biff
says this is his home from now on. When not doing personal
appearances, picture and TV work, etc., he plays his daily
eighteen holes of golf.
Biff and Betty stayed in Los Angeles. Sadly, Betty passed
away in 1974 at the age of 45. Biff married his current
wife, Connie, in 1977. He continued to work in films and TV
and expanded his activities to include radio sports casting,
covering Los Angeles sports for CBS Radio Network. He
retired in 2001. He tries to keep track of the activities of
his 13 nieces and nephews and 23 great-nieces and nephews.
He enjoyed his two appearances at the 3-D Film Festivals at
the Egytian Theater in Hollywood, but basically just keeps
busy entertaining his wife and cat and many friends.