Biff Elliot Official Website

Biography

(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, 1923.

     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 Gloves."

     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 of it.

     "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 down.

     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 alumnus.

     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 television star.

     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 it."

     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.

(Biography Update.)

     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.

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