Elmo Williams (James Elmo Williams) was born April 30, 1913 in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma to Oscar P. and Audra Odessa Williams. With his parents and brothers – Afton Bentley and Oscar Burch, and sisters – Willa Bea and Avah Gene; the family emigrated to northern New Mexico in 1915 to join Oscar’s brother Billy who was already living there. Part of the journey was made in a covered wagon.
Homesteading in this high country, the family built a home from adobes made from their own land. While his father farmed, Elmo’s mother clerked in Uncle Billy’s General Store in a town called Deadman, now called Capulin.
After his father’s death when Elmo was eleven, his mother moved her family back to Oklahoma, staying for awhile with relatives in Cement but later moving to Oklahoma City and opening a restaurant there catering to the oil field workers in that boomtown atmosphere.
After her death, when he was sixteen, Elmo was left with the responsibility of an older sister and three younger siblings to care for. While barely managing to attend high school and work numerous part-time jobs, Elmo was able to keep the children together through the bleak Depression years.
When his older sister Willa Bea married and he and his younger brother Afton graduated from High School, Elmo placed the two younger children with family members and made his way to Los Angeles that summer intending to enroll in UCLA that fall. Until classes started he worked as a carhop at a Westwood drive-in called the HiHo.
A film editor, Merrill White, was a regular patron, albeit a very demanding one, so much so that the other carhops disliked serving him. But Elmo, eager for any source of needed income, did such a good job of waiting on Mr. White that he always asked for Elmo. Then, apparently impressed by Elmo’s ability, Mr. White offered him a job as his assistant and the chance to work in London.
Merrill White was a man consumed by his work, dedicating every minute and every part of his life to his craft. Elmo, basically, was hired to take care of mundane matters, banking, errands, driving, appointments and whatever else that did not have to do with film editing. However, being at the studio each day and observing what Merrill was doing Elmo soon was picking up not only the mechanics of the profession but the ability to create a flow and enhancement of the story on film. In those days editors were responsible for editing not only the picture’s image but the sound effects, music and negative as well. It was good training especially by a master editor such as Merrill White.
Within three years Elmo became a partner with Merrill in an Editorial Services Company in London and edited “Nell Gwynn,” “To Be A Lady,” “Peg Woffington,” “Limehouse Blues,” “The Queen’s Affair,” “When Knights Were Bold,” “This’ll Make You Whistle,” “Mr. Bliss,” “Woman Alone,” “Victoria The Great” and “Sixty Glorious Years.”
Returning to Hollywood in 1940 Elmo met and married Lorraine Cunningham, bought a home in North Hollywood and worked as Feature Editor at RKO Studios on “Nurse Edith Cavell,” “Irene,” “No No Nanette” and “Sunny.”
Elmo was recruited at the beginning of World War II as Civilian Producer, Director and Editor of training, education and evaluation films for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and US Air Corps. He later was assigned to the Frank Capra Unit and co-produced with Major Theodore Geisel, (Dr. Seuss), “Your Job In Japan” and “Your Job In Germany.”
In 1947 Elmo resumed his career as Feature Editor at RKO Studios, editing films: “Miracle of the Bells,” “Twenty Years of Academy Awards” and “They Won’t Believe Me.” Elmo produced the Academy Award nominated documentary “Dear Ma” and, working with Theodore Geisel, (Dr. Seuss), produced and edited the Academy Award winning documentary “Design For Death.”
Fascinated by the new medium of television, Elmo produced and directed:
- The Hopalong Cassidy Series
- Bozo the Clown Series for Capitol Records, both live and filmed
- Packard-Bell Television Talent Test
- Dear Ma, nominated for an Academy Award
- Regal Pale Beer Commercial Series, nominated for a TV Emmy Award
In 1952, asked by Stanley Kramer, Elmo worked with director Fred Zinneman and, as film editor on “High Noon,” won his first Academy Award.
During 1952 and 1953 Elmo worked for Robert L. Lippert Productions as director and editor of “Hellgate.” “Apache Warrior.” “College Capers.” “The Tall Texan” and “Blonde Bait.” Then with his talented wife Lorraine he produced, directed, photographed and edited the Academy Award nominated documentary: “The Cowboy.”
Elmo died peacefully at his home on the southern Oregon coast on November 25, 2015 at age 102.