I haven’t known all that many movie stars in my life.
The one I did know, I didn’t know he had been in the movies until I had known him for a while. If that sounds odd — and it seems as if there are too many “knows” in the sentence — you have to understand the situation. I came to Southern California in the spring of 1990 to cover professional sports for a newspaper in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles. At my first few Dodger games, I noticed that there was a lot of media in the clubhouse after games.
There were all sorts of newspaper reporters, some television guys and more than a few radio reporters. Some of them worked for local radio stations and some for national networks. Biff Elliot was an older man — 66 at the time; I was 40 — and he was stringing for CBS Radio. He’d go into the clubhouse after games, get some sound bites from the players and then upload them to CBS for play all over the country.
If you know sports journalism, you know that print reporters tend to look down on the electronic media. It takes a lot more creativity to write a game story than just to stick a microphone in and get some quotes. Biff was seen as kind of goofy for the long, involved questions he would ask, but he was a nice guy and I never ragged on him the way some people did.
Later that summer, I was covering the then-Los Angeles Rams at their practice facility in Anaheim. The routine was pretty standard. Reporters wandered in at 11 or so, and waited for the team to break from its morning practice at noon so that we could get interviews.
For some reason, I don’t remember why, I found myself having a conversation with Biff one morning as we waited for practice to end. I was amazed by what a fascinating life he had led. He had been an actor in both television and movies from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s, and he had some famous friends — Jack Lemmon, Tennessee Williams and Clifford Odets.
He told me a story of how he had basically sat beside Odets’ deathbed in the final days of the playwright’s life. I wish I remembered more about what he told me, but it was 20 years ago and I’m nearly as old now as he was then.
Biff's greatest role
He told me had had played the lead in “I The Jury,” a 3-D movie made about Mickey Spillane’s famous detective, Mike Hammer, and that he had made guest appearances on most of the great television shows of the ’50s and ’60s.
I was enthralled, and 40 minutes passed very quickly. When the Rams were breaking from practice, Biff turned to me and said, “Thank you for listening to me.”
I was surprised to hear it, but I responded quickly. “No, it was my pleasure.”
He looked at me gratefully. “You see, when you get older, you get the feeling that a lot of people wish you would just go away.”
I stopped covering professional sports in the mid ’90s, and I haven’t seen Biff since then. I looked him up on the Internet Movie Database, and at least according to IMDB, he’s still alive and going on 87.
I wouldn’t have any idea how to get in touch with him, and I doubt he would remember me if I did, but I’ll never forget him.
He’s my movie star.