These days, Sam Elliott is a great American legend in his own right. Though without the likes of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Jimmy Stewart, we may never have learned his name. Those are the guys Elliott grew up watching, and unbelievably, he actually got the chance to work with Stewart at one point. It’s safe to say he wasn’t disappointed.
With Sam Elliott’s career starting in the late 1960s, there wasn’t a ton of overlap between the young actor’s career and those of his Hollywood heroes. Cooper had already passed away by the time Elliott appeared in his first roles. John Wayne only had a few years left, and the same went for Jimmy Stewart. By the time Elliott made a name for himself and realistically could have landed a role in one of their projects, there was even less time.
But incredibly, Sam Elliott found himself on the set of a show called “Hawkins” in the early 1970s. He only stuck around for a small part in a single episode. And believe it or not, the short-lived show was led by none other than Jimmy Stewart. The show itself only lasted for a single season, but it didn’t end before Elliott got the chance to spend some time with the “It’s a Wonderful Life” icon on set.
In a 2017 interview with the Sarasota Scene, “Tombstone” star Sam Elliott talked about what it was like working with his childhood idol.
“Incredible. Just incredible. He was doing a TV show called Hawkins. It was right at the end of his career, and I was lucky to spend any time around him. As you said, a great American. Not only was he a great actor, but also a great American,” Elliot said.
Sam Elliott’s Work Ethic Earned Him the Career He Enjoys Today
Unlike Jimmy Stewart, Sam Elliott’s career wasn’t kickstarted by exposure on Broadway. Elliott had to get creative in his pursuit of a successful acting career.
One of the parallels between Stewart’s and Elliott’s times was the nature of studio contracts, however. Actors would sign to a studio, and during that period, the studio could pull them for any roles that came up. But even after earning one of these contracts, there was no promise of consistent work.
Sam Elliott figured out how to game the system. Apparently, the studios’ legal departments would have access to all of the scripts before any other department.
“I went and saw the script before the casting people saw them, and I would call the casting people or go down and sit in their office and wait for a minute. I’d say there’s a script coming with this number so and so and this is the title of it … and there’s a part in there and I really love to come read for it,” Elliott told Off Camera with Sam Jones in 2017.
It was this initiative that helped him land many of his roles at the start of his career.