The 1940s—the greatest decade in the history of motion pictures. One of the highspots of the era was lovely, blonde Elyse Knox. “I went to art school, then did modeling. I was a bride in a Vivian Donner fashion newsreel and it caught the attention of quite a few people. This led to a stock contract at Fox. I dated John Payne for a while, before he married Gloria De Haven.”
One of Elyse’s first leading roles was opposite Roy Rogers in “Sheriff of Tombstone”. “Roy is a terrific person! I remember he’d just come back from a publicity tour and his station wagon was filled with initials his fans carved into the car. I always liked his singing a lot. I only regret I didn’t do more than one picture with him.”
The following year Elyse starred in her best-recalled vehicle, “The Mummy’s Tomb”, at Universal. “That was done on the backlot. Turhan Bey was in it. What a nice, lovely man. ‘The Mummy’s Tomb’ was my only horror film, so I remember it vividly. We had to work all night on the kidnapping and graveyard scenes. Lon Chaney Jr. had a strap around his neck to support me. One arm was supposed to be paralyzed and he could only hold me with the other arm. I had this negligee with marabou—and one of the feathers somehow got under Lon’s rubber mummy mask. He was one unhappy actor—because he couldn’t get it out. After it was over, he thanked me for being petite. It seems some of my predecessors were a little on the heavy side! (Laughs). The day of the kidnapping scene—where the Mummy takes me from my bed, the director told me, ‘When you see him you really have to scream!’ He thought since I’d never done anything like that before, I wouldn’t be able to do it. One look at Lon Chaney Jr. coming at me and it wasn’t hard to let out that scream at all! (Laughs)”
Elyse co-starred with Don Terry in Universal’s “Don Winslow Of The Coast Guard” serial. “Mostly it was shot on the backlot. I was a nurse always dodging bullets and explosions. Don Terry and I previously did a feature, ‘Top Sergeant’ altho I don’t recall much about him; but Walter Sande was always a very pleasant guy to be around.”
When Elyse starred with Abbott and Costello in the ‘43 smash “Hit The Ice”, the comedy team were already box office champions. “That was fun! Inever knew Bud Abbott that well. Lou was more outgoing. My husband, Tom (Harmon), and I had been close to Lou’s family. He lived nearby. Lou was really a nice person. There’s nobody around today who could replace him. Lou produced a movie for me, ‘A Wave, A WAC and a Marine’ (‘44). Not a good film but some of the individual cenes turned out well. Lou looked at my scene with Ann Gillis as we were performing on a stage in uniform. I’m blind and she slaps me in the face. Lou came out of the projection room with tears in his eyes. Dear Lou kept telling me, ‘You’re gonna be the biggest star.’ Lou was so enthusiastic for me—but the director was not good. (Phil Karlson—ed.) That director made Henny Youngman talk so fast even Henny couldn’t understand himself! (Laughs)”
Monogram brought the Joe Palooka comic strip to life in ‘46. Elyse essayed the role of Joe’s love interest, Anne Howe, and recalls the films fondly, “I enjoyed making them. Joe Kirkwood was Joe, Leon Erroll played Knobby. They were a lot of fun but at the time I had two children. I’m just a mother at heart, so I decided it was time to retire from the screen. I would hate to be around today. In my time you learned your craft with small roles. They always handed you a script and told you, ‘This is your role.’ Now, you have to read for a part, over and over. 2,000 people have to approve before you get anything. I liked my era, where you were groomed.”
At 94 Knox died February 16, 2012 in Los Angeles.
Elyse’s Western Filmography
Movies: Sheriff of Tombstone (‘41 Republic)—Roy Rogers; Moonlight And Cactus (‘44 Universal)—Leo Carrillo; Black Gold (‘47 Allied Artists)—Anthony Quinn. Serial: Don Winslow of the Coast Guard (‘43 Universal)—Don Terry.