Elyse Knox dies at 94; B-movie actress in the 1940s
As a B-movie actress in the 1940s, Elyse Knox was perhaps best known for the only horror film she ever made, “The Mummy’s Tomb,” with Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster who kidnaps her.
She later recalled working through the night on the abduction and graveyard scenes with Chaney, miserable in heavy makeup and wearing a strap around his neck to help support her weight as he carried her.
“After it was over, he thanked me for being petite,” Knox recalled in the 2009 book “Ladies of the Western.”
Knox, who appeared in nearly 40 movies, died Thursday at her home in Los Angeles, her family announced. She was 94.
As a model in the late 1930s, she caught the eye of Hollywood studios when she was featured as a bride in a fashion newsreel.
Throughout the 1940s, she was a contract player at several studios before settling in at Universal.
One of her first leading roles was opposite Roy Rogers in the 1941 movie “Sheriff of Tombstone.” She played the love interest of fictional boxer Joe Palooka in a series of low-budget films and a nurse in the 1943 Abbott and Costello comedy “Hit the Ice.” Her final film was the 1949 musical “There’s a Girl in My Heart.”
Making movies was “a lot of fun but at the time I had two children,” she said in the book. “I’m just a mother at heart, so I decided it was time to retire from the screen.”
Off screen, Knox made headline news in 1944 when she married Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon wearing a wedding dress fashioned from the parachute that saved his life during World War II. Her husband later became a television sportscaster. He died in 1990 at age 70.
In time, she was surrounded by her family’s celebrity.
Her son, television and film actor Mark Harmon, was a UCLA quarterback in the early 1970s. Daughter Kristin also went into acting and married teen idol Ricky Nelson. Knox’s other daughter, Kelly, also pursued modeling and acting.
Her nine grandchildren include actress Tracy Nelson and singer-songwriters Matthew and Gunnar Nelson. Besides her children and grandchildren, Knox is survived by two great-grandchildren.
Born in 1917 in Hartford, Conn., Knox studied oil painting in high school and remained an artist throughout her life. In 1981, she exhibited her Impressionist-style paintings at a Beverly Hills shop along with artwork by her daughters.
After attending the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York, she was working as an artist’s assistant at a design studio in New York when she stumbled into a new career.
“One day the model didn’t show up and they said, ‘Let’s try Elyse,’” Knox told The Times in 1981. Soon, she was regularly appearing in top fashion magazines.
While filming at Paramount, Knox met her future husband, who was taking a studio tour.
Her unique bridal gown — made from the silk parachute her military pilot groom used after being shot down over China — made the pages of Life magazine.
“Tom had played dead in the parachute,” she later said, so it “had great sentimental value.”
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