Elmo Williams, Oscar-Winning Editor of ‘High Noon,’ Dies at 102

Elmo Williams, who won the film editing Oscar in 1953 for “High Noon,” and who later became a producer and eventually head of production for 20th Century Fox, has died at age 102. The news was reported by the Curry Coastal Pilot newspaper in Brookings, Oregon, where Williams lived.

According to the Pilot, Williams had been in a semi-lucid state since Friday after taking medication for heart trouble, and spent his final days surrounded by family and friends, celebrating Thanksgiving on Nov. 24, before dying peacefully in his sleep at 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 25.

“It was a very peaceful passing,” Williams’ daughter Stacy was quoted as saying.

Williams was also Oscar nominated in 1955 for editing “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

He shared his editing Oscar for director Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon,” one of the first movies to unspool in real time, with Harry Gerstad, although there is controversy over how much the latter contributed.

In any event, critic James Berardinelli wrote, “‘High Noon’s’ tension comes through Kane’s desperation, aided in no small part by Elmo Williams’ brilliant editing as the clock ticks down to twelve. For a motion picture with so little action, the suspense builds to almost unbearable levels.’”

In 1947 Williams edited “Design for Death,” which won the best documentary Oscar.

He also worked on noirs “Nocturne,” “They Won’t Believe Me” and “Follow Me Quietly” before eventually turning to Westerns in the early 1950s.

In addition to cutting “High Noon,” Williams did double duty — editing and directing — on oater “The Tall Texan” and documentary “The Cowboy,” a study of cowboy life. On the latter Williams was also co-producer and cinematographer; his wife Lorraine, whom he’d married in 1940, was credited as the writer.

After editing Richard Fleischer’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” he went to Europe to serve as second unit director and editorial supervisor on Fleischer’s big-budget actioner “The Vikings,” starring Kirk Douglas.

In the mid to late-’50s, however, he spent more time editing and/or directing low-budget fare such as “Women Without Men,” “Blonde Bait,” “Hell Canyon Outlaws” and “Hell Ship Mutiny.”

Twentieth Century Fox sent Williams back to Europe as second unit director and associate producer on WWII epic “The Longest Day” (1962), after which Fox hired him as managing director of European production; while in the post, which he held until 1966, he was an uncredited cutter on “Cleopatra” (his last editing gig) and exec produced WWI adventure film “The Blue Max.”

He returned to the U.S. to begin work on another big-budget WWII film, Pearl Harbor epic “Tora! Tora! Tora!” He spent 4½ years as producer on that notoriously difficult production, firing Akira Kurosawa as director of the Japanese sequences.

In 1970 Williams was named VP in charge of worldwide production at Fox. He ankled that post in 1973 to go into independent production but did not make any more significant films, producing “Sidewinder 1,” “Caravans,” “Soggy Bottom, U.S.A.” and “Man, Woman and Child” and exec producing “Ernest Goes to Camp,” his final film, in 1987.

As he entered his late 90s, Williams was still active; he penned the play “The Corner Pocket,” a humorous take on the effects of aging, which was performed at the Chetco Playhouse in Brookings, Ore., in October 2010.

Born James Elmo Williams in Lone Wolf, Okla., and orphaned at 16, he eventually moved to Los Angeles. In 1933 Williams befriended film editor Merrill G. White, who taught him the basics of film editing. Soon he was busy working at RKO. His first feature credits were the biodrama “Nurse Edith Cavell” in 1939 and the musicals “Irene” and “No, No, Nanette” in 1940. In 1945 he edited the Frank Capra propaganda film “Know Your Enemy: Japan.”

Williams’ “Elmo Williams: A Hollywood Memoir” was published in 2006.

He won the American Cinema Editors’ Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award in 1971 and drew ACE’s career achievement award in 1990.

Williams’ wife Lorraine died in 2004. They adopted two daughters and a son.

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