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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


An Academy Award–winning film editor and a motion-picture director and producer, Elmo Williams was born James Elmo Williams in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, on April 30, 1913, to Oscar and Audra Etter Williams. In the 1920s the Williams family moved to New Mexico, where they homesteaded. After a few years there, his parents separated, and Elmo returned to Oklahoma with his mother. His father died in 1926. After living briefly in Cement, the Williamses moved to Oklahoma City. Audra Williams died in 1930, and Elmo Williams graduated from Oklahoma City Central High School in 1931. In 1932 the newly orphaned high school graduate went to Hollywood, leaving an Oklahoma that he described as "a rough place to live. The climate was harsh, money was scarce, jobs hard to find, but there was gold in a lot of the people." He joined his brother in Westwood, both working as carhops in a drive-in, soon met movie director Merrill White, and began a career in Hollywood. Within a few years Williams was making his way as a film editor or "cutter."

In 1947 Elmo Williams edited the documentary Design for Death, which earned an Oscar for Best Documentary film. His best-known editing includes High Noon (1952, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly), for which he won the Academy Award for Film Editing, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), for which he received another Oscar nomination. He was assistant producer of The Longest Day (1962) and produced the films Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and The French Connection (1971). He was a member of American Cinema Editors and earned that organization's first lifetime achievement award in 1990.

He married Lorraine Cunningham in 1940, and they adopted three children. Elmo Williams died on November 25, 2015, in Brookings, Oregon. At that time he was the oldest living Oscar winner. Williams's first autobiography, Hollywood, Sooner and Later (2002), offers significant insights into 1920s rural Oklahoma life and ranching in northeastern New Mexico, the 1930s Oklahoma oil booms and Depression eras, and mid-twentieth-century Hollywood.

Dianna Everett


Elmo Williams, A Hollywood Memoir (Jefferson, N. Car.: McFarland & Company, 2006).

Elmo Williams, Hollywood, Sooner and Later (Brookings, Ore.: Arvin Publications, 2002).

"Elmo Williams," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Larry O'Dell, "The Men and Women Behind the Curtain," in Oklahoma @ the Movies, comp. Larry O'Dell (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2012).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Williams, James Elmo,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=WI034.

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