Sam Elliott Met His Wife On Set While He Was ‘A Glorified Extra’ & She Was ‘The Leading Lady’


Western movies and TV shows are a big part of American entertainment history. Featuring cowboys and gunslingers, the genre is beloved for its action and drama. Sam Elliott is a veteran character actor that is best known for his work in the Western genre. Some of his most popular roles include The Stranger in “The Big Lebowski” and Virgil Earp in “Tombstone.” The star is also known for his signature mustache, deep, resonant voice, and tall frame.

Elliott began his career playing minor characters in “The Way West” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” His TV appearances include “Gunsmoke,” and the television films “Murder in Texas” and “The Shadow Riders.” The actor’s breakout film role was in the 1976 drama “Lifeguard,” which is one of his few projects not in the Western genre.

In 2015, Elliott guest-starred on the series “Justified” and won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for his performance. The following year, he began starring on the Netflix comedy series “The Ranch.” In 2017, Elliott starred alongside his wife, Katharine Ross, in the film “The Hero.” The film is about an aging Western actor who spends his time reliving the glory days and smoking until he is diagnosed with cancer. Ross plays Elliott’s ex-wife in the film.

“The Hero” wasn’t the first film project that Elliot got to work on with his wife. Ross starred in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” while Elliott was only an extra in the film, so they didn’t get to officially meet until 1978 when they were both cast in leading roles in the film “The Legacy.” The couple got married in 1984, and they have a daughter together. Read on to learn more about Elliot and Ross and their 37 years of marriage.

Early Life

Elliott was born August 9, 1944, in Sacramento, California, to Glynn Mamie and Henry Nelson Elliott. His father was a predator control specialist for the Department of the Interior, while his mother worked as a high school teacher and physical education instructor. His parents grew up in El Paso, Texas, but moved their family to Oregon when Elliott was 13.

The actor spent his teen years growing up in Southeast Portland, Oregon, and graduated from David Douglas High School in 1962. After dropping out of the University of Oregon after two terms, Elliott enrolled in a two-year program at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. While here, he was cast as one of the leads in a stage production of “Guys and Dolls.”

It was after receiving good reviews for his portrayal of Big Jule in the production of “Guys and Dolls” that made Elliott want to pursue acting as a career. Unfortunately, moving to Hollywood was not the path his father expected him to take. Elliot told CBS, “I heard him say the proverbial line about, ‘He’s got a snowball’s chance in Hell of havin’ a career in that town,’ one time to my mom.”

Elliot’s father always wanted him to finish his college degree, which is something he did after his dad passed away from a heart attack. He said of his father, “He was a realist, my dad. He was a hard worker. He had a work ethic that I’ve fashioned mine after, and I thank him for that every day.”

Elliott moved to Los Angeles in the late 1960s. He studied acting and worked construction until he started serving in the California Air National Guard. He worked at Van Nuys Airport before his unit moved to Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.


Outside of appearing in films and television series, Elliot has done a tremendous amount of voice acting in commercials. He has worked on advertisements for a number of companies, such as Dodge and IBM, but most notably the American Beef Council. Elliot opened up about his time doing voice work with The Guardian:

“I did beef ads for about eight years because I love the people in that industry, and there are a lot of people who make their living in the beef world. Ranchers, primarily. Those ads pushed the numbers in the marketplace for beef up considerably … but when it got to the point where they kept asking for different takes, different cuts, different deals you can get involved with … I started to bristle at it.”

Voice work and commercials were a steady source of income for the actor, who was then able to pick and choose what film and TV acting jobs he would take. He continued in the same interview:

“My security comes from the fact that I’ve never done a job for money. A certain level of security comes out of the commercial world – that allows me to turn down the dramatic stuff, or the theatrical stuff … the acting work. But I’ve always basically made my own decisions. And I think I’ve done reasonably well. I have people that I get feedback from, get opinions from, keep me on the track, so to speak. But to me, it’s all about what’s on the page. It’s not about working for money. It’s just something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid.”

Elliott has been in show business for 55 years, and he has seen the way the industry has evolved, for better and for worse. “The game has totally changed. Changes that have been made in the technological world have revolutionized the movie business on almost every level. There are some constants that are never going to change. But from a technical standpoint, it’s a whole other world,” said Elliottt.

In his interview with The Guardian, Elliott shared that he does not feel stuck in cowboy roles due to his voice and look. He recalled a story that took place on set: “I don’t think I’ve ever had problems with my voice in terms of what people have wanted out of me as an actor. But I did do a movie called ‘Lifeguard’ back in 1976 with a director named Dan Petrie, who did a lot of incredible work. Every once in a while, he would tell me: ‘Let’s do it again, and this time, let’s be a little less south in the mouth.’ That always amuses me.”

There is, however, one type of role that Elliott does not enjoy playing. The actor told CBS, “I played bad guys a couple of times and I didn’t enjoy it. I just don’t wanna go there. There’s enough of that negative stuff out there in the world. I’d rather make people feel good, or make ’em cry, or make ’em, you know, make ’em look inside themselves and know that they’re not alone.”

A Working Relationship
Elliot met Ross onset of the gothic-horror film “The Legacy” in 1978, and they quickly hit it off and began dating soon after. They were married in 1984, just four months before the birth of their daughter, Cleo Rose Elliott.

The star told AARP, “My wife, Katharine Ross, and I both worked on ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ but I didn’t dare try to talk to her then. She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene. It wasn’t until we made ‘The Legacy’ that we actually interacted. We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together. You work past the (stuff) you don’t walk away from it. That’s how relationships last.”

Elliott told the story of seeing Ross perform on “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” He said to The Oklahoman:

“All I could do was just watch Katharine come and go. We didn’t interact at all. I saw her a lot because I knew who she was, and I was just another guy on the lot at that point and time. It was a great opportunity, though, because being an extra on the show and being a contract player (with Fox) allowed me to get in and watch ’em make the film. I spent a lot of time over in a dark corner watching Katharine and the rest of ’em work while they were in LA.”

The couple had another chance to work together on the television movie “Conagher,” which is an adaptation of the Louis L’Amour novel. The role earned Elliott a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film. He mentioned the film in his interview with The Oklahoman: “Working with Katharine is incredible for me. It’s always been. I think our time on ‘Conagher’ was one of the highlights of my career. I know that I’m always gonna feel that way.”

Elliot told The Los Angeles Times, “I think we just like making movies and having that creative experience together is the best. It’s just fun. It’s a whole different kind of energy to go home with some you’re working with rather than go home to somebody who isn’t working. It’s a totally positive experience.”

When asked what the secret is to a long and happy marriage, Elliot answered, “I think the bottom line is you’ve gotta want to be married. You’ve got to be in love with whoever it is, and you’ve got to be willing to work at it because it’s definitely a two-way street. Once you figure that out, I mean the rest of it is like riding the storm, basically.” Ross added with a laugh, “You just ride the roller coaster – and hang on tight.”

A Look At Katharine Ross
Ross was born on January 29, 1940, in Hollywood, California. Her family eventually settled in Walnut Creek, California, and she graduated from Las Lomas High School in 1957. She was childhood friends with rodeo rider Casey Tibbs and loved to ride horses herself. After high school, Ross decided to move to San Francisco to study acting. There she joined The Actors Workshop, where she had the opportunity to perform in many stage productions.

The actress spoke with Variety about her experience working at The Actors Workshop and on the production of “Twinkling of an Eye.” She said, “I’m not even sure that we even opened! It was where I learned I was bitten by the acting bug. But I actually learned a lot because we all did all of the jobs on the production from acting to ticket-taking to props.”

It was while studying acting in San Francisco that Ross got her first introduction to the world of television. “I did hear about a casting call for the TV series ‘Sam Benedict.’ They were shooting in San Francisco and wanted to cast someone local. I had two very nice scenes with the star Edmond O’Brien, so that’s not too shabby,” Ross shared.

The actress went into more details about her career in her interview with The Oklahoman. Ross explained, “I kind of came into working in the ’60s and there were a lot of television Westerns being done at that time, and I was fortunate enough to have parts in many of them. … And I had the opportunity to work with a lot of great character actors.”

Ross was inducted into the National Cowboy Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers in 2014, an honor bestowed upon her husband as well, seven years prior. She said, “I’d do anything if I could ride a horse … I’m a Western girl, and I’m very honored to even be part of the people who have been inducted into the Great Western Performers.”

The Mercury News asked Ross if it was Elliot’s voice, mustache, or rugged good looks that won her over, and she responded, “Probably all that and more. We were working together and one thing led to another. And here we are.” The couple has worked together on many projects over the years and still has a strong and happy marriage. Their relationship journey is a beautiful Western fairytale, and we wish them all the best in the future.

Elliot and Ross spent so much time working together; it is a blessing that it only made their relationship stronger. Are you a fan of the Western genre? Have you seen any of Ross and Elliot’s films or TV shows? Let us know your opinion, and be sure to send this story on to your friends and family.

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