Louis was born on February 28, 1903, at 42 Aungier Street, Dublin, third child of Maurice and Leah Elliman in a family that by 1923 was to number nine sons and three daughters.
Patriarch Maurice, who started life in a village near Kovno in Lithuania, had reached Dublin 11 years earlier, aged 20, one of close to three million East European Jews who fled the Tsarist pogroms. He had walked from Kovno to Hamburg, then sailed to Liverpool and on to Kingstown (later, Dún Laoghaire). In 1910, after trying his hand at peddling door to door, running a boardinghouse and managing a grocery, he found his calling in the infant technology of film.
Louis, he decided, was to be a pharmacist like his mother’s brother. “When I was thirteen, I didn’t know what I wanted to be,” Louis told The Irish Independent in October 1964. So he was taken out of the Synge Street Christian Brothers School (presciently near the birthplace of playwright George Bernard Shaw) and “apprenticed to a chemist In South Richmond Street. I put in eight long weary years there. That was in the days before unions, and I slaved away from 9 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. for a few shillings a week.”
Formalizing his qualifications at the National University of Ireland, he graduated in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in 1924, and “like so many other Irishmen before me,” went to London, where he found a position at the Piccadilly branch of Boots the Chemist.
The pull of cinema, however, proved stronger than pharmaceuticals, and in London Louis moonlighted as his father’s representative, developing contacts with film offices and distributors. Maurice soon acknowledged that his son was the best salesman in the business. First National Pictures (later to merge with Warner Brothers) was the vehicle on which Louis rode back to Dublin and into the family business.First National had been set up in 1917 by an association of independent US theatre-owners largely to rival Paramount, and had since expanded from distributing films to producing them. In 1929, when it moved into Ireland, Louis returned to Dublin as its branch manager.
Two years later, he married Dublin-born Ettie Robinson, and the year after that, aged 29, opened an independent film distribution company, Louis Elliman Ltd. From offices in Abbey Street, it handled films from emerging British companies — Associated British Film Distributors and British Lion — and from America’s Republic Films Ltd., whose stable of stars included John Wayne, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.