One of Hollywood’s finest character / “Method” actors, Eli Wallach was in demand for over 60 years (first film/TV role was 1949) on stage and screen, and has worked alongside the world’s biggest stars, including Clark Gable, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, Yul Brynner, Peter O’Toole, and Al Pacino, to name but a few.
Wallach was born on 7 December 1915 in Brooklyn, NY, to Jewish parents who emigrated from Poland, and was one of the few Jewish kids in his mostly Italian neighborhood. His parents, Bertha (Schorr) and Abraham Wallach, owned a candy store, Bertha’s Candy Store. He went on to graduate with a B.A. from the University of Texas in Austin, but gained his dramatic training with the Actors Studio and the Neighborhood Playhouse. He made his debut on Broadway in 1945, and won a Tony Award in 1951 for portraying Alvaro Mangiacavallo in the Tennessee Williams play “The Rose Tattoo”.
Wallach made a strong screen debut in 1956 in the film version of the Tennessee Williams play Baby Doll (1956), shined as “Dancer”, the nattily dressed hitman, in director Don Siegel’s film-noir classic The Lineup (1958), and co-starred in the heist film Seven Thieves (1960). Director John Sturges then cast Wallach as vicious Mexican bandit Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960), the western adaptation of the Akira Kurosawa epic Seven Samurai (1954). The Misfits (1961), in the star-spangled western opus How the West Was Won (1962), the underrated WW2 film The Victors (1963), as a kidnapper in The Moon-Spinners (1964), in the sea epic Lord Jim (1965) and in the romantic comedy How to Steal a Million (1966).
Looking for a third lead actor in the final episode of the “Dollars Trilogy”, Italian director Sergio Leone cast the versatile Wallach as the lying, two-faced, money-hungry (but somehow lovable) bandit “Tuco” in the spectacular The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) (aka “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”), arguably his most memorable performance. Wallach kept busy throughout the remainder of the ’60s and into the ’70s with good roles in Mackenna’s Gold (1969), Cinderella Liberty (1973), Crazy Joe (1974), The Deep (1977) and as Steve McQueen’s bail buddy in The Hunter (1980).
The 1980s was an interesting period for Wallach, as he was regularly cast as an aging doctor, a Mafia figure or an over-the-hill hitman, such as in The Executioner’s Song (1982), Our Family Honor (1985), Tough Guys (1986), Nuts (1987), The Two Jakes (1990) and as the candy-addicted “Don Altabello” in The Godfather: Part III (1990). At 75+ years of age, Wallach’s quality of work was still first class and into the 1990s and beyond, he has remained in demand. He lent fine support to Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride (1990), Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story (1992), Naked City: Justice with a Bullet (1998) and Keeping the Faith (2000). Most recently Wallach showed up as a fast-talking liquor store owner in Mystic River (2003) and in the comedic drama King of the Corner (2004).
In early 2005, Eli Wallach released his much anticipated autobiography, “The Good, The Bad And Me: In My Anecdotage”, an enjoyable reading from one of the screen’s most inventive and enduring actors.
Eli Wallach was very much a family man who remained married to his wife Anne Jackson for 66 years. When Wallach died at 98, in 2014, in Manhattan, NY, he was survived by his wife, three children, five grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
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