Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Eli Wallach – the quintessential chameleon dies at 98

Eli Wallach, whose films included The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, has died aged 98. From BBC
Character actor Wallach - who began his film career in 1956 after 10 years on stage - was admired for his wide range in a career spanning six decades. His portrayal of bandit chief Calvera in The Magnificent Seven was regarded by many as his definitive role. When he received an honorary Oscar in 2011, he was described as a "quintessential chameleon".
Though he was never nominated for an Oscar during his 60-year career, the Academy rewarded him in 2011 for "effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role". His films included the classic westerns How the West Was Won and The Misfits. Arguably best known for his villains, he made a lasting impression as Tuco opposite Clint Eastwood, in Sergio Leone's 1966 spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Years later, Wallach said strangers would recognise him and start whistling the distinctive theme tune.
"As an actor I've played more bandits, thieves, warlords, molesters and mafioso than you could shake a stick at," the Hollywood Reporter quoted him as saying. He was also successful in light comedy and appeared in many TV shows, including playing Mr Freeze for a spell in the 1960s Batman TV series. The veteran star continued making films into his 90s, making his last big screen appearance in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps in 2010. His death was confirmed by his daughter Katherine in the New York Times.
Wallach was born on 7 December 1915 in Brooklyn to Polish Jewish immigrants. He graduated from the University of Texas, initially intending to become a teacher. But his focus shifted to acting, and after serving in World War II he studied at the Actors' Studio, where he became a practitioner of method acting. He first appeared on the New York stage in 1945, where he met his wife Anne Jackson, to whom he was married for 65 years. Wallach made his London debut in 1954 with The Teahouse of the August Moon. His screen debut came two years later, playing an unscrupulous seducer in Baby Doll. The role earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor and a Bafta award for most promising newcomer.
But the theatre remained Wallach's first love. "For actors, movies are a means to an end,'' he told the New York Times in 1973. ''I go and get on a horse in Spain for 10 weeks, and I have enough cushion to come back and do a play.'' He became a household name as Calvera in 1960's The Magnificent Seven, alongside Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
Calvera in The Magnificent Seven

He went on to earn an Emmy in 1967 for his supporting turn in the drama Poppies Are Also Flowers, and picked up four further nominations - most recently for his guest turns in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2007) and Nurse Jackie (2010). Other notable roles came in How the West Was Won, Mystic River, The Holiday, Lord Jim, and The Godfather: Part III, playing an ill-fated Mafioso. Asked about possible retirement, he told the Times in 1997: ''What else am I going to do? I love to act."

Eli Wallach, star of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, dies aged 98 – The Guardian
Early practitioner of method acting who played the bandit Tuco in the spaghetti western and was awarded honorary Oscar in 2010 has died.
Eli Wallach, the award-winning American actor who helped bring the method to the movies, has died at the age of 98. His death on Tuesday was confirmed to the New York Times by his daughter, Katherine. In a career spanning six decades, he remains best known for his roles in The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Born in Brooklyn, the son of Polish immigrants who ran the local sweet shop, Wallach served in the second world war and learned his craft at the Actors' Studio, studying alongside Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. He worked on Broadway in the post-war years and made his film debut with a Bafta-winning turn as a scheming cotton gin owner in Elia Kazan's controversial 1958 drama Baby Doll.
By rights, however, Wallach's arrival should have come sooner. He was the original choice to play the role of Angelo Maggio in the 1953 drama From Here to Eternity, only to bow out at the eleventh hour in favour of Frank Sinatra. Hollywood legend has it that Sinatra used his Mafia connections to secure the role, which would go on to win him the best supporting actor Oscar. Wallach, for his part, always denied this.
Wallach's went on to act with Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits and Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million. He played a Mexican bandit in The Magnificent Seven and the vicious Tuco in the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti-western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, alongside Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Wallach only realised that he had been cast as the "ugly" when he sat down to watch the finished picture.
Wallach continued to find meaty movie roles, almost through to the end of his life. In later years he could be found in the likes of The Godfather 3, Mystic River and The Ghost Writer. In what would prove to be his final screen role, he cropped up as a venerable financier, accurately predicting economic meltdown in Oliver Stone's 2010 drama Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Eli Wallach, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ Star, Dies at 98 – Carmel Dagan - Variety
Tony- and Emmy-winning actor Eli Wallach, a major proponent of “the Method” style of acting best known for his starring role in Elia Kazan’s film “Baby Doll” and for his role as villain Tuco in iconic spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” died on Tuesday, according to the New York Times. He was 98.
Baby Doll 1956
On the big screen Wallach had few turns as a leading man, but none was as strong as his first starring role in 1956’s “Baby Doll,” in which he played a leering cotton gin owner intent on seducing the virgin bride (Carroll Baker) of his business rival (Karl Malden). But he appeared in more than 80 films, offering colourful turns in character roles in movies such as “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Nuts,” “Lord Jim,” “The Misfits” and “The Two Jakes.”
The actor, who appeared in a wide variety of stage, screen and television roles, was often paired with his wife Anne Jackson, particularly on stage. In 1948 he was one of the core of 20 who joined Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Bobby Lewis in starting the Actors Studio, where he studied with Lee Strasberg. Others included Jackson and Marlon Brando.

Wallach received an Honorary Academy Award at the second annual Governors Awards, presented on Nov. 13, 2010, for “a lifetime’s worth of indelible screen characters.”
His career began in earnest in the ’50s, when he achieved triumphs in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo,” for which he won a Tony, and the revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara.”
Times were lean early in Wallach’s acting career until he got a role in “Mister Roberts,” with which he stayed for two years until 1951, when Williams cast him opposite Stapleton in “The Rose Tattoo,” directed by Kazan. After playing the role for 18 months he went right into Williams’ “Camino Real” — for which he turned down the role of Maggio in “From Here to Eternity.” Frank Sinatra did it instead and won an Oscar; “Camino Real” closed after 60 performances. But Wallach claimed to have no regrets.
Wallach starred Off Broadway in “The Scarecrow” with Jackson and Neal and in 1954 as Julien in Anouilh’s “Mademoiselle Columbe” opposite Julie Harris. (He and Harris later starred in “The Lark” on TV).
Batman: Mr. Freeze
Afterwards he went off to London, spending a year in “Teahouse of the August Moon.” He then did “Major Barbara,” with Charles Laughton and Burgess Meredith, on Broadway in 1956. Other stage roles included “The Chairs” and “The Cold Wind and the Warm,” with Stapleton.
For Don Siegel he appeared in magnificent film noir “The Lineup.” He played a bad guy, and did the same in “Seven Thieves” and “The Magnificent Seven.” In 1960 he joined the cast of John Huston’s “The Misfits” with Gable, Monroe, Clift and Thelma Ritter. Over the next decade he appeared in supporting roles in a wide variety of films, including “How the West Was Won,” “The Victors,” “Act One,” “Lord Jim,” “How to Steal a Million,” “MacKenna’s Gold,” “A Lovely Way to Die,” “How to Save a Marriage,” “The Brain” (in French and English) and Sergio Leone’s classic “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Stage work was also satisfying, including Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” with Zero Mostel and Jackson, “Brecht on Brecht,” Murray Schisgal’s “The Tiger and the Typist” (which he and Jackson made into a film in 1967 called “The Tiger Makes Out”) and “Luv.” They later did “The Typist” on television. Also for TV he did Reginald Rose’s drama “Dear Friends” on “CBS Playhouse” (drawing an Emmy nomination), Clifford Odets’ “Paradise Lost” and “20 Shades of Pink.” He played Mr. Freeze on two episodes of “Batman.” He won an Emmy for his role in the TV film “Poppies Are Also Flowers.”

Through the ’70s he did several more spaghetti Westerns, as well as films including “The Angel Levine,” “Cinderella Liberty,” “The Deep,” “Nasty Habits,” “Movie, Movie,” “Winter Kills” and “Girlfriends.”

He also flourished in telepics such as “The Wall,” “The Executioner’s Song,” “The Pirate” and “Seventh Avenue,” while achieving a triumph with Jackson in 1973 in Anouilh’s “Waltz of the Toreadors.”
In the late ’70s, Wallach and Jackson toured in “The House of Blue Leaves” and a revival of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with their two daughters.
He began to slow down in the ’80s but still turned in some good work in “Tough Guys,” “Nuts” and 1990’s “The Two Jakes” and “The Godfather: Part III,” and on the smallscreen he picked up another Emmy nom for the movie “Something in Common” with Ellen Burstyn. Well into his 90s Wallach continued to draw supporting roles in prestige features, appearing in “Mystic River” (though uncredited), Lasse Hallstrom’s “The Hoax,” a segment of “New York, I Love You” as well as Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” and Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” both in 2010.
Eli reunited with McQueen in The Hunter
The actor continued to do occasional TV work, guesting, for example, on “Law and Order” in 1992, on Sidney Lumet’s “100 Centre Street” in 2001, on “ER” in 2003, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” in 2006 and “Nurse Jackie” in 2009 (drawing two more Emmy noms for these last two perfs); he recurred on “The Education of Max Bixford” in 2002. More frequently he did voiceover work, including for 2006 Oscar-winning animated short “The Moon and the Son.”
The Brooklyn-born Wallach was educated at the U. of Texas and City College of New York, where he received his B.A. and M.S. in education. Though he felt the odds were against him — “I was a little guy,” he wrote in a New Yorker self-profile — he started studying acting as an avocation. 
But his thespic ambitions were cut short by the draft. He entered the Army in 1941 and was a Medical Corps administrator for more than four years, serving in the Pacific and Europe and achieving the rank of captain by the time of his discharge. One of his first acting jobs out of the Army in 1945 was in an Equity Library Theater production of Tennessee Williams’ one-act “This Property Is Condemned.” Also in the play was young actress Anne Jackson, whom he married in 1948.
His Broadway debut came at the end of 1945 in the drama “Skydrift.” The following year he joined the American Repertory Theater, performing Shakespeare, Shaw and even “Alice in Wonderland,” in which he played a duck and the Two of Spades. His stage career took off in the early ’50s.
In 2005, the actor released his wittily titled autobiography, “The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage.”
Wallach and Jackson had three children, Peter David, Roberta and Katherine.

'Good, the Bad and the Ugly' Star Eli Wallach Dies at 98 – Mike Barns – The Hollywood Reporter
The character actor from Brooklyn was at his best playing banditos in that Clint Eastwood classic as well as in "The Magnificent Seven," just two highlights of his six-decade-plus career.
Eli Wallach, the enduring and artful character actor who starred as weaselly Mexican hombres in the 1960s film classics The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, has died. He was 98.
Wallach, who won a Tony Award in 1951 for playing Alvaro in Tennessee Williams’ original production of The Rose Tattoo, made his movie debut as a cotton-gin owner trying to seduce a virgin in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956) and worked steadily well into his nineties, died Tuesday, his daughter Katherine told The New York Times.
With Monroe in her final film The Misfits

“As an actor I’ve played more bandits, thieves, warlords, molesters and mafioso that you could shake a stick at,” Wallach said in November 2010 when he accepted an Honorary Academy Award at the second annual Governors Awards, becoming the oldest Oscar recipient.
Among his survivors is actress and frequent co-star Anne Jackson, his wife of 66 years.
In John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960), a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese gem Seven Samurai, Wallach plays the merciless Calvera, a bandit with two gold-capped teeth whose marauders routinely raid a Mexican village for food. The pillaged recruit a veteran gunslinger (Yul Brynner) and six others, including Steve McQueen, to protect them.
Six years later, Wallach starred in his most memorable role, as the fast-talking Tuco (The Ugly) opposite Clint Eastwood (The Good) and Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western set during the American Civil War and centered on a three-way hunt for gold buried in a cemetery.

During shooting in Spain, Wallach was almost killed when a galloping horse carried him for a considerable distance while his hands were tied behind his back. Later, Leone positioned him in the dirt, where a speeding train’s protruding iron steps missed the actor by inches. Wallach refused to do another take, a decision that surely contributed to his longevity.
With Monroe: The Misfits
The Brooklyn native also was memorable as a well-dressed hitman looking to retrieve heroin stuffed in a Japanese doll in Don Siegel’s The Lineup (1958); as Guido in John Huston’s The Misfits opposite Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in their final film appearances; as Audrey Hepburn’s suitor in How to Steal a Million (1966); as James Caan’s harsh boot-camp instructor in Cinderella Liberty (1973); and as a mafioso with a sweet tooth in The Godfather: Part III (1990).
The good-natured actor appeared in more than 90 films, including two released in 2010: Oilver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer.
On television, Wallach won an Emmy for his role as a former drug merchant who is now in the aspirin business in ABC’s Poppies Are Also Flowers, a 1966 anti-narcotics telefilm produced by the United Nations from a story by Ian Fleming. He also earned noms for his work as a blacklisted writer on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in 2006 and as an ailing patient on Nurse Jackie three years later.
Plus, he got loads of fan mail for playing Mr. Freeze (the third actor to do so) on TV’s Batman in the 1960s.
Wallach was born on Dec. 7, 1915, the son of Polish immigrants who owned a candy store and lived in the back. He went to Erasmus Hall High School and didn’t have the grades to get into City College in New York, so he wound up at the University of Texas, where he was friends with Zachary Scott and Walter Cronkite. After graduation, he ventured back to the Big Apple and studied method acting.
After serving as a medic in World War II, the 5-foot-7 Wallach returned to New York and landed his first Broadway part in 1945. Within the next few years, he rose to become a fixture on the New York stage and began doing live TV. Noticing his stirring performance at the Martin Beck Theater in The Rose Tattoo, Kazan cast Wallach in Baby Doll, whose screenplay also was written by Williams. With Wallach going after the virgin 19-year-old wife (Carroll Baker) of his competitor (Karl Malden), the film was condemned by the Catholic Church for being “grievously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency.”
“They said that anyone who goes to see it is in danger of being excommunicated,” Wallach told The Times in 2010. “I said, ‘I’m Jewish, what the hell are they going to know about me?’ ”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Wallach is survived by his other children Peter and Roberta and film critic A.O. Scott, whose grandfather was Wallach’s brother.

Eli Wallach, Multifaceted Actor, Dies at 98 By ROBERT BERKVIST – NEW YORK Times
Eli Wallach, who was one of his generations most prominent and prolific character actors in film, on stage and on television for more than 60 years, died on Tuesday. He was 98.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Katherine.
A self-styled journeyman actor, the versatile Mr. Wallach appeared in scores of roles, often with his wife, Anne Jackson. No matter the part, he always seemed at ease and in control, whether playing a Mexican bandit in the 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven,” a bumbling clerk in Ionesco’s allegorical play “Rhinoceros,” a henpecked French general in Jean Anouilh’s “Waltz of the Toreadors,” Clark Gable’s sidekick in “The Misfits” or a Mafia don in “The Godfather: Part III.”
Despite his many years of film work, some of it critically acclaimed, Mr. Wallach was never nominated for an Academy Award. But in November 2010, less than a month before his 95th birthday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an honorary Oscar, saluting him as “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.”
His first love was the stage. Mr. Wallach and Ms. Jackson became one of the best-known acting couples in the American theater. But films, even less than stellar ones, helped pay the bills. “For actors, movies are a means to an end,” Mr. Wallach said in an interview with The New York Times in 1973. “I go and get on a horse in Spain for 10 weeks, and I have enough of a cushion to come back and do a play.”
Mr. Wallach, who as a boy was one of the few Jewish children in his mostly Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, made both his stage and screen breakthroughs playing Italians. In 1951, six years after his Broadway debut in a play called “Skydrift,” he was cast opposite Maureen Stapleton in Tennessee Williams’s “The Rose Tattoo,” playing Alvaro Mangiacavallo, a truck driver who woos and wins Serafina Delle Rose, a Sicilian widow living on the Gulf Coast. Both Ms. Stapleton and Mr. Wallach won Tony Awards for their work in the play.
with wife Anne Jackson
The first movie in which Mr. Wallach acted was also written by Williams: “Baby Doll” (1956), the playwright’s screen adaptation of his “27 Wagons Full of Cotton.” Mr. Wallach played Silva Vacarro, a Sicilian émigré and the owner of a cotton gin that he believes has been torched. Karl Malden and Carroll Baker also starred.
Mr. Wallach never stayed away from the theater for long. After “The Rose Tattoo” he appeared in another Williams play, “Camino Real” (1953), wandering a fantasy world as a young man named Kilroy. He also played opposite Julie Harris in Anouilh’s “Mademoiselle Colombe” (1954), about a young woman who chooses a life in the theater over life with her dour husband, and in 1958 he appeared with Joan Plowright in “The Chairs,” Eugène Ionesco’s farcical portrait of an elderly couple’s garrulous farewell to life.
In another Ionesco allegory, a 1961 production of “Rhinoceros,” Mr. Wallach gave a low-key performance as a nondescript clerk in a city where people are being transformed into rhinoceroses. The cast also included Ms. Jackson and Zero Mostel.
By the time “Rhinoceros” came along, Ms. Jackson and Mr. Wallach had been married for 13 years. They met in 1946 in an Equity Library Theater production of Williams’s “This Property Is Condemned” and were married two years later. A list of survivors was incomplete.
Eli Wallach was born on Dec. 7, 1915, the son of Abraham Wallach and the former Bertha Schorr. He graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and attended the University of Texas at Austin (“because the tuition was $30 a year,” he once said), where he also learned to ride horses — a skill he would put to good use in westerns. After graduation he returned to New York and earned a master’s degree in education at City College, with the intention of becoming a teacher like his brother and two sisters.
Instead, he studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse until World War II put him in the Army. He served five years in the Medical Corps, rising to captain. After the war he became a founding member of the Actors Studio and studied method acting with Lee Strasberg. Ahead lay his Broadway debut in “Skydrift,” which had a one-week run in 1945, and his fateful meeting with an actress named Anne Jackson.
The Wallachs went on to become stalwarts of the American stage, evoking memories of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, thanks to their work in comedies like “The Typists” and “The Tiger,” a 1963 double bill by Murray Schisgal, and a revival of Anouilh’s “Waltz of the Toreadors” (1973).
In a joint interview in The Hartford Courant in 2000, Mr. Wallach and Ms. Jackson said they had sought out opportunities to work together. “But we’re not the couple we play on stage,” Ms. Jackson said. “For us, it’s fun to separate the two.”
Celebrating his 91st  Birthday
The couple appeared in a revival of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1978, in a production that also featured their daughters Roberta as Anne Frank and Katherine as her onstage sister. In 1984, they presided over a chaotic Moscow household in a Russian comedy, Viktor Rozov’s “Nest of the Wood Grouse,” directed by Joseph Papp at the Public Theater. Four years later, they returned to the Public as a flamboyant acting couple in a revival of Hy Kraft’s “Cafe Crown,” a portrait of the Yiddish theater scene in its heyday. In 1993, they presented a theatrical reminiscence, “In Persons.” The next year, they played a biblical husband and wife in a revival of Clifford Odets’s “Flowering Peach” by the National Actors Theater, and in 2000 they were a pair of retired comedians in Anne Meara’s Off Broadway play “Down the Garden Paths.”
In between appearances with Ms. Jackson, Mr. Wallach played, among other roles, an aging gay barber in Charles Dyer’s “Staircase” (1968), a political dissident consigned to an asylum in Tom Stoppard’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” (1979), an aged but mentally spry furniture dealer in a 1992 revival of Arthur Miller’s play “The Price” and a Jewish widower in Jeff Baron’s “Visiting Mr. Green” (1997).
Mr. Wallach’s many television credits included a 1974 production of Odets’s “Paradise Lost” on public television; “Skokie,” a 1981 CBS movie about a march planned by neo-Nazis in a Chicago suburb, in which he played a lawyer representing Holocaust survivors; a 1982 NBC dramatization of Norman Mailer’s “Executioner’s Song,” in which he appeared with Tommy Lee Jones; and frequent roles on “Studio One,” “Playhouse 90,” “General Electric Theater.”
And then there were films, dozens of them. In addition to his parts in “Baby Doll” and “The Magnificent Seven,” he played the mechanic pal of Clark Gable’s aging cowboy in “The Misfits” (1961), the story of a wild-horse roundup in Nevada, written by Miller and directed by John Huston, with a cast that also included Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift.
Mr. Wallach was also a lawless jungle tyrant subdued by the title character (Peter O’Toole) in “Lord Jim” (1965); a rapacious Mexican pitted against Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in Sergio Leone’s so-called spaghetti western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966); a psychiatrist assigned to evaluate the sanity of a call girl (Barbra Streisand) on trial for killing a client in “Nuts” (1987); and Don Altobello, a Mafia boss who succumbs to a poisoned dessert, in “The Godfather: Part III” (1990).
He continued his film work well into his 90s. He was a disillusioned screenwriter in “The Holiday” (2006). In “Tickling Leo” (2009), he played the guilt-ridden patriarch of a Jewish family still haunted by the Holocaust. In Roman Polanski’s “Ghost Writer” (2010), Mr. Wallach played a mysterious old man living on fog-shrouded Martha’s Vineyard. And in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010), which marked the return of Michael Douglas as the greed-stoked investor Gordon Gekko, Mr. Wallach hovered at the edge of the action like Poe’s sinister raven.
More often than not, his film roles required him to play mustachioed characters who were lawless, evil or just plain nasty, which puzzled and challenged him. “Actually I lead a dual life,” he once said. “In the theater, I’m the little man, or the irritated man, the misunderstood man,” whereas in films “I do seem to keep getting cast as the bad guys.” His villain roles, he said, tended to be “more complex” than some of his stage roles.

Versatile Actor Eli Wallach Dies at 98 - P. Nash Jenkins - Time
The New York City native held roles in more than 80 films over the course of his six-decade career
Eli Wallach, the prolific American actor who spent more than half a century working in film, has died at the age of 98.
Wallach began as a stage actor in the early 1950s but soon found his way to Hollywood. Between his first movie role in 1956′s Baby Doll and his last in 2010′s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he found work in more than 80 films.
He was a “great performer,” Clint Eastwood said when presenting Wallach with an honorary Oscar in 2010, “and a great friend.” In 1966, Eastwood and Wallach co-starred in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, beginning a close friendship.
“As an actor, Wallach is the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wrote of him.
Eli made a cameo appearance in Eastwood's Mystic River
From his iconic role in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in 1966 – he was the Ugly – to appearances in Wall Street 2 and The Ghost in 2010, Eli Wallach is the actor who never stops.
Rob Hastings - The Guardian, Thursday 4 November 2010
There's one myth Eli Wallach wants to put to bed. It wasn't the mafia that got Frank Sinatra the career-saving role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity in 1953, he says. It was Tennessee Williams – and no horses' heads were involved. "I had promised to do Tennessee's play, Camino Real, but they couldn't get the money together," Wallach says. "So I auditioned for From Here to Eternity and I got the job, but then they found the money for the play, so I pulled out. Whenever I met Frank Sinatra afterwards, he'd always say to me: 'Hello, you crazy actor.'"

Passing up the chance to play Maggio didn't condemn Wallach to obscurity, of course. He's racked up 162 acting credits across TV and cinema over the past 51 years, with a stage career predating his move to the screen. He's still working, too, even as his 95th birthday approaches: this year alone he's appeared in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, for Oliver Stone, and The Ghost, for Roman Polanski. "I'll retire when I die," he says. Small wonder he'll be the recipient of an honorary Oscar at a special ceremony in Los Angeles later this month.
"I'm hoping Clint Eastwood will be there," Wallach says from his home in New York, "but he is a very busy man." Eastwood, of course, was the star of the film in which Wallach gave one of the screen's most memorable accounts of villainy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in which Wallach played Tuco Martinez, the Ugly. "Clint Eastwood was my coach in a way," Wallach says. "He said: 'I'm warning you that it's very dangerous, the way you ride your horse,' but I'd been riding horses in Texas since the 30s, so I knew how to ride. Clint is a wonderful horseman and we got along."

Not that acting in a spaghetti western was always easy, he says. "The actors in the movie always spoke their own language on camera. I spoke in English, they spoke in Italian or French or Spanish or whatever. The man playing my brother was an Italian and there's a wonderful scene between us, but I don't speak Italian and he didn't speak English, so it was a bit bizarre."
Wallach came to professional acting late, having been diverted from his path by the Second World War. "My sister found an acting school in the neighbourhood, so I went there, and it was a brilliant school," he says. "When I finished I said: 'Broadway, here I come.' But then I got drafted into the army, and I wound up in Hawaii. Then they sent me to a school in Texas to become an officer, and after that they sent me all over the world.
"I was a captain in the army and I spent five years in world war two, and the last year we were in Berlin two months after Hitler committed suicide. The colonel in the army said 'Why don't you put some plays together for the people who are in hospital?' So I said 'OK, I'll play Hitler.'

"I was scheduled to go on to Japan after five years, but then they dropped the bomb and I was released. I went back home to New York, and I met a young lady when we both wound up in a play by Tennessee Williams, and I married her. That was 62 years ago."

Williams became an important figure in Wallach's acting career. His favourite among his own films is 1957's Baby Doll, written by Williams. "He was a marvellous talent," Wallach remembers. "We knew him very well. He praised my wife very much, and then he said, 'And Eli pisses everyone off because he's happy.' He was a marvellous character."

One might imagine Wallach these days sitting on a fortune accumulated over six decades of screen acting. Not so, he says, not least because The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – despite being one of the most popular westerns ever – was made in Italy, where the system of residual payments did not favour actors: "I got a letter from the Academy once. It was an Italian residual – a cheque for showing it in America – and it was two cents. I'm not a rich man."

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