Eli Wallach

Active - 1952 - 2010  |   Born - Dec 7, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Died - Jun 24, 2014   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Crime

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Biography

Long before earning his B.A. from the University of Texas and his M.A. in Education from C.C.N.Y., Eli Wallach made his first on-stage appearance in a 1930 amateur production. After World War II service and intensive training at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse, the bumpy-nosed, gravel-voiced Wallach debuted on Broadway in Skydrift (1945). In 1951, he won a Tony award for his portrayal of Alvaro Mangiaco in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo. Though a staunch advocate of "The Method," Wallach could never be accused of being too introspective on-stage; in fact, his acting at times was downright ripe -- but deliciously so. He made his screen debut in Baby Doll (1956) playing another of Tennessee Williams' abrasive Latins, in this instance the duplicitous Silva Vaccaro; this performance earned Wallach the British equivalent of the Oscar. He spent the bulk of his screen time indulging in various brands of villainy, usually sporting an exotic accent (e.g., bandit leader Calvera in The Magnificent Seven [1960]). Perhaps his most antisocial onscreen act was the kidnapping of Hayley Mills in The Moon-Spinners (1965). Even when playing someone on "our" side, Wallach usually managed to make his character as prickly as possible: a prime example is Sgt. Craig in The Victors (1963), who manages to be vituperative and insulting even after his face is blown away. Busy on stage, screen, and TV into the 1990s, Wallach has played such unsavory types as a senile, half-blind hitman in Tough Guys (1986) and candy-munching Mafioso Don Altobello in The Godfather III (1990). He continued to work steadily into the 1990s with parts in the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes, the remake of Night and the City, Article 99, and narrating a number of documentaries. He didn't slow down much at all during the 21st century, appearing in the comedy Keepin the Faith, Clint Eastwood's Oscar Winning Mystic River, and The Hoax. In 2010 he acted for Roman Polanski in his thriller The Ghost Writer, and for Oliver Stone in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which was to be his last film role; Wallach died in 2014 at age 98.

His television work has included an Emmy-winning performance in the 1967 all-star TV movie The Poppy Is Also a Flower and the continuing role of mob patriarch Vincent Danzig in Our Family Honor. Married since 1948 to actress Anne Jackson, Wallach has appeared on-stage with his wife in such plays as The Typists and the Tiger, Luv, and Next, and co-starred with her in the 1967 comedy film The Tiger Makes Out. Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson are the parents of special effects director Peter Wallach.

Movie Highlights

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Factsheet

  • Appeared in a University of Texas production with Ann Sheridan and Walter Cronkite.
  • While serving in the U.S. Army in France during WWII, cowrote (and played Hitler in) a satirical revue titled This Is the Army.
  • Made his Broadway debut in 1945, costarring with 13-year-old Rita Moreno, in Skydrift.
  • Was originally tapped for the role in the 1953 classic From Here to Eternity that earned Frank Sinatra an Oscar.
  • His first film, the 1956 Tennessee Williams drama Baby Doll, was banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency; he played a Sicilian lusting after a Texas teen bride.
  • Was one of three actors to play the villain Mr. Freeze on the Batman television series starring Adam West. The others were George Sanders and Otto Preminger.
  • Published an autobiography, The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage, in 2005.
  • Is the great-uncle of New York Times film critic A.O. Scott.