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June 25th, 2014, 01:30 PM
Eli Wallach, Multifaceted Actor, Dies at 98


Eli Wallach, who was one of his generation’s most prominent and prolific character actors in film, onstage and on television for more than 60 years, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. 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,” (http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/30854/The-Magnificent-Seven-Movie-/overview) a bumbling clerk in Ionesco’s allegorical play “Rhinoceros,” (http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/107771/Rhinoceros-Movie-/overview) a henpecked French general in Jean Anouilh’s “Waltz of the Toreadors,” (http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/53266/Waltz-of-the-Toreadors-Movie-/overview) Clark Gable’s sidekick in “The Misfits” (http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/32863/The-Misfits-Movie-/overview) 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 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,” (http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/42127/The-Rose-Tattoo-Movie-/overview) 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 (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/theater/theaterspecial/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier) for their work in the play.

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” (http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/49529/This-Property-Is-Condemned-Movie-/overview) and were married two years later.

In addition to his wife and his daughter Katherine, he is survived by another daughter, Roberta Wallach; a son, Peter; a sister, Shirley Auerbach; and three grandchildren.

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.

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Eli Wallach, left, and Clint Eastwood in a scene from the 1966 film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Credit MGM

June 25th, 2014, 05:09 PM
I think the first time I saw Eli Wallach was in The Magnificent Seven, in which he played Calvera, the leader of the gang that terrorized the village. I didn't take much note of him, but then I saw Baby Doll, years after its 1956 release. It still had some of the controversy that prompted Cardinal Spellman to condemn it. It was one of the nails in the film censorship coffin.

Wallach, Karl Malden, and Carol Baker were alumni of the Actors Studio; their performances were outstanding. The film is re-released on DVD and worth a look.



Six years after The Magnificent Seven, Wallach honed the role of Mexican bandit as Tuco, the glue that held The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly together.

"When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk."

He was a real pro.

June 25th, 2014, 05:10 PM
The Ugly will be missed.

He had an endearing appearance in the movie The Holiday (ghastly otherwise) at age 90. Great talent. Hey, 98, I'd buy that now if I could!

June 25th, 2014, 10:01 PM
I know he did a ton of work, including tv, stage & big screen, but my favorite will always be Good Bad Ugly.

June 26th, 2014, 11:30 AM
"Hey Blondie! You Know What You Are?..."


Rest in Peace.

June 27th, 2014, 08:35 AM
I know he did a ton of work, including tv, stage & big screen, but my favorite will always be Good Bad Ugly.There are several online interviews with Eli Wallach about his working with director Sergio Leone.

Leone was meticulous in his work, but didn't pay much attention to actor safety. In the scene where Tuco was to be hanged, the partially severed rope had a small charge which was set off when Blondie fired the rifle. Wallach, sitting on a horse with his hands tied behind him, asked Leone to put cotton in the horse's ears. He told him that was done in Hollywood; he made it up, but thought it was a good idea. When the charge was set off, the horse bolted as planned, but he raced off about a mile, with Wallach trying to control it with his legs. He had learned to ride in Texas.

In the scene where Tuco is chained to the dead man and places the body (a dummy) on the track waiting for a passing train to sever the chain, that was Wallach lying there, not a stunt double. What wasn't noticed was that the freight cars had metal steps that extended out from the bottom. If Wallach had raised his head at any time the train was passing, he could have lost it. In a retake, the cameraman said he couldn't see Tuco's face.

As a Mexican Catholic, Tuco had to make the sign of the cross in a few scenes. Wallach used an abbreviated gesture. Leone asked him what that was. Wallach said he learned that from the Italian Americans in the neighborhood where he grew up; they sometimes used a "shorthand version."

Wallach grew up at 156 Union St in Brooklyn, at the corner of Hicks St. It was long before the BQE was built, and the area was considered part of Red Hook. Carroll Gardens happened after the BQE.