COOL PEOPLE -IN MEMORIAM Eli Wallach Dies at 98: Early Method Actor and Lifelong Scene-Stealer


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Eli Wallach Dies at 98: Early Method Actor and Lifelong Scene-Stealer

#some Eli Wallach movies

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Half a century later, Eli Wallach is still probably best remembered for stealingThe Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from Clint Eastwood. Then again, Wallach, who acted well into his nineties, stole scenes from generations of performers, from Clark Gable and Henry Fonda to Ben Stiller and Kate Winslet. The premier character actor of the postwar era, whose work on Broadway, TV and film earned him a Tony, an Emmy, and a lifetime achievement Oscar, died Wednesday at age 98.
Born Eli Herschel Wallach in 1915 in Brooklyn, he majored in history at the University of Texas, but he also got his first taste of acting at the university, where his fellow drama troupe members included future Texas Governor John Connally and Walter Cronkite. He continued acting in the Army during World War II, when, in France, he and his unit wrote and performed a play to cheer up recuperating soldiers called This Is the Army? Wallach played a variety of roles, including Adolf Hitler.Back in New York, Wallach became an early proponent of the Method, studying at the Actors Studio with Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Sidney Lumet, and Anne Jackson, who’d become his wife in 1948. The couple would have three children and remain married for more than 65 years, until his death.Wallach flourished on Broadway, so much so that he was reluctant to leave for a starmaking film role. He recalled that he was up for the role of Maggio in 1953’sFrom Here to Eternity but turned it down to do a Tennessee Williams play. (He earned a Tony in Williams’ The Rose Tattoo and also starred in the playwright’sCamino Real.) Frank Sinatra, who took the part and won an Oscar for it, used to greet Wallach with jokey gratitude, addressing him as “you crazy actor.”Wallach was 41 when he finally made his first movie, but it was a doozy: Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956), in which vengeful cotton mogul Wallach seduces his rival’s still-virginal bride (Carroll Baker) was the rare picture that was approved by Hollywood’s own censors but condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. Though the movie was banned in many cities, it did all right at the box office and earned Wallach aBAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer. “It’s one of the most exciting, daring movies ever made,” Wallach said in 2007, though he acknowledged, “People see it today and say, “What the hell was all the fuss about?’ ”

Clint Eastwood and Wallach in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

Wallach’s movie and TV career continued for another six decades, rarely with lead roles, but often with colorful character parts, as in The Magnificent Seven(where he played bandit leader Calvera) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.(He was scheming outlaw Tuco, “the Ugly,” though he didn’t realize he’d be designated as such until he saw the film.) On TV, in the mid-’60s, Wallach made a memorable Mr. Freeze on Batman (the role he said that earned him the most fan mail) and won an Emmy for his work in the anti-drug movie The Poppy Is Also a Flower. He’d earn another Emmy nomination 40 years later for his guest spot as a once-blacklisted TV writer onStudio 60 on the Sunset Strip. His last Emmy nod came for his 2009 guest role on Nurse Jackie as a dying patient. In his later decades, Wallach played countless wily, prickly oldtimers on film, from the psychologist in Barbra Streisand’s Nuts to a candy-loving Mafia don inThe Godfather Part III, to a wise rabbi in Keeping the Faith, to a liquor store owner in pal Eastwood’s Mystic River, to a veteran Hollywood screenwriter who charms decades-younger Kate Winslet in The Holiday. In 2010, the year he turned 95, he finally got an honorary Oscar, as well as taking roles in Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Despite a stroke that robbed him of the sight in his left eye, Wallach never seemed to want to slow down. While promoting his 2005 memoir, The Good, The Bad, and Me, he said, “I never lost my appetite for acting. I feel like a magician. Some people would ask, ‘How do you do a play every evening?’ One thing changes every evening: It’s the audience, and I’m working my magic. I’m always learning from it.”

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