Eli Wallach, Versatile Actor of Stage, Movies, Dies at 98Kathryn Harris
Eli Wallach, who won a Tony Award on Broadway and appeared in more than 100 movies, starring opposite Clint Eastwood as a scheming treasure-seeker in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966), has died. He was 98.
His death was reported by the New York Times, citing his daughter Katherine.
Wallach’s career as an actor spanned six decades. He made his Broadway debut in 1945 and in his 90s was still acting in movies, including “The Holiday” (2006) and “The Ghost Writer” (2010). He and his wife Anne Jackson starred in a Broadway revival of “The Flowering Peach” in 1994, almost 50 years after they met in a Tennessee Williams play.
Born in New York, he played Italian lovers, Mexican bandits, swarthy Wild West villains and street-smart bad guys. He was a nasty Mexican outlaw in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) and the likeable mechanic Guido in “The Misfits” (1961), which was the last completed movie of both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.
Wallach received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement as an actor in November 2010.
Five years after his Tony-winning role in the Tennessee Williams play “The Rose Tattoo” (1951), he made a splashy arrival in Hollywood. He was cast as a Sicilian cotton-gin owner in “Baby Doll” (1956), another Williams script.
Wallach’s portrayal earned him the British Academy of Film & Television Arts award as “most promising newcomer” -- at 40, an honor he happily accepted.
A mere five decades later, he accepted another award, this one from the Neighborhood Playhouse acting school in New York City, where he had been a student in the 1930s.
Kate Winslet, his co-star in “The Holiday,” presented the award. “He’s always smiling, always chatting, always concentrating, and always telling stories,” she told People magazine, recalling his tale of dancing on screen with Marilyn Monroe. “I made him tell me that story again and again and again,” she said.
Wallach was born on Dec. 7, 1915, the son of Polish immigrants who lived at the rear of their candy store in Brooklyn, New York.
“We were the only Jewish family in our working-class neighborhood, which was predominantly Italian,” Wallach wrote in his 2005 autobiography.
Violence between rival Mafia gangs caused the family to move to a safer neighborhood in Flatbush. By then, Wallach was in junior high and had absorbed the accents and ethnic characteristics he would use to good effect in various roles.
After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School in 1932, he attended the University of Texas. An older brother had spotted the bargain $30 tuition fees the Austin school charged out-of-state students.
Adapting to Texas, Wallach sported a silver belt buckle and groomed polo ponies, getting close to the horseflesh that proved so useful to his film career. He joined a university drama club and was in a play with Walter Cronkite, a fellow student who later became a household name as CBS News anchor.
After graduating in 1936, Wallach put aside his ambitions to act. Bowing to family pressure to find steady work as a teacher, he earned a master’s degree at New York’s City College. Then he failed the teacher examination.
Wallach studied acting with Sanford Meisner and dance with Martha Graham on a scholarship until he was drafted into the U.S. Army months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, on his 26th birthday.
After serving in a hospital unit, Wallach was discharged in 1945. While still in uniform, he was cast in his first Broadway play, “Skydrift.” It closed after five days.
Wallach met Jackson in a production of Williams’s “This Property Is Condemned.” They married in 1948, the year they joined the Actors Studio in New York City, along with fellow charter members Maureen Stapleton, Karl Malden, and Marlon Brando.
In his memoir, he recalled the “evangelical” fervor he shared with the other “Method” actors. “We must have seemed rather smug and difficult at the time,” he wrote.
He spent two years in the Broadway run of “Mister Roberts” before Williams picked him for the role of the Italian truck driver opposite Stapleton in “The Rose Tattoo.”
Wallach appeared in another Williams play, “Camino Real,” directed by Elia Kazan, and in 1954 began a two-year run in “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” playing the Okinawan character Sakini, first in London, then as a replacement in the Broadway production.
‘Low on Funds’
He insisted he preferred the stage to movies, yet jumped at Kazan’s invitation to star in the movie “Baby Doll.”
“I found it difficult to escape the lure of fame that film offered,” he said. Over the years, the money proved equally irresistible.
Even after being acclaimed in “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly,” he did a half-dozen so-called spaghetti Westerns in Europe.
“I wasn’t getting any Hollywood films, so I just did them,” he said in a 1998 interview. “I’d always do a play in between. Whenever I ran low on funds, I’d rush off to do a movie somewhere.”
He often sniffed at the airs of filmmakers, though at heart he was a movie fan. After seeing the finished version of “The Magnificent Seven,” Wallach wished he could have heard the music that was added after the film was shot. “I would have ridden the horse differently,” he said.
Wallach and Jackson had a son, Peter, and two daughters, Roberta and Katherine.