Eli Wallach, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ Star, Dies at 98

Celebrity Deaths 2014

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.

On the bigscreen 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 colorful 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 onstage. 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, David Wayne, Marlon Brando, Patricia Neal and Maureen Stapleton.

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.”

“He was as wonderful a person as he was an actor. He will be missed,” said Robert De Niro.

Wallach’s 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).

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.

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. He trained with Sanford Meisner, one of the early advocates of the Stanislavski method.

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.

 

(Eli Wallach is flanked by Clint Eastwood and Robert De Niro at the 2010 Governors Awards where he received an honorary Oscar. Photo by Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S.)

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  1. Charles Marascalco MD says:

    The Good, Bad and Ugly has always been my most favourite movie. The Bad and the Ugly have passed away. The Good as represented by our great actor Clint Eastwood lives on and hopefully for many more years. Great actors that made a great movie that will always be a classic. God blessed them all.

  2. kennybrown says:

    rrest rest in peace tuco what a legend
    rest in peace tuco what a legend

  3. Great Article. Eli Wallach was an exceptionally talented actor and a wonderful man. I had the privilege of interviewing Eli about his life on NYCTV. Here’s a link to an article about it which contains the video. I think you will be as touched by it as I was. http://blogcritics.org/eli-wallach-celebrating-a-legend/

  4. Steve Washington says:

    I have been an Eli Wallach fan ever since first seeing him in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” many years ago as a kid. His portrayal of Tuco was remarkable: ruthlessly cruel one minute yet endearing and even hysterically funny the next. Tuco was the perfect counter point to Eastwood’s iconic cool. Eastwood gave the film its sex appeal. Wallach and the score gave the film it’s pulse. And Lee Van Cleef, “whose eyes burned holes in the screen,” rounded out this world-class trio and gave the film its edge. I can’t imagine a more perfect combination of actors. Thanks, Mr. Wallach, for helping to tell so many great stories so wonderfully.

  5. Marcus A. Swanson says:

    R.I.P.
    Tuco Benidicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez .
    No matter what your situation is ;
    Wheather it is GOOD , BAD OR UGLY ,
    Do what you have to do in life .

  6. Graham says:

    What a great Actor in many great movies. I particularly loved his comic character role in the film “Tough Guys” alongside Burt Lancaster & Kirk Douglas. My respects go out to his family and friends … thanks for the memories Eli – RIP.

  7. Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2862: Eli Wallach, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Body Language

    http://www.bodylanguagesuccess.com/2014/06/nonverbal-communication-analysis-no_25.html

  8. Sandy says:

    I think he was the greatest actor there was very passionate about his work and he played so many different characters it was unreal love to you and your family God bless you

  9. Ed says:

    A great actor.
    R.I.P.

  10. A Hollywood Legend has turned the page, in the land of Flickerville!

  11. aryedirect says:

    Eli Wallach was a master actor and appeared to be a very deep, intelligent human being. When he as on the screen, he gently commanded our attention. We were never disappointed.

  12. Phil Brooks says:

    Eli Wallach was not the villain in “The Good the Bad and the Ugly” the villain was Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes

  13. Vincent Drysdale says:

    I just watched “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” last week and marveled at Mr. Wallach’s performance. I’m sorry to see that he has passed, but what a life and what a career.

  14. Leonard Bloom says:

    Many years ago, during a performance at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT, I noticed that my wife and I were seated next to Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Paul Newman and Joann Woodward. At intermission, I gazed down at Mr. Wallach and then asked him the following question: “Didn’t you die in the film “The God, the Bad and the Ugly?” Wallach had a smile on his face after hearing my query and then retorted: “Clint (Eastwood) saved me.” I shall forever remember that evening meeting all 4 distinguished actors and particularly Mr. Wallach’s brief comment to my question. What a man and he’s from Broolyn where I also was born.

  15. David Spiel says:

    See Eli Wallach’s award winning short film: The Silver Maiden at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWIW1wukeFs

  16. Guns Up says:

    “They don’t makem’ like they used to”……….Wallach was magnificent.

  17. Lola says:

    I loved this man! My favorite line from the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk!” I saw the movie the first time when I was 7 years old. I’m in my 50s now and I still love it. Mr. Wallach will be missed.

  18. I liked his work and will be missed.RIP, DUCO (Eli Wallach}

  19. kenny says:

    GOD BLESS DUCO ( ELI WALLACH )

  20. R.I.P x says:

    So sad to hear of.the sad news of a GREAT STAR, R.I.P, xxo

  21. Bronco46 says:

    I can’t believe he didn’t get more than an honorary academy award. He had so many great performances. Some where along the line he should have gotten at least one award to
    recognize his work in films. He was an amazing character. RIP

  22. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    “I suppose any actor knows what Films they will end up being known for.. and what they would want to be known for.” After 167 roles, The Good, Bad and The Ugly ends up taking the cake. So be it…

    As one of the inventers of method and characters that he seemed to define over and over more intensely real than anyone else could pull off, there was hardly a moment that went by when you had to say to yourself, damn.. this guy is really good! You can truly say Eli did it all.. and seemed to outlive them all as well.

    A beautiful and extremely talented man has left us, but we have millions of feet of celeloid to watch what acting is really all about.

    My condolences to family, RIP

    JEV

  23. A prolific professor of theater and film but he was quite the learned erudite showing people how it should be done. Long live the memorable works and God will welcome him with a flying carpet.

  24. Corriea says:

    6/25/14 12:58a Variety Carmel Dagan Eli Wallach
    Eli Wallach was very appealing with Kate Winslet in ”The Holiday” 2007.
    He had Gumption.

    • lilibetp says:

      Agreed. I thought he was the best part of the movie.

      • c lassiter says:

        My teen age kids only know Eli Wallach from his engaging performance in The Holiday alongside Jack Black and Kate Winslet. And based on this one ‘little movie,’ they adored him. It was fun to find copies of The Misfits, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Godfather III and let them get to know what a bright star and remarkable talent he indeed was for years.

  25. cadavra says:

    Interesting that the NY Times buried the Leone film deep in the article and dismissed it as a “so-called spaghetti western,” whereas you gave it its proper due and mentioned “The Lineup” as a bonus. Good work.

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