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A Master of His Craft
Eli Wallach
Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4    interview by Paul M. Riordan -- page 1 of 4


Eli Wallach as the professional killer "Dancer" in The Lineup.

The rapacious bandit leader, Calvera, in John Sturgesí The Magnificent Seven. The cunning Tuco in Sergio Leoneís The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The most memorable "Mr. Freeze" in the camp 1960s TV series Batman. These parts were all played to perfection by master thespian Eli Wallach.

Eli Wallach was born on December 7, 1915, in Brooklyn, New York. In 1930, at the age of 15, he appeared in his first public performance in an amateur production. His dreams of becoming an actor were born. Wallach went to the University of Texas in Austin (where he learned to ride horses, which came in handy early on in his movie career). He graduated with a BA degree and subsequently attended the City College of New York, planning to be a teacher. (Wallach has a brother and two sisters, all of whom became teachers.)

Wallach earned his masterís degree from CCNY in 1938 and received a scholarship to New Yorkís Neighborhood Playhouse. He graduated in 1940 and acted in minor roles on stage before enlisting in the Army in 1941. Wallach served for five years in the Armyís Medical Administrative Corps during World War II, eventually reaching the rank of Captain. After he left the service, he resumed acting, making his Broadway debut in Skydrift in 1945.










Eli Wallach as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

In 1946, he appeared in the Equity Library Theaterís production of This Property Is Condemned in New York and ended up marrying the leading lady, Anne Jackson. Eli Wallach was one of the earliest members of the Actorís Studio in 1948 and began to appear on Broadway in a number of plays, including The Rose Tattoo (he won a Tony Award for this performance in 1951) and Camino Real. In the 1950s, he emerged as one of the American theaterís most respected "Method" actors and soon proved to be a versatile performer of considerable range.

Subsequent Broadway appearances include Major Barbara and with his wife, Anne Jackson, The Typists and the Tiger, Luv and Next. He auditioned for Joshua Logan for a role in South Pacific (an experience he recounts in his introduction to the book The Actorís Audition by David Black, published by Vintage Books in 1990), but he lost out to Myron McCormick. Logan later cast Wallach as the sailor Stefanowski in Mister Roberts, with Henry Fonda. Wallach played this part for two years.

The actor made his film debut in 1956, in the role of the unscrupulous Sicilian seducer, Silva Vaccaro, in Elia Kazanís Baby Doll, for Warner Bros. He received a British Academy Award for this performance. Wallach went on to appear in numerous films, where he frequently played ruthless villains and menacing heavies, most memorably in such films as The Magnificent Seven (1960), How The West Was Won (1962), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967). Wallach continued to work on the stage, as well, and he made frequent appearances on television. In 1966, he won an Emmy Award for his work in The Poppy Is Also A Flower.

Wallach and his wife have three children and three grandsons. One of their children, Peter, is a special effects director.

Mr. Wallach is currently appearing on stage in a two-man play called Visiting Mr. Green, at the off-Broadway Union Square Theater. A delightful and entertaining raconteur, he kindly took some time out to answer a few of my questions about his film career. (The following interview was conducted by telephone on March 11, 1998.)

At one point, the veteran actor lamented the effects that some technological advances have had on our society: "Where are you getting all this vitae about me? Off a computer? I donít know about privacy any more. I really donít. People send me stuff even Iíve forgotten. I still have a rotary phone. Over my objections, they put in a fax."

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Go to Eli Wallach filmography.

 

© 1998 Paul Riordan. All rights reserved.

 

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