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Tribute: Eli Wallach On

Upstaging Clint Eastwood

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Publicity photo of Eli Wallach (l) and Karl Malden for the film, Baby Doll.
The Veteran Method Actor — Who Passed Away Last Week At The Age Of 98 — Talks His Classic Pairing With Eastwood And Playing Mexican Bandits While Being A Born And Bred New Yorker

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By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Reel to Real Special for Modern Times Magazine

June 30, 2014 - Eli Wallach - one of the most venerable character actors who ever ping-ponged between Broadway and Hollywood - passed away last week at the age of 98. Although he studied at the Actors Studio in New York City and won a Tony Award in 1951 (in his Broadway debut, no less) in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo, Wallach will probably be best remembered for scintillating performances in a clutch of movies, including The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe, Baby Doll, The Magnificent Seven and the iconic spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly opposite Clint Eastwood.

"You know," he told us, "when I played Mexicans in those westerns, I wore gold teeth which I clipped onto my real teeth. I'd smile and the light would hit them and I'd upstage Clint every time!"

A born and bred New Yorker, our interview with Wallach was - in its own way - quintessentially New York. He insisted that we meet at a favorite park bench off Riverside Drive where he could look west over the Hudson River to New Jersey and the great bulge of America that lay beyond it.

Wallach said that he learned to ride horses while attending college in Texas and it probably contributed to why he was cast so often as a bandit in movies. As for being cast so many times as a Mexican bandit, "I'm a Jew from Brooklyn, so go figure," he laughed.

A Method Actor from the ground up, such distinctions hardly mattered to Wallach. It was, as he said, always about the work.

"I've had a wonderful career," he said, "but I'm proudest of the work I've done with my wife, Anne (Wallach was married to actress Anne Jackson for 66 years). In fact, that's why I picked this spot; it's within sight of our apartment and my wife can keep an eye on me."

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will remember Eli Wallach with an 11-hour marathon today (June 30) featuring five of his performances. The marathon will feature Wallach in such memorable films as How the West Was Won (1962), The Misfits (1961) and Baby Doll (1956), which earned him a BAFTA Film Award and a Golden Globe nomination.

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have interviewed more than 250 celebrities, mostly from Hollywood’s Golden Age. They are co-authors of the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 years of celebrity profiles from vaudeville to movies to TV. Reach them at www.reeltoreal.com.
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