For a lifetime’s worth of indelible screen characters
As the volcanic, voluble outlaw Tuco in Sergio Leone’s classic Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Eli Wallach was the perfect foil for Clint Eastwood’s laconic Blondie. He may have played the “Ugly” of the title, but he made it look good.
That magnificently multidimensional performance typifies the work Wallach was renowned for since the 1940s and continued to do well into his nineties with appearances in The Ghost Writer and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, both released in 2010. As an actor, Wallach is the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.
Brooklyn-born and Method-trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse, Wallach left New York to attend the University of Texas at Austin. There he picked up a skill that would serve him well in the years to come: he learned to ride a horse. The young actor only had time to win a few small roles before World War II summoned him to service in the U.S. Army’s Medical Administrative Corps. Nonetheless, by 1945 Wallach had made his Broadway debut, and a decade later he was one of the theater’s most respected actors and a Tony® winner.
Wallach’s film career got off to an auspicious start with his smoldering performance as the cunning seducer Vacarro in Baby Doll (1956). Wallach turned heads in the crime drama The Lineup (1958), and a year later made another indelible mark as the brutal bandit Calvera in The Magnificent Seven. With this string of searing (and scary) performances, the actor’s stature on the big screen was assured.
In the years that followed, Wallach displayed his mastery of the actor’s craft with memorable roles in such films as The Misfits, How the West Was Won, Nuts, The Godfather, Part III and Mystic River. Proving that his range far exceeded the spectrum of villainy explored in his early work, Wallach developed a well-earned reputation as one of the industry’s most versatile character actors.
In his 2005 memoir, The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage, Wallach recounted the highs and lows of his seven-decade career in show business. Though the actor had many great stories to tell, his work continues to speak for itself.
Did You Know?
Wallach turned down a role in From Here to Eternity (1953) to appear in Elia Kazan’s Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’s Camino Real. Frank Sinatra stepped in and ultimately took home an Oscar® for his performance.
He has been married since 1948 to the actress Anne Jackson, with whom he starred in two 1963 one-act plays, The Typists and The Tiger.
Each morning during the production of The Magnificent Seven (1960) Wallach, along with the other actors, would arrive on set via an hour-long horseback ride... in costume.
Wallach accidentally drank from a bottle of acid on the set of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly but spat it out in time to avoid injury.
He communicated with Italian director Sergio Leone in broken French.
In recognition of his roots, Wallach was named “King of Brooklyn” at the 1998 Welcome Back to Brooklyn Festival.
In 2008, Kate Winslet told People magazine that he was her “very own Sexiest Man Alive” after they co-starred in The Holiday (2006).
Wallach once said, “I’ve got a technique, but a lot of times the wonderful qualities in acting escape the actor if he tries too hard.”
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
The Ghost Writer (2010)
New York, I Love You (2009)
The Holiday (2006)
The Hoax (2006)
Mystic River (2003)
The Associate (1996)
Night and the City (1992)
The Godfather, Part III (1990)
The Two Jakes (1990)
Tough Guys (1986)
The Deep (1977)
The Sentinel (1977)
Plot of Fear (1976)
Cinderella Liberty (1973)
Mackenna’s Gold (1969)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Lord Jim (1965)
How the West Was Won (1962)
The Misfits (1961)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Baby Doll (1956)