CATHERINE KRUMMEY: Remembering Eli Wallach
He played “the ugly.” And he played it well.
Last week, legendary character actor Eli Wallach passed away at the age of 98.
Whether you remember him as the villainous Tuco in 1966’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” or grumpy-yet-charming Arthur Abbott in 2006’s “The Holiday,” his presence will be missed on screen.
Before his major claims to fame, Wallach made his auspicious film debut by facing off against Karl Malden for the affection of Carroll Baker in Elia Kazan’s 1956 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “Baby Doll.”
His major break in movie roles — after a plethora of TV roles in the ’50s — came in 1960’s “The Magnificent Seven,” in which he played bombastic bandit Calvera.
The following year, he was back on the big screen alongside stars Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift in “The Misfits.”
Some of his other ’60s credits include “How the West Was Won” and “How to Steal a Million.” He also appeared in the campy “Batman” TV series as Mr. Freeze.
His standout performance as Tuco in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” — the final installment of filmmaker Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy — was not his only appearance in a popular film series.
Wallach played Don Altobello in “The Godfather: Part III,” and he co-starred in “The Two Jakes,” Jack Nicholson’s 1990 follow-up to the 1974 classic “Chinatown.” One of Wallach’s final roles was in Oliver Stone’s 2010 sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
Younger audiences may remember Wallach for his strong supporting roles in romantic comedies such as “The Holiday” and “Keeping the Faith” or his guest appearances on TV shows including “Nurse Jackie,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “ER” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”
As “brutal but brilliant” screenwriter Arthur Abbott in “The Holiday,” he stole every scene he shared with Kate Winslet and Jack Black.
Throughout his career, the one thing that always came across was the sincerity of each character, whether Wallach was playing a ruthless bad guy or a charming old man.
And to put those two together, no one can play ruthlessly charming or charmingly ruthless quite like Wallach can — and that is perhaps what movie-watchers will miss most of all. I know I will.
About the actor
Wallach’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland who owned a candy store in an Italian neighborhood of the New York borough of Brooklyn.
He earned degrees from the University of Texas and City College of New York and studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse and, after serving in the army during World War II, the Actors Studio.
Wallach was set to play Maggio in the 1953 film “From Here to Eternity,” but was replaced by Frank Sinatra, a break that resulted in Sinatra winning an Oscar and reviving his career. There were rumors that Sinatra got the role after undue influence from mobsters forced Wallach’s replacement, but Wallach said he rejected the part in order to appear in a Tennessee Williams play.
In 1948, Wallach married Anne Jackson, with whom he had been appearing on Broadway in “This Property Is Condemned.” The marriage produced three children.
Krummey is the Accent editor. You can reach her at (701) 780-1265; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1265; or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reuters Media contributed to this report