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Eli Wallach

One of Hollywood’s finest character / “Method” actors, he was in demand for over 60 years on stage and screen.

Eli Wallach



Baby Doll



The Lineup



Seven Thieves

The Magnificent Seven



The Misfits



Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man

How the West Was Won



The Victors

Act One



The Moon-Spinners

Kisses for My President



Lord Jim

Genghis Khan



The Poppy Is Also a Flower

How to Steal a Million

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly



The Tiger Makes Out



How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life

A Lovely Way to Die

Ace High



The Brain

Mackenna’s Gold



Zig Zag

The Adventures of Gerard

The Angel Levine

The People Next Door



Romance of a Horsethief

Long Live Your Death



Stateline Motel



Cinderella Liberty



Crazy Joe



Shoot First… Ask Questions Later

L’chaim: To Life

Eye of the Cat



Plot of Fear

The Sentinel

Nasty Habits

The Domino Principle



The Deep



Circle of Iron


Little Italy

Movie Movie




Winter Kills




The Hunter



The Salamander



Sam’s Son



Tough Guys






The Two Jakes

The Godfather Part III



Article 99


Night and the City



Honey Sweet Love…



Elia Kazan: A Director’s Journey



Two Much

The Associate






Keeping the Faith



Monday Night Mayhem

Advice and Dissent



Mystic River

The Root



King of the Corner



A Taste of Jupiter

The Easter Egg Adventure



The Hoax

The Holiday

Pola Negri: Life is a Dream in Cinema



Mama’s Boy



Liszt For President

The Toe Tactic



New York, I Love You

Tickling Leo



The Ghost Writer

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


Eli Wallach was never nominated for a competitive Academy Award. In 2010 he received the AMPAS Governors Awards: Given ‘For a lifetime’s worth of indelible screen characters’. 

I’ve learned that life is very tricky business: Each person needs to find what they want to do in life and not be dissuaded when people question them. ~ Eli Wallach 

Eli Wallach was born Eli Herschel Wallach on December 7, 1915 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a son of Jewish immigrants Abraham and Bertha (Schorr) Wallach, both from Poland. He had a brother and two sisters. Wallach graduated in 1936 from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in history. While at the university, he performed in a play with fellow students Ann Sheridan and Walter Cronkite.

Two years later he received a master of arts degree in education from the City College of New York. He gained his first method acting experience at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City, where he studied under Sanford Meisner.

Wallach’s education was cut short when he was drafted into the United States Army in January 1941. He served as staff sergeant in a military hospital in Hawaii and later sent to Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Abilene, Texas to train as a medical administrative officer. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was ordered to Casablanca. Later, when he was serving in France, a senior officer noticed his acting career and asked him to create a show for the patients. He and his unit wrote a play called Is This the Army?, which was inspired by Irving Berlin’s This Is the Army. In the comedy, Wallach and the other actors mocked Axis dictators, with Wallach portraying Adolf Hitler.

Wallach took classes in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York with the influential German director Erwin Piscator. He later became a founding member of the Actors Studio, taught by Lee Strasberg. There, he studied more method acting technique with founding member Robert Lewis, and with other students including Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Herbert Berghof, Sidney Lumet, and his soon-to-be wife, Anne Jackson. Wallach became Marilyn Monroe’s first new friend when she became a student at the Actors Studio.

In 1945 Wallach made his Broadway debut and he won a Tony Award in 1951 for his performance alongside Maureen Stapleton in the Tennessee Williams play The Rose Tattoo.

The stage was where Wallach focused his early career. From 1945 to 1950 he and his wife, Anne Jackson, worked together acting in various plays by Tennessee Williams. The five years following, he continued only working on stage, not becoming involved in film work until 1956. During those years, however, they were generally having a hard time making ends meet. He recalls they were getting along on unemployment insurance and living in a one-room, $35 a month apartment on lower Fifth Avenue in the Village

Wallach’s film debut was in Elia Kazan’s controversial 1956 Baby Doll, for which he won the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) as “Most Promising Newcomer.” Baby Doll was controversial because of its underlying sexual theme. Director Elia Kazan however, set explicit limits on Wallach’s scenes, telling him not to actually seduce Carroll Baker, but instead to create an unfulfilled erotic tension.

In 1961, Wallach co-starred with Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Clark Gable in The Misfits, Monroe’s and Gable’s last film before their deaths. Wallach never learned why he was cast in the film, although he suspected that Monroe had something to do with it.

Audrey Hepburn and Eli Wallach in How to Steal a Million (1966)

Audrey Hepburn and Eli Wallach in How to Steal a Million (1966)

Some of his other films included The Lineup (1958), Lord Jim (1965) with Peter O’Toole, a comic role in How to Steal a Million (1966), again with O’Toole, and Audrey Hepburn, and as Tuco (the ‘Ugly’) in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) with Clint Eastwood, followed by other Spaghetti Westerns, such as Ace High. At one point, Henry Fonda had asked Wallach whether he himself should accept a part offered to him to act in a similar Western, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), which would also be directed by Leone.

During the filming of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Wallach nearly died three times. Once, he accidentally drank a bottle of acid which was placed next to his pop bottle; another time was in a scene where he was about to be hanged, someone fired a pistol which caused the horse underneath him to bolt and run a mile while Wallach’s hands were still tied behind his back; in a different scene with him lying on a railroad track, he was close to being decapitated by steps jutting out from the train.

Wallach appeared as DC Comics’ supervillain Mr. Freeze in the 1960s Batman television series. He said that he received more fan mail about his role as Mr. Freeze than about all of his other roles combined. He played Gus Farber in the television miniseries Seventh Avenue in 1977, and 10 years later, at the age of 71, he starred alongside Michael Landon in Highway to Heaven episode ” A Father’s Faith”. Three years later he played aging mob boss Don Altobello in the third episode of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy.

On November 13, 2010, at the age of 94, Wallach received an Academy Honorary Award for his contribution to the film industry from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. A few years prior to that event, Kate Winslet told another audience that Wallach, with whom she acted in The Holiday in 2006, was one of the “most charismatic men” she’d met, and her “very own sexiest man alive.”

Wallach’s final performance was in the short film The Train (2015). Wallach plays a holocaust survivor, who in a meeting teaches a self-consumed and preoccupied young man that life can change in a moment. The short was shot in early 2014 and premiered on August 6, 2015 at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Eli Wallach was married to stage actress Anne Jackson (1925–2016) for 66 years from March 5, 1948, until his death. They had three children: Peter (born 1951), Roberta (born 1955), and Katherine (born 1958).

Wallach died on June 24, 2014 of natural causes at the age of 98. He was survived by his wife of 66 years, three children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild. His body was cremated.

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