Wallach, Eli: Method Actor (Baby Doll, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) Dies at 98

Tony-and Emmy-winning actor Eli Wallach, best known for his starring role in Elia Kazan’s film “Baby Doll” and for his role as villain Tuco in Sergio Leoni’s iconic spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” died on Tuesday.  He was 98.

On the big screen Wallach had few turns as a leading man, but none was as strong as his first starring role in 1956’s “Baby Doll,” in which he played a leering cotton gin owner intent on seducing the virgin bride (Carroll Baker) of his business rival (Karl Malden).

He appeared in more than 80 films, offering colorful turns in character roles in movies such as “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Nuts,” “Lord Jim,” “The Misfits” and “The Two Jakes.”

Method Actor

The actor, who appeared in a wide variety of stage, screen and television roles, was often paired with his wife Anne Jackson, particularly onstage.  In 1948 he was one of the core of 20 who joined Kazan, Cheryl Crawford and Bobby Lewis in starting the Actors Studio, where he studied with Lee Strasberg. Others included Jackson, David Wayne, Marlon Brando, Patricia Neal and Maureen Stapleton.

Wallach received an Honorary Academy Award at the second annual Governors Awards, presented on Nov. 13, 2010, for “a lifetime’s worth of indelible screen characters.”

His career began in the 1950s, when he achieved triumphs in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo,” for which he won a Tony, and the revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara.”

He got a role in “Mister Roberts,” with which he stayed for two years until 1951, when Williams cast him opposite Stapleton in “The Rose Tattoo,” directed by Kazan.  After playing the role for 18 months he went right into Williams’ “Camino Real” — for which he turned down the role of Maggio in “From Here to Eternity.” Frank Sinatra did it instead and won an Oscar; “Camino Real” closed after 60 performances, but Wallach claimed to have no regrets.

Wallach starred Off Broadway in “The Scarecrow” with Jackson and Neal and in 1954 as Julien in Anouilh’s “Mademoiselle Columbe” opposite Julie Harris.  He and Harris later starred in “The Lark” on TV.

He spent a year in London, playing in “Teahouse of the August Moon.” He then did “Major Barbara,” with Charles Laughton and Burgess Meredith, on Broadway in 1956. Other stage roles included “The Chairs” and “The Cold Wind and the Warm,” with Stapleton.

For Don Siegel he appeared in magnificent film noir “The Lineup.” He played a bad guy, and did the same in “Seven Thieves” and “The Magnificent Seven.” In 1960 he joined the cast of John Huston’s “The Misfits” with Gable, Monroe, Clift and Thelma Ritter.

Over the next decade he appeared in supporting roles in a wide variety of films, including “How the West Was Won,” “The Victors,” “Act One,” “Lord Jim,” “How to Steal a Million,” “MacKenna’s Gold,” “A Lovely Way to Die,” “How to Save a Marriage,” “The Brain” (in French and English) and Sergio Leone’s classic “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

Stage work was also satisfying, including Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” with Zero Mostel and Jackson, “Brecht on Brecht,” Murray Schisgal’s “The Tiger and the Typist” (which he and Jackson made into a film in 1967 called “The Tiger Makes Out”) and “Luv.” They later did “The Typist” on television.

Also for TV he did Reginald Rose’s drama “Dear Friends” on “CBS Playhouse” (drawing an Emmy nomination), Clifford Odets’ “Paradise Lost” and “20 Shades of Pink.” He played Mr. Freeze on two episodes of “Batman.” He won an Emmy for his role in the TV film “Poppies Are Also Flowers.”

Through the 1970s he did several more spaghetti Westerns, as well as films including “The Angel Levine,” “Cinderella Liberty,” “The Deep,” “Nasty Habits,” “Movie, Movie,” “Winter Kills” and “Girlfriends.”

He also flourished in telepics such as “The Wall,” “The Executioner’s Song,” “The Pirate” and “Seventh Avenue,” while achieving a triumph with Jackson in 1973 in Anouilh’s “Waltz of the Toreadors.”

In the late 1970s, Wallach and Jackson toured in “The House of Blue Leaves” and a revival of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with their two daughters.

He began to slow down in the ’80s but still turned in some good work in “Tough Guys,” “Nuts” and 1990’s “The Two Jakes” and “The Godfather: Part III.”  On the smallscreen he got another Emmy nomination for the movie “Something in Common” with Ellen Burstyn.

Wallach continued to draw supporting roles in prestige features, appearing in “Mystic River” (though uncredited), Lasse Hallstrom’s “The Hoax,” a segment of “New York, I Love You” as well as Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” and Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” both in 2010.

The actor continued to do occasional TV work, guesting, for example, on “Law and Order” in 1992, on Sidney Lumet’s “100 Centre Street” in 2001, on “ER” in 2003, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” in 2006 and “Nurse Jackie” in 2009 (drawing two more Emmy noms for these last two perfs); he recurred on “The Education of Max Bixford” in 2002.  He did voiceover work, including for 2006 Oscar-winning animated short “The Moon and the Son.”

The Brooklyn-born Wallach was educated at the U. of Texas and City College of New York, where he received his B.A. and M.S. in education. Though he felt the odds were against him — “I was a little guy,” he wrote in a New Yorker self-profile — he started studying acting as an avocation. He trained with Sanford Meisner, one of the early advocates of the Stanislavski method.

But his thespic ambitions were cut short by the draft. He entered the Army in 1941 and was a Medical Corps administrator for more than four years, serving in the Pacific and Europe and achieving the rank of captain by the time of his discharge.

One of his first acting jobs out of the Army in 1945 was in an Equity Library Theater production of Tennessee Williams’ one-act “This Property Is Condemned.” Also in the play was young actress Anne Jackson, whom he married in 1948.

His Broadway debut came at the end of 1945 in the drama “Skydrift.” The following year he joined the American Repertory Theater, performing Shakespeare, Shaw and even “Alice in Wonderland,” in which he played a duck and the Two of Spades. His stage career took off in the early ’50s.

In 2005, the actor released his wittily titled autobiography, “The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage.”

 

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