Character actor best known as Mexican hombres in classic spaghetti Westerns, appeared in more than 90 films across a career spanning six decades
Eli Wallach, one of the most prolific and recognizable character actors in a career spanning six decades, has died. He was 98.
Wallach is perhaps best remembered as the villain in Sergio Leone‘s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” as well as “The Magnificent Seven.” He died on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. No other details have been provided.
In 2010, Wallach accepted an Honorary Academy Award at the second annual Governors Award for a “lifetime's worth of indelible screen characters,” making him the oldest Oscar recipient. His memorable film roles include “Lord Jim,” “The Misfits,” “How to Steal a Million,” “Cinderella Liberty” and “The Godfather: Part III.”
Wallach's first television appearance was in “The Philco Television Playhouse” in 1949. He launched his movie career as a leading man with 1956's “Baby Doll,” but he would quickly settle into supporting roles throughout much of his professional career. Wallach continued working extensively in both television and film until 2010. His final role was in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
Throughout the 1960s, Wallach became known for his various villainous roles in spaghetti Westerns and other films like “Seven Thieves” and “The Lineup.” But he continued nurturing his career on the stage and on television. He earned an Emmy nomination for his role in the “CBS Playhouse” drama “Dear Friends.” He even played Mr. Freeze in two episodes of the camp classic “Batman” television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
He often portrayed Mexican banditos in spaghetti Westerns, as well as other villains, but he was a prolific performer who won a Tony Award in 1951 for his performance as Alvaro in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo,” and an Emmy for his work in the made-for-TV movie “The Poppy Is Also a Flower.”
Wallach enjoyed a healthy stage career, appearing in his first Broadway production in 1945. After starring in “The Rose Tattoo” for 18 months he rolled right into Williams’ “Camino Real.” He also starred Off Broadway in several plays before spending a year in London. He returned to Broadway for a role in “Major Barbara,” with Charles Laughton and Burgess Meredith, in 1956.
He maintained this balance between film, television and stage throughout the next three decades, earning another Emmy nomination for the 1986 movie “Something in Common,” with Ellen Burstyn.
He continued working into his 90s, though he did slow down. Nevertheless, Wallach appeared in movies like “Mystic River,” “The War,” “New York, I Love You,” and “The Ghost Writer.” His later television appearances included guest spots on “ER,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” for which he would receive another Emmy nomination, and “Nurse Jackie.”
Born in Brooklyn, Wallach went to college at the University of Texas and City College in New York, where he received a Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Science in education. Wallach began studying acting at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York, but had his ambitions cut short by the draft.
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He entered military service in 1941 and was a Medical Corps administrator in the Army for four years, achieving the rank of captain by the time of his discharge. Shortly after leaving the Army, Wallach met his wife, Anne Jackson, during one of his earliest acting jobs. He was cast in an Equity Library Theater production of Tenessee Williams’ “This Property is Condemned.”
Wallach was later part of the first group of actors to study at the Actors Studio, started in 1947, along with Jackson. Wallach and Jackson would wed the next year. He is survived by his wife and their three children, Peter, Roberta and Katherine.