After 7 Decades A Star Of Stage And Screen, Eli Wallach Dies At 95

Jun 25, 2014
Originally published on June 25, 2014 7:30 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

He played a heck of a bandit and his list of credits highlights a prolific career. Eli Wallach has died the age of 98. Tom Vitale has this look at his long and celebrated career.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: Eli Wallach was best known for two roles as Mexican outlaws. In 1960 he won acclaim for his portrayal of the bandit Calvera, facing off against the sect head of gunslingers in "The Magnificent Seven."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN")

ELI WALLACH: (As Calvera) Where's the horses, cattle, gold, food from the trees - no more. Now I must hut with a price on my head. Relish at my heels, I'll be back.

VITALE: Six years later he co-starred with Clint Eastwood, in Sergio Leone's spaghetti Western "The Good The Bad And The Ugly."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY")

WALLACH: (As Tuco) If you save your breath, I feel a man like you could manage it and if you won't manage it you'll die only slowly. Very slowly old friend.

DAVID THOMSON: Those were probably his best smiley, sneering, sadistic, wicked roles. The things that he seemed to do very naturally.

VITALE: David Thomson is the author of "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film". He says Eli Wallach was convincing as a villain in a variety of ethnic roles.

THOMSON: Eli Wallach in a lot of his films did not shave and it's from a time and an attitude when if you don't shave you could be almost any disreputable person from anywhere in the world.

VITALE: That was a time when Hollywood didn't think twice about casting a Polish Jew as a Mexican or an Italian. In 1951 Wallach won a Tony award for originating the role on Broadway of the Sicilian truck driver Mangiacavallo in "The Rose Tattoo" by Tennessee Williams.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALLACH: I grew up with Italians in red Hook Little Italy on Union Street. Owned and operated by a mafia.

VITALE: Sitting in his upper West side apartment when he was 95-years-old, Eli Wallach recalled growing up in Brooklyn where his parents owned a candy store. During World War II he served as an Army officer in Hawaii, Casa Blanca and France. After the war she studied method acting as an original member of the Actor Studio in New York. He met his wife actress Anne Jackson while he was auditioning for the role of a teenager in another Williams Play. 65 years later they still finish each other's sentences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALLACH: And she said to the lady, Terry Hayman (PH) who's going to play the old...

ANNE JACKSON: The boy.

WALLACH: The boy and she said there he is. Now you tell.

JACKSON: I said he's too old and she said well he happens to be the best actor, so he's going to do it. So I said well all right. And the rest is history; I have three children to that man.

VITALE: Critic David Thomson says it was probably the longest show business marriage of the 20th century. And Wallach's career was also one of the most prolific. He acted in more than 90 films and dozens of plays and TV shows. Thomson says Wallach will be remembered for the quality as well as the quantity of his work.

THOMSON: For making an enormous number of films and a great range of parts and bringing energy and fun and mischief to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY")

WALLACH: (as Tuco) Who ever double crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands nothing about Tuco. Nothing.

VITALE: In 2011 the Motion Picture Academy gave Eli Wallach and honorary Oscar for his contributions to the film industry. On the red carpet he told reporters that his wife was the richest thing he owned. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

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