Eli Wallach Biography

Film Actor, Theater Actor, Television Actor, Actor (1915–2014)
American actor Eli Wallach appeared in such films as The Misfits; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.


Born on December 7, 1915, Eli Wallach served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He made his Broadway debut in 1945. He won a Tony Award for 1951's The Rose Tattoo, and appeared his first film Baby Doll in 1956. More film roles soon followed, including parts in The Misfits and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Wallach later appeared in The Godfather: Part III (1990) and The Ghost Writer (2010). He died on June 24, 2014.

Early Life

A seasoned character actor, Eli Wallach has worked with some of Hollywood's greatest stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen and Al Pacino. He grew up in Brooklyn as the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Around the age of 15, Wallach took to the stage for the first time in a boys' club production. He enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to become an actor.

Wallach earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and then pursed a master's degree in education from the College of the City of New York. His parents wanted him to become a teacher, but he was more interested in acting. Wallach studied at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner. Tony Randall was among those in his class at the Playhouse. Wallach had to put his dreams of life on the stage on hold for a time, however. During World War II, he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army for two years.

Career Highlights

After the war, Wallach returned to New York City. He made his Broadway debut in 1945 in the short-lived play Skydrift. While that show failed to take off, Wallach continued to work steadily on the New York stage over the next several years. He enjoyed a long run as Stefanowski in Mister Roberts beginning in 1949 and won critical acclaim for his work in the 1951 play The Rose Tattoo. Both he and his co-star Maureen Stapleton earned Tony Awards for their performances in this drama by Tennessee Williams. Around this time, Wallach tied the knot with actress Anne Jackson. The pair, wed in 1948, have enjoyed one of Hollywood's most enduring marriages. The couple would go on to have three children, son Peter and daughters Roberta and Katherine. 

In 1956, Wallach made his film debut in Baby Doll with Carroll Baker and Karl Malden. He played a scheming Italian businessman who moves in on another man's wife in this steamy southern drama penned by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan. Wallach went to appear in a string of classic films in the early 1960s. He starred in the John Sturges' western The Magnificent Seven (1960) playing a Mexican bandit. A group of hired guns (including Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner) try to stop the bandit's attack on a village. The following year, he had a supporting role in the John Huston drama The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Wallach's turn as a sergeant in the 1963 war drama The Victors was another critical success.

Wallach gave one of his best-known and well-regarded performances in the 1966 western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. That following year, he won an Emmy Award for his work on a television special. Wallach also found success on the stage, appearing in the comedy Luv with wife Anne. 

Over the next few decades, Wallach continued to work in film, television and the theater. Some of his notable later roles on the big screen include The Deep (1977), The Hunter (1980), Tough Guys (1986) and The Godfather: Part III (1990). On the small screen, Wallach had a supporting role in the true-life crime story The Executioner's Song (1982) and starred in the short-lived dramatic series Our Family Honor a few years later. Wallach reunited with his wife for the Broadway comedy Twice Around the Park in the early 1980s and he earned acclaim for his work in the 1992 revival of Arthur Miller's The Price. Wallach and Jackson also performed together in the late 1990s in their tribute to one of America's great playwrights in Tennessee Williams Remembered.

Later Work and Honorary Oscar

In 2005, Wallach shared his many years of experience with readers in his autobiography The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage. He made an Emmy Award nominated guest appearance on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip the following year. Wallach continued to act into his nineties. Some of his later projects included a guest appearance on the television series Nurse Jackie and roles in such films as Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) and Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer (2010).

Wallach received a special honor in 2010 for his long, rich career as an actor. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave him their Governor's Award for his work. At the award ceremony, Wallach said, according to a UPI report, "Your recognition of my artistry means something very dear to me. I don't act to live. I live to act."

Eli Wallach died at the age of 98 in his Manhattan home on June 24, 2014.

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