Jack Palance Biography

Actor (1919–2006)
Jack Palance was an American actor best known for playing villainous roles in the 1960s and for his award-winning appearance in the film City Slickers.


Jack Palance was an American actor born on February 18, 1919, in Lattimer, Pennsylvania. Named Vladimir Ivanovich Palahniuk, the former boxer gained fame playing villainous characters in Hollywood. He earned Oscar nods for his roles in Sudden Fear (1952) and Shane (1953) as well as an Emmy for Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956). Palance’s next prominent role was as a TV host for Ripley’s Believe It or Not (1982). He appeared in the hit films Batman (1989) and City Slickers (1991), and the latter film won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Palance died on November 10, 2006, in Montecito, California.

Early Life

Actor Vladimir Palahnuik (later changed to Walter Jack and best known as Jack Palance) was born on February 18, 1919, in the coal-mining town of Lattimer, Pennsylvania. A handsome youth with a passion for reading and poetry, Jack Palance used his athletic prowess to escape his meager surroundings, securing a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina. He left college to pursue a professional boxing career, but when an injury forced him to quit, he joined the Army Air Force as a bomber pilot. (A rumor swirled for years that Palance underwent plastic surgery for severe injuries caused by a war-related plane crash, but the actor later said it was a story cooked up by his publicity team).

While attending Stanford University on the GI Bill, Palance developed an interest in the dramatic arts. He moved to New York and was cast in a number of bit parts, including his first stage role in the Broadway production The Big Two (1947). Later that year, he served as an understudy for Anthony Quinn in the Chicago production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Commercial Success

In 1950, director Elia Kazan cast Palance in his first studio film, Panic in the Streets, in which he appeared opposite Richard Widmark as the vicious street boss Blackie. The immediate success of Panic in the Streets influenced 20th Century Fox to offer Palance a long-term contract. Often cast in sinister, villainous roles, he earned praise for his Oscar-nominated performance opposite Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear (1952). He played a vicious gunslinger in his next project, Shane, and his performance left an indelible impression and earned him a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Career Highlights

Jack Palance continued to command lead roles, portraying a slew of menacing characters that ranged from a court magician in The Silver Chalice (1954) to a bank robber in I Died a Thousand Times (1955). In 1956, he won a Best Actor Emmy Award for his role in Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight. Two years later, Palance moved to Switzerland, where he starred in over a dozen foreign features, most notably The Man Inside (1958), The Mongols (1960) and Contempt (1963).

Upon his return to America, Palance achieved success with parts in the films The Professionals (1966), The Desperados and Che! (both 1969), as well as in the TV versions of classic thrillers like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968) and Dracula (1974). Despite continued critical acclaim for his performances, fewer and fewer roles came his way. During the late 1970s, his credits included a handful of less-than-notable foreign films like Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster (1974), The Sensuous Nurse (1976), Welcome to Blood City (1977) and Cocaine Cowboys (1979).

Later Work

In 1982, Palance’s career received an improbable resurgence when Columbia Studios contracted him as the TV host of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He also starred in the quirky 1987 comedy Bagdad Cafe. Over the next few years, he appeared in a variety of high-profile films, including the blockbuster Batman (1989) and the rollicking comedy-adventure City Slickers (1991), for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Palance reprised his award-winning role in the 1994 sequel City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.

Jack Palance died on November 10, 2006, at the age of 87. He was survived by his second wife, Elaine, and two children from his first marriage to actress Virginia Baker.

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