Actors come, actors go. Some are instantly forgettable, some leave an indelible impression. Some never take chances, some will try any kind of role to perfect their craft. Eli Wallach came onto the scene on television at its inception in 1949 in The Philco Television Playhouse. Over the many years between, he would perform live in 32 plays. He worked on seven documentaries, 24 made-for-television films, guest starred in more than 44 episodes of a wide variety of television programs and starred or co-starred in 83 films. Eli Wallach remained active in his craft until 2010–at the age of 95.
Wallach was ‘Mr. Freeze’ on the old Batman television show. He also did episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected, L.A. Law, Law and Order and Murder, She Wrote. Movie buffs each have personal favorites which starred Mr. Wallach. Some liked him as Calvera in “The Magnificent Seven”. Many recall him as Ben Baker in “Mackenna’s Gold”. A lot of buffs enjoyed his portrayal of Adam Coffin in “The Deep”. Nearly everyone remembers him best as Tuco opposite Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”.
Wallach was ‘the Ugly’, a wild, reckless outlaw who’s game was to be turned in to local authorities by ‘the Good’ (Eastwood) for the reward money. ‘The Good’ would then wait nearby and shoot the rope in time to save his life and then turn him in again, some distance away.
This was the kind of character Wallach excelled at playing, a man just off-center, endearing but twisted, violent but not evil. Even when he played a cop he wasn’t all moral or Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes. It was almost a trademark in all of his characters and he enjoyed it to the hilt.
Wallach was born to Jewish parents in 1915 in Red Hook, Brooklyn (N.Y.). He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in history in 1936. He then graduated from City College of New York in 1938 with a degree in education. He worked onstage in New York and in the U.S. Army during World War II. He married stage actress Anne Jackson in 1948, producing three children and remaining married to her until his death this week.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” could’ve been his final film. During filming, he accidentally drank acid from a poorly placed container. In one scene where he was about to be hanged, someone fired a pistol causing the horse to bolt and run over a mile with Wallach’s hands still tied behind his back. In a different scene, with Wallach lying near a railroad track, he was nearly decapitated by steps which extended from the train. Thankfully, he survived those experiences until death finally claimed him on June 24, 2014.