The world lost one of the greatest character actors of all time Tuesday with the passing of Eli Wallach.
The multiple award-winning actor was not only well-known on and off the Broadway stage in such Tennessee Williams plays as “The Rose Tattoo” (for which he won a Tony in 1951), “Camino Real” and “This Property Is Condemned,” he also made a name for himself in films for Elia Kazan (Baby Doll), John Huston (The Misfits, also starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe), and William Wyler (How To Steal A Million, with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole).
But it is his roles in two iconic western films that most people will remember him for: Calvera in John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, and of course as “The Ugly” Tuco opposite Clint Eastwood’s “The Good” in the 1966 Sergio Leone classic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
In the film, Wallach partners up with Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” character to con towns out of the bounties that are on Wallach’s head, and just as Wallach is about to be hung, Eastwood shoots the rope tied to his neck and the two move on to the next town to continue their scam.
If you’ve never seen this film (SHAME), you’re missing out on immense talent, beautiful landscapes, and lines that are still quoted to this day against the musical backdrop provided by Ennio Morricone…luckily for you, here’s a six minute condensed version.
Wallach was recognized so often for this role that when he wrote his memoir back in 2005, he titled it The Good, The Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage. I’d always hoped that Tuco from “Breaking Bad” was named for Wallach’s character…seeing as they had the same attitude, haha.
As one of the first actors to utilize method acting, Wallach was adamant on making every role as real as possible rather than giving into stereotype. “For me it was a way of defining the character’s objective and giving him reality. I always feel there’s a reason for what the bandit does. I try to make them human. Because deep inside all of us — did you ever swat a fly? That’s murder.”
Wallach continued to work throughout his life up into the 2000s with roles in “Nurse Jackie,” “Stroker And Hoop,” “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip,” with one of his last film roles as Julie Steinhardt in the 2010 Oliver Stone sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Though he never won an Oscar, The Academy gave him a lifetime achievement award for his work in the film industry:
The cause of Wallach’s passing was not given by the family, other than he was in his family’s home in New York City when he passed. While he will be terribly missed, I feel fortunate to know that he’s left behind a MASSIVE library of amazing acting roles in films that I love dearly…and I think 98 is a fine age for anyone with as storied a career as his to take his final bow. Rest in peace, sir.
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