Oscar History

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Eli Wallach (1915-2014)

The great character actor Eli Wallach didn't quite make it to his centennial, dying at 98½ but at least he lived long enough to get an Honorary Oscar a few years back. The Academy honored him for "a lifetime's worth of indelible screen characters" even though they'd never nominated him.

I'm sure AMPAS didn't mean to include "Mr Freeze" on the Batman TV series as one of those characters but that's the one that's indelible for me. Is that wrong? When I was a child that show was always on through the magic of syndication. But Mr. Freeze was recast frequently (curiously enough two other Oscar favorites also played the chilly bad guy: three time nominee Otto Preminger and Oscar winner George Sanders). They rarely showed episodes in order so the memories of the faces get all jumbled up. 

He made a lot of career noise with his onscreen debut in Baby Doll (1956) for which he was Golden Globe nominated. But several fine characters and classics would follow like The Magnificent Seven, The Misfits, How the West Was Won, The Moon Spinners, The Good the Bad and the Ugly and The Godfather Pt. III.

What do you remember most about this actor?

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Reader Comments (14)

He did a lot of wonderful work, some remarkably subtle and others remarkably over the top. The first thing that comes to mind is The Misfits. It seems amazing that within eight years every other major performer in that film was gone but he managed to survive over 50 years when they were all relatively close in age.

He rarely had the star spot but always added a lot to whatever he was in. How different On the Waterfront would have been if he hadn't bowed out to do Tennessee Williams Camino Real.

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I love his Baby Doll, The Magnificent Seven, The Misfits and, especially, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly performances. That first one was probably his best Oscar shot (four other nominations, including 2 of the big 6), and today you know they'd category fraud the CRAP out of him to net him the nomination. The Magnificent Seven was a fun dime novel western, The Misfits was way underrated at the time (the passage of time corrects most mistakes) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was, though very hardy and uncompromising, it was not really loved enough at the time. As for after 1967? After that point, his career mostly disintegrated. His lowest points are probably working for British fascist Michael Winner in his post Death Wish period and participating in the shameless Bruce Lee cash-in Circle of Iron. He finally showed he'd always had "it" with his second last released film, The Ghost Writer, even if the role was below supporting in size.

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

That's easy. The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly. He should've gotten a Best Supporting Oscar for that. He was so damn good and nearly stole the film from Clint Eastwood. I also loved him in The Magnificent Seven and he was the highlight in The Godfather Pt. IIII.

I also loved him in The Holiday. Not a great film but if the film was just about him and Kate Winslet, it would've been a much better film.

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I guess Baby Doll and way more recently in New York I Love You, and also his brilliant guest appearances in Nurse Jackie and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Although I've seen and enjoyed many of his performances, it's his 66-year-marriage to Anne Jackson that is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Eli Wallach.

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Really loved his bit in "The Holiday" with Kate Winslet.

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMia

I'm with Mia and Steven. I first got to know him through The Holiday, in which he is delightful with Kate Winslet. What can I say? I like corny. There's room for corny in my life. He had me in my camp ever since! RIP!

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

What Peggy Sue said. BABY DOLL and this absolutely beautiful segment (basiclly the only one I remember well) from NEW YORK I LOVE YOU:


Also, his appearance in an Australian artist's film clip in recent times. Every time I hear "No, but I hope to one day", my heart simulatneously breaks and melts:


June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

Eli walking into the theater for his tribute towards the end of The Holiday never fails to choke me up

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Steven: That's category fraud of the highest order. Wallach and Eastwood are the LEADS, as in plural, and, even if I WERE to toss up either of them for category fraud, it would be the one with less lines, less intimated backstory and, generally, less of a fleshed out personality. (Yes, that means Eastwood.) Lee Van Cleef is DEFINITELY supporting in the full context of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, though.

My Lead Actor Ballot for 1967:

Alain Delon, Le Samourai
Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate
George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke
Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke
Eli Wallach, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (It's an amazing movie, but Eli Wallach had to act his pants off while Eastwood pretty much just had to look tough.)
(6-10: Lee Marvin, Point Blank, Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde, Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of the Night, Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night, Clint Eastwood, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.)

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

A lovely actor, and, by all accounts, a lovely man. My dad and I saw him interviewed at the National Film Theatre in London when Wallach was 90 and he was in great form.

My favourite performance of his, of the ones I've seen, is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And I'm with Volvagia on the category placement: to me, he's definitely a lead, along with Eastwood (and with Van Cleef in supporting).

RIP Mr. Wallach!

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

He was such a jovial presence in Cinderella Liberty. He had that lovely trait about him.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

His role in The Misfits steals scenes from Marilyn, Clark and Monty. One for the ages.

June 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

The Good, the Bad,... - and him!
The best performed of the three titel roles of the unforgettably best western movie ever made. I am glad that (besides your life-long great work), that role made you immortal, Sir!
Rest in Peace, dear Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez!

July 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Prah

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