Eli Wallach was not only one of the most respected stage and screen actors of his time. But was also a kind-hearted man that everyone enjoyed working with. While his most iconic screen role may very well be his portrayal of “the Ugly” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The actor chose to spend most of his time favoring challenging dramatic roles on the stage to star-making turns in blockbuster films. After nearly a century of glorious living, Eli passed away in 2014. Join Facts Verse as we examine Eli Wallach’s life and death.
Eli Wallach was born in Brooklyn on December 7, 1915. His parents were Jewish immigrants that had come from Poland. And they lived in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Red Hook. Eli had two sisters and a brother, and their parents owned and operated a candy store in the area.
As he started growing up, Eli became interested in seeing what the world had to offer besides New York. Eli chose to attend college at the University of Texas, where he received a degree in history. While attending the University of Texas, Eli said to have performed in a play with fellow students Walter Cronkite and Ann Sheridan. Besides his formal education, the state of Texas also had a more subtle influence on the young man. Eli learned to ride horses, and became increasingly fond of the positive attitude Texans exuded in comparison to the more abrasive New Yorkers.
After receiving his degree in Texas, Eli headed back to his home state. Where he further pursued his education at the City College of New York. While there, Eli received a master’s degree in education. Another thing that Eli did upon returning to New York was begin studying method acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. However, Eli forced to put his education on hold after drafted into the United States Army in 1941.
Eli served until 1945, when World War II came to an end. After returning from the war, he resumed his studies. Eli began taking classes at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York City. And later became one of the founding members of the now-prestigious Actors Studio.
Through the Actors Studio, Eli was able to make connections with such actors as Marlon Brando and Sidney Lumet. The Actors Studio is also how Eli met Marilyn Monroe, as well as his future wife, Anne Jackson. When Marilyn Monroe first started becoming interested in acting. Eli and Anne were two of the first friends that she made. The two spent a lot of time studying together. And Marilyn even said to have babysat for the couple on numerous occasions.
Although Eli hade made his debut on Broadway in 1945, he didn’t receive his big break until 1951. That year, Eli appeared in the Tennessee Williams play The Rose Tattoo. Acting alongside Maureen Stapleton, the performance netted Eli a Tony Award. From there, Eli made several more successful turns in notable plays, including Mister Roberts, Camino Real, and The Teahouse of the August Moon.
While Eli was finding plenty of success on the stage, he didn’t make his debut on the screen until 1956. Although Eli was certainly receiving a great deal of praise during his Broadway days. He and Anne weren’t making a great deal of money. The couple apparently had trouble making ends meet, which is what eventually made Eli decide that it was time to take on some film roles. Eli had offered film roles since rising to prominence on Broadway. But always turned them down became he had no interest in the medium.
The first film that Eli ever appeared in was the controversial 1956 feature Baby Doll, directed by Elia Kazan and written by Tennessee Williams. Eli had worked with both of them on the stage. So the film proved the perfect place for Eli to make his entrance into cinemas. Although the film was controversial due to some of it’s sexual material. It received plenty of praise for it’s writing, direction, and Eli’s acting.
After making his on-screen debut in Baby Doll, Eli went on to act in over 90 films before his death in 2014. As well, the actor appeared in innumerable television dramas. However, the actor kept coming back to the stage time and time again, as theater was his true passion. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
One of Eli Wallach’s early notable on-screen roles came when he acted beside both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in The Misfits. The film directed by John Huston, and written by famed playwright Arthur Miller, who had once been Marilyn’s lover. Eli was able to get the role due to his friendship with Marilyn. And incredibly grateful for the chance to appear alongside both her and Clark Gable.
Despite his preference for performing on the stage, Eli continued acting in many more films over the course of his career. His most memorable film performance was arguably in 1966’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The film was the second sequel to 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, after 1965’s For a Few Dollars More. The film has arguably gone down in history as the most popular of the three, thanks in no small part to the addition of Eli Wallach’s Tuco, aka “the Ugly”.
After appearing in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Eli appeared in a few more Spaghetti Westerns, including 1968’s Ace High. Henry Fonda said to have asked Eli for his advice before taking on his role in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. Eli encouraged Peter to take his role in that classic 1968 film, and the rest is history!
After appearing alongside each other in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Eli and Clint Eastwood remained great friends. The two even worked together again several decades later. Clint cast Eli in his 2003 feature Mystic River, alongside such stars as Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.
Eli said to have almost died three times during the filming of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The first time, Eli accidentally ingested a bottle of acid that sat next to his drink. On the second occasion, Eli perched atop a horse with his hands tied behind his back when the horse startled by a gunshot and took off running. The third time, the actor was almost decapitated while being forced to lie down on some railroad tracks. Thankfully, Eli survived!
If his turn as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is arguably Eli’s most memorable on-screen role. It wasn’t the role that the actor got the most fan mail for. Eli appeared as popular villain Mr. Freeze on the 1960s Batman television series, and the role was said to have kept Eli’s mailbox filled with fan letters praising his performance for years to come.
Eli continued acting well into his twilight years. In 1990, Francis Ford Coppola cast him as a mob boss in The Godfather Part III. Although the film wasn’t believed to be quite as good as it’s predecessors, praise was heaped onto Eli’s performance as mob boss Don Altobello. Eli received an Academy Honorary Award in 2010, at the age of 94. The actor’s final performance was in a short film called The Train, which cast Eli as an aging Holocaust survivor. The short film was released in 2015, after Eli’s death.
Eli stayed married to Anne Jackson until his death. The two married on March 5, 1948, and their marriage lasted for nearly seven decades. The couple had three children, whose names were Peter, Roberta, and Katherine. Roberta went on to become an actress herself, appearing in several films.
One may wonder how Eli and Anne had such a successful marriage when many other couples in the entertainment industry before and since seemed to have been doomed to fail. On top of being a kind man with a lot of integrity, Eli was also a teetotaler. This meant that Eli didn’t imbibe any alcohol whatsoever. Given that most celebrity marriages turn sour because of substance abuse, perhaps being a teetotaler is what allowed Eli to break this pattern!
Despite his healthy lifestyle and positive outlook on life, Eli inevitably began aging like anybody else. In 2005, Eli lost the ability to see out of his left eye after suffering from a stroke. Over the next decade, Eli’s health would become worse and worse before eventually failing for good in 2014. The actor died of natural causes on June 24, at the age of 98. At the time of Eli’s death, he and Anne had been married for 66 years. Anne would die only a few years later, in 2016.
In 2006, Eli had appeared alongside actress Kate Winslet in the romantic comedy film The Holiday. Eli was said to have had made quite the impression on Kate during the film’s production, as the actress went on to express that she considered Eli to be one of the sexiest and most charismatic men that she had ever met. Everyone that worked with Eli seemed to have had great things to say about him, from playwright Arthur Miller to director and costar Clint Eastwood. Although Eli preferred working on the stage to working on film, he never let that show to his coworkers.
Eli Wallach might not be the biggest name in Hollywood history, but the actor certainly had his share of memorable roles on film and television. Comment down below to share what role you best like to remember the late character actor from, or if you ever got the chance to see him perform on the stage, where he was in his element. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the firs to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!