Actor Eli Wallach, known for roles in “The Magnificent Seven,” "How the West Was Won," "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and NBC’s “Executioner’s Song,” has died. The New York Times reports that Wallach died Tuesday at 98.
Wallach, whom The Times called “one of his generation’s most prominent and prolific character actors,” often appeared with his wife, actress Anne Jackson.
"No matter the part, he always seemed at ease and in control, whether playing a Mexican bandit in the 1960 western 'The Magnificent Seven,' a bumbling clerk in Ionesco’s allegorical play 'Rhinoceros,' a henpecked French general in Jean Anouilh’s 'Waltz of the Toreadors,' Clark Gable’s sidekick in 'The Misfits' or a Mafia don in 'The Godfather: Part III,'" The Times reports.
In the acclaimed 1966 spaghetti Western "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," Wallach played another Mexican bandit, Tuco Ramirez — "the Ugly" of the three title characters — opposite Clint Eastwood ("The Good") and Lee Van Cleef ("The Bad").
While he was never nominated for an Academy Award, he was given an honorary Oscar in 2010, just before his 95th birthday. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences described him as “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.”
His love was the stage, and he described movies as “a means to an end.” He told The Times in 1973, “I go and get on a horse in Spain for 10 weeks, and I have enough cushion to come back and do a play.”
Wallach grew up as a Jewish child in an Italian-American neighborhood of Brooklyn, then went to college at the University of Texas at Austin, where he learned to ride horses. That was a skill he put to use in his roles in Westerns. After that, he earned a master’s degree in education at City College in New York, with the goal of becoming a teacher.
He studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse until World War II, when he entered the Army, serving for five years. After that, he helped found the Actors Studio and studied method acting with Lee Strasberg.
“Ahead lay his Broadway debut in ‘Skydrift,’ which had a one-week run in 1945, and his fateful meeting with an actress named Anne Jackson,” the piece notes. “The Wallachs went on to become stalwarts of the American stage, evoking memories of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.”
Wallach worked extensively in television from its early days in the 1950s until recent years, winning an Emmy in 1967 for "Poppies Are Also Flowers" — one of his five Emmy nominations. He was nominated as recently as 2010, for a guest performance on "Nurse Jackie."
Here's a clip featuring highlights of Wallach's performance as Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly":