Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Eli Wallach

Go To

"Everyone thinks acting is easy. It's far from easy, but it's the most gratifying thing I do."

Eli Herschel Wallach (December 7, 1915 – June 24, 2014) was an American actor who worked in theatre, film, and television over the better part of six decades.

A Jewish boy with Polish immigrant parents, Wallach grew up in New York City's Little Italy, although he spent four years away at the University of Texas. An alumnus of the Actors Studio Method school of acting, Wallach had a prestigious career on the stage, which he had a particular affinity for, although he had plenty of roles in film and television. He was best known to some for being in seven Western movies: The Magnificent Seven (1960), How the West Was Won, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ace High, Mackenna's Gold, Don't Turn the Other Cheek! and The White The Yellow And The Black.

After he met his future wife Anne Jackson in 1946, the two became known as a double act on Broadway, appearing in many plays together such as This Property Is Condemned, The Rose Tattoo, Rhinoceros, Luv, Lullaby, The Teahouse of the August Moon, The Typists and The Tiger. He and Jackson remained happily married until his passing from natural causes in 2014.


He was the healthiest cast member of The Misfits and the last surviving star of the film.

Though won Tonys and Emmys throughout his career, he was never nominated for any Academy Awards.

He was also the third Mr. Freeze in the 1960s Batman series, and received the most fan mail out of all his characters for it.

He once shared a bed with Clint Eastwood before making The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. When he told the story to Anne Jackson, she quipped, "Now you can brag that you're the only man to have slept with Clint Eastwood".


Tropes that apply to the actor:

  • Action Survivor: He was tough enough to have survived even his most dangerous stunts on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
    • Not to mention some unplanned stunts (more commonly called "accidents"). To wit:
      • Drank acid. In order to make the gold bags easier to rip, they were treated with acid to weaken the fabric. Since acid isn't something you want to carry in your hands, someone had appropriated a lemon soda bottle to carry it. Wallach didn't get the memo and took a swig. Reports differ on how much Wallach drank, but he ended up pounding a lot of milk to try and neutralize the acid, and had to film a few scenes with a pretty sore mouth.
      • During a hanging scene, someone fired a gun, causing the horse he was on to spook and bolt. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem, except Wallach's hands were still tied - behind his back. He stayed on that horse for over a mile.
      • Nearly lost his head. For real. During a stunt involving laying very near a set of railroad tracks, everything was accounted for... except the locomotive's low-hanging step rails. Said iron rails came within a whisker of relieving Wallach of a need to ever see a barber again.
  • Actual Pacifist: He hated guns and had no use for them. While he did serve in WWII, it was a medic, not a soldier.
  • Affectionate Nickname: His neighborhood friends called him "Chink" because he looked like a Chinese boy when he smiled. Marilyn Monroe called him "Teacake", presumably because she met him backstage when he was in Teahouse of the August Moon.
  • Always Someone Better: Though he was never quite an A-Lister, his bigger name co-stars were sometimes intimidated by his acting talent and saw it as a threat to their coveted popularity. While making The Magnificent Seven, set reporter Erskine Johnson was convinced that he would walk away with the movie and that everyone but Yul Brynner would have their work cut out to stop him. During the making of The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe demanded that Arthur Miller cut scenes featuring his character Guido because he was afraid that his performance would outshine her own. Clint Eastwood quit making Spaghetti Westerns after he felt that Wallach had upstaged him in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He couldn't upstage everyone, however: Zero Mostel got all the praise for Rhinoceros while Wallach felt he struggled to hold his own as the star of the play and blew his voice out engaging in Ham-to-Ham Combat while rehearsing.
  • And Starring: He was constantly billed as a "Special Guest Star" in films and TV, even when he played the leading role or the deuteragonist.
  • Badass Adorable: He was cute, bright eyed, a notable nice guy and modest to the point of self-effacing, yet he was a fine athlete, enough to jump from the box seat onto the stage while performing in Camino Real, and an excellent dancer, swimmer and horseback rider. Not to mention almost dying no less than five times during the filming of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Though he was a patient and modest man, he did have his limits. One time while making The Misfits, the crew sprayed him with black oil instead of clear motor oil. Slowly taking his goggles off, he shot a Death Glare at one of the crew, and nobody dared tease him after the rest of the shoot.
  • Big Applesauce: He was a born and bred New Yorker and lived in the city all his life.
  • Big Little Brother: He grew up to be a bit taller than his older brother, Sam.
  • Butt-Monkey: During the making of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, he was unluckier than anyone on set. He rode a mile on a horse with his hands tied together, got an accidental black eye from Mario Brega during rehearsal, and almost drank acid that he mistook for lemonade. Considering his character, it makes sense.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: A woman once spotted him at a supermarket and mistook him for George C. Scott, E.G. Marshall or Martin Balsam.
  • Cool Old Guy: His later roles had him often play characters like this and he was also one in real life, still acting well into his nineties and staying as sharp as ever.
  • Covert Pervert: His college roommate at University of Texas once caught him on A Date with Rosie Palms. He also recalled meeting an actress who was auditioning for The Rose Tattoo and his eyes "naturally focused on her barely covered breasts".
  • Determinator: Not even the Second World War could dissuade him from his dream of becoming an actor.
  • Does Not Like Guns: He had no use for them because he was a pacifist.
  • Dreadful Musician: Lampshaded in his autobiography: for all of his talents, he couldn't carry a note.
  • Enforced Method Acting: During the filming of Baby Doll. When he had to look enraged about a cotton gin burning down, he imagined instead that a friend had burned down his house with his wife and children inside. This gave him the look that Elia Kazan wanted.
  • Facial Dialogue: He was an expert at this. Prominently featured in The Naked City episode A Death of Princes, where Bane's eyes dart frantically back and forth throughout the episode.
  • Fake Nationality: Many of his roles fell into this category.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: His four Spaghetti Western Characters fit this: Tuco is Choleric, Cacopoulos is Phlegmatic, Max is Sanguine and Sheriff Gideon is Melancholic.
  • Girly Run: He was known to have a very dainty, delicate run, affectionately referred to as the "Wallach Frolic."
  • Happily Married: To Anne Jackson, for sixty six years.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Lampshaded in his autobiography. He always scoffed at scenes in movies where the wife announces her pregnancy and the husband asks, "Are you alright? When did this happen?" ("Happen? What the hell did he think they were doing in bed? Playing chess?"). Then when Anne announces her first pregnancy, he panics and says, "What do we do? What do we do? When did it happen?"
  • The Medic: He was a medical officer in World War II.
  • Nice Guy: He was a warm and personable man, often described as having been a Nice Jewish Boy.
    "I always end up playing the evil one, and I wouldn't hurt a fly."
  • Nice Jewish Boy: He was one in real life.
  • Odd Name Out: He was the only one of his siblings whose name didn't begin with "S"; his siblings' names were Sam, Sylvia and Shirley.
  • Older Than They Look: He often looked younger than he actually was. He was 50 when he made The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but he looked at least ten years younger.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: With Marilyn Monroe, until they fell out making The Misfits. However, she was known to have flirted with him.
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Gender-flipped; he was the Energetic Guy to Anne Jackson's Savvy Girl. When he learned that Arnold Schwarzenegger was getting $20 million for playing Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, while he got only $350 for playing the same role in Batman (1966), he complained furiously to Anne about it. Her only response: "Lift weights."
  • The Teetotaler: Downplayed. He did get wasted a couple of times but often drank in moderation, to the point that he needed help on how to act drunk when necessary.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: He impressed everyone with a Kazatsky at a theater company party once.

Selected filmography: