Actor Eli Wallach, whose prolific career in theater, movies and television spanned all or parts of eight consecutive decades, died June 24 in Manhattan at age 98. Wallach was the oldest man to receive an Academy Award getting an Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Contributions in November 2010. Four years before, Eli Wallach was given a Career Achievement Award by the National Board of Review.
Eli Herschel Wallach was born to Polish immigrants in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn in December 1915. After military service during World War Two, young Eli began studying his future craft in the early days of the Actors Studio. A long association with the school had him crossing paths with Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and future director Sidney Lumet.
Wallach would befriend later Studio student Marilyn Monroe, who considered Eli a wonderful example of how an actor should behave on stage. The two pals would later costar in the 1961 movie "The Misfits."
The Actors Studio was also where Eli Wallach would meet actress Anne Jackson, who he married and stayed together for sixty-six years. Both appeared in 1963 in the off-Broadway Murray Schisgal comedy "The Typist and the Tiger," for which Wallach an Obie Award.
In 1951 Eli Wallach won a Tony Award for playing Alvaro Mangiacavallo in the new Tennesse Williams play "The Rose Tattoo." It was Wallach's connection with Williams that brought him to Hollywood to appear in the controversial 1956 film "Baby Doll" for which the playwright wrote the screenplay. Among Wallach's other memorable movie roles was as the bandit Calvera in "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) and as Tuco (The Ugly) in the now classic spaghetti western "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (1966) opposite Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.
Eli Wallach started appearing in television drama during the mostly live "Golden Age" of the 1950s. In 1966 he won an Emmy for his role in the anti-drug film "A Poppy Is Also A Flower." Forty-four years later Wallach received an Emmy nomination for a guest star role on the Showtime comedy "Nurse Jackie." Wallach laughingly in later years recalled that the most fan mail he ever received for a TV role was for two appearances in 1967 in the campy "Batman" series in which he portrayed Mr. Freeze. This bizarre villain had been previously played by George Sanders and director Otto Preminger.
Even in his nineties, Eli Wallach continued to enrapture audiences. An excellent example is the 2006 film "The Holiday," in which Wallach portrayed retired movie screenwriter Arthur Abbott. Simultaneously, Arthur tries to help his temporary neighbor Iris (Kate Winslet) stop being a wallflower when it comes to love, while Iris and their new friend Miles (Jack Black) help Arthur face up to attending a Screenwriters Guild tribute in his honor.
In addition to "The Holiday," Merrick Library has the following DVDs spotlighting the talents of Eli Wallach:
The Godfather, Part Three (Wallach plays Altobello, the Mafia don with a sweet tooth)
Jones Beach: An American Riviera (narrator)
New York, I Love You
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The War (Wallach is among the voice over talent along with Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson and others)
Merrick Library also has Wallach's 2005 autobiography "The Good, The Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage" (2005).
And both Mr. and Mrs. Wallach are among the talented people who presented the acclaimed 1999 audio production "The Complete Shakespeare Sonnets" (in Merrick's CD collection). The gifted couple shared the oral spotlight with such also late and lamented talents as Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis and Natasha Richardson.