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Jack Palance

Jack Palance

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Also Known As: Walter Palanskie, Vladimir Palahnuik, Walter Palance, Walter Jack Palance, Walter "Jack" Palance Died: November 10, 2006
Born: February 18, 1918 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania Profession: actor, professional boxer, model, salesman, lifeguard, cattle rancher, radio repairman, short order cook, coal miner, waiter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Possessing a face seemingly carved out of granite and a voice filled with equal parts gravel and menace, actor Jack Palance was an easy choice to play the heavy, but it was his underutilized intelligence and humor that allowed him to occasionally break free from Hollywood typecasting, with wonderfully unpredictable results. Following an auspicious Broadway debut, the young actor burst onto the screen with deliciously nasty performances in "Panic in the Streets" (1950), "Sudden Fear" (1952) and "Shane" (1953). However, despite having already garnered a pair of Academy Award nominations, Palance soon found himself being pigeon-holed as either a crook or a killer. Well regarded projects like "The Big Knife" (1955) and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (CBS, 1956) gave audiences a glimpse of Palance’s versatility. Seeking out work in Europe, the ex-pat actor took part in such diverse efforts as the cut-rate adventure "Sword of the Conqueror" (1961) and the French New Wave drama "Le Mepris" ("Contempt") (1963). With rewarding film roles becoming sparse, Palance found a modicum of success on television with endeavors such as a chilling adaptation of "Dracula" (CBS, 1974) and as the host of "Ripley’s Believe It...

Possessing a face seemingly carved out of granite and a voice filled with equal parts gravel and menace, actor Jack Palance was an easy choice to play the heavy, but it was his underutilized intelligence and humor that allowed him to occasionally break free from Hollywood typecasting, with wonderfully unpredictable results. Following an auspicious Broadway debut, the young actor burst onto the screen with deliciously nasty performances in "Panic in the Streets" (1950), "Sudden Fear" (1952) and "Shane" (1953). However, despite having already garnered a pair of Academy Award nominations, Palance soon found himself being pigeon-holed as either a crook or a killer. Well regarded projects like "The Big Knife" (1955) and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (CBS, 1956) gave audiences a glimpse of Palance’s versatility. Seeking out work in Europe, the ex-pat actor took part in such diverse efforts as the cut-rate adventure "Sword of the Conqueror" (1961) and the French New Wave drama "Le Mepris" ("Contempt") (1963). With rewarding film roles becoming sparse, Palance found a modicum of success on television with endeavors such as a chilling adaptation of "Dracula" (CBS, 1974) and as the host of "Ripley’s Believe It or Not" (ABC, 1982-86). Palance bookended his expansive résumé with a late-career comeback when he parodied his own villainous persona in the comedy feature "City Slickers" (1991), a performance that won the veteran actor his only Academy Award. Long regarded as the quintessential movie bad guy, Palance had the last laugh when his impromptu, one-handed push-up demonstration during his Oscar acceptance became one of the most iconic and hilarious moments in the televised ceremony’s broadcast history.

Born Volodymyr Palahniuk on Feb. 18, 1919 in Lattimer Pines, PA, "Jack" was the son of Ukrainian immigrant parents, Vladmir and Anna. As a boy, he worked alongside his father in the local coalmines, only to find escape from the risky work via his athletic prowess. In the 1930s, under the nom de guerre of Jack Brazzo, he enjoyed a short, successful career as a boxer. Palance – a name he would later adopt upon deciding to become an actor – had already begun to doubt the wisdom of taking beatings for money, when the outbreak of World War II brought his stint in the ring to an abrupt end. In 1942, he enrolled in the U.S. Army Air Corps., where he underwent pilot’s training until a serious accident led to hospitalization and his eventual discharge. On the G.I. Bill, Palance attended Stanford University, and after flirting with the idea of studying journalism, he opted for drama, a field he hoped might prove more lucrative. Upon earning his bachelors degree in 1947, the aspiring actor returned to the East Coast, where his distinctive looks and resonant voice paved the way for his Broadway debut that same year in "The Big Two." More stage roles followed, including one as Anthony Quinn’s understudy as Stanley Kowalski in the touring production of Tennessee Williams’ "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1948. Later, Palance replaced Marlon Brando for the same role in the Broadway version of the production, directed by Elia Kazan. When Kazan began casting for his next feature film, a gritty noir to be shot on location in New Orleans, he specifically sought out lesser known actors with believably rough-hewn characteristics. He found what he was looking for in Palance.

Billed has Walter "Jack" Palance, he made his film debut in the thriller "Panic in the Streets" (1950), as a killer unwittingly infected with pneumonic plague who is being tracked by a health service officer (Richard Widmark) to prevent a citywide epidemic. Although the film met with mixed reviews, nearly all critics gave favorable notices to newcomer Palance. After another appearance alongside Widmark in the war story "Halls of Montezuma" (1950), he followed with two more impressive film roles, both of which earned the young star Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor. In the first, Palance played Joan Crawford’s duplicitous husband harboring deadly intentions in the thriller "Sudden Fear" (1952), followed by a career-defining turn as a cold-blooded gunslinger out to take down Alan Ladd in the classic Western "Shane" (1953). Leading roles soon followed, beginning with his fictionalized characterization of Jack the Ripper in the modest period thriller "Man in the Attic" (1953), and an ill-advised attempt to fill Bogie’s shoes in "I Died a Thousand Times" (1955), an unnecessary remake of "High Sierra." (1941). Although quickly identified as a movie heavy, he also managed to play more sympathetic characters. Most notable was his highly charged portrayal of a blackmailed movie star in Robert Aldrich's adaptation of Clifford Odets' blistering portrait of Hollywood, "The Big Knife" (1955), followed by an Emmy-winning turn as a washed-up boxer in Rod Serling's landmark teleplay, "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (CBS, 1956).

Palance reteamed with director Aldrich for the grim and unflinching World War II action-drama "Attack!" (1956), and once more for Aldrich’s post-WWII tale of a German bomb squad in "Ten Seconds to Hell" (1959). With the dawn of the 1960s, the actor found himself taking on more film work abroad, particularly in Italy, where he began churning out lackluster actioners, such as "The Barbarians" (1960) and "Sword of the Conqueror" (1961). Nonetheless, Palance continued to turn in respectable performances in such films as the religious epic "Barabbas" (1962) and a convincing appearance as a vulgar American movie producer in French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard's "Le Mepris" ("Contempt") (1963). Returning stateside, he gave episodic television a try for the first time with the big top-themed melodrama "The Greatest Show on Earth" (ABC, 1963-64), on which Palance played circus manager Johnny Slate. After the demise of the short-lived series, the actor took a supporting role opposite French leading man Alain Delon and Hollywood sex kitten Ann-Margret in the crime thriller "Once a Thief" (1965). Over the next two decades, Palance would keep busy with a combination of supporting roles in main stream adventures, such as the Burt Lancaster Western "The Professionals" (1966), and decidedly more "B-grade" material like the Hong Kong mercenary adventure "Kill a Dragon" (1967).

Palance’s work on television increased during this time as well, and the scenery-chewing actor clearly enjoyed the wider latitude allowed to him in such projects as the Dan Curtis-produced "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (ABC, 1968). In addition to turns in easily forgotten shoot-‘em-ups like "The Mercenary" (1968) and "The Desperados" (1969), he played Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in the biopic "Che!" (1969), opposite Omar Sharif in the title role, then reteamed with his "I Died a Thousand Times" co-star Lee Marvin for the Western requiem "Monte Walsh" (1970). There was more work in the wide open spaces of the Western genre, opposite Charles Bronson in "Chato’s Land" (1972) and George C. Scott in "Oklahoma Crude" (1973), prior to his seething portrayal of Bram Stoker’s titular count in "Dracula" (CBS, 1974). Buoyed by that success, Palance decided to give a weekly TV series one more try when he signed to star on the police drama "Bronk" (1975-76), in which he played a tough, yet contemplative cop who takes on corruption in a fictional California burgh called Ocean City. The show, however, was another single season effort for Palance, who quickly returned to such subpar fare as "The Shape of Things to Come" (1979), a schlocky sci-fi movie that had very little to do with the original H.G. Wells source material. Dreck like the Italian-produced sword and sorcery adventure "Hawk the Slayer" (1981) and the thriller "Alone in the Dark" (1982) kept the actor employed, if not creatively satisfied.

While not necessarily career-boosting, at least the hours were better and the work steady for Palance when he accepted hosting duties on the historical oddities documentary program "Ripley's Believe It or Not" (ABC, 1982-86). Palance’s campy delivery of the famous catchphrase, "Believe it... or not" was possibly the most consistently entertaining aspect of the guilty pleasure series, which he co-hosted for a time with his daughter, Holly. After endearing himself to a new generation of audiences with an offbeat performance as a courtly, aging artist in Percy Adlon's cult hit, "Bagdad Cafe" (1987), Palance’s career experienced a much-needed resurgence. He embraced his villainous side with despicable turns in the Brat Pack Western "Young Guns" (1988), and an appearance as the crime boss of Gotham City in director Tim Burton’s "Batman" (1989). Neither of these roles, however, would match the impact that his performance as tough-as-nails trail boss Curly Washburn in the Billy Crystal comedy "City Slickers" (1991) would have on his waning film career. The hit movie won the obviously tickled veteran an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and led to another sprightly and unexpected performance at the Academy Awards ceremony. As Palance strode onto the stage to accept his statuette, he gave an impromptu one-handed push-up demonstration as a commentary on his late-life virility, much to the delight of the audience and host Crystal, who turned the display into a series of well-received running jokes throughout the remainder of the 1992 broadcast.

Palance tried to keep the momentum going with a starring turn opposite funnyman Chevy Chase in the criminally unfunny "Cops and Robbersons" (1994), prior to the inevitable sequel, "City Slickers II: The Search for Curly's Gold" (1994), playing the deceased Curly’s brother, Duke, in the latter film. Couched amidst several television efforts, Palance later played Long John Silver in a reinterpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Treasure Island" (2001). It would be his final role in a feature film before his death of natural causes at his home in Montecito, CA on Nov. 10, 2006. Jack Palance was 87 years old.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Back When We Were Grownups (2004) Poppy Davitch
2.
 Marco Polo (2000)
3.
 Treasure Island (1999) Long John Silver
4.
 Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End (1999) John Witting
5.
 Ebenezer (1998) Ebenezer; Future Scrooge
6.
 I'll Be Home For Christmas (1997) Bob Greiser
7.
 Swan Princess, The (1994) Voice Of Rothbart
9.
 Cops And Robbersons (1994) Jack Stone
10.
 Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics (1994) Jeremy Wheaton ("Where The Dead Are")
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1938:
Became a professional boxer at age 20; reportedly won 18 out of 20 bouts (date approximate)
:
Injured throat in last fight; left with signature raspy voice
:
Returned to Pennsylvania and worked briefly as a coal miner
1942:
Joined US Army Air Force; involved in plane crash during training
1944:
Left military service; returned to work in the coal mines
:
Attended Stanford on the GI Bill
:
Worked for a time as a reporter in San Francisco for $35 a week
:
While at Stanford, landed role alongside Aline MacMahon in the play "My Indian Family"
1946:
Moved to NYC
1947:
Broadway acting debut, a one-line role as a Russian soldier in "The Big Two"
1948:
Appeared in the Off-Broadway production of "The Silver Tassie"
:
Understudied Anthony Quinn in the national tour of "A Streetcar Named Desire"
:
After returning to NYC, became Marlon Brando's understudy for the Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire", staged by Elia Kazan; spotted by 20th Century Fox talent scout when he went on for Brando
:
Put under contract by 20th Century Fox
1950:
Film debut in "Panic in the Streets", directed by Kazan
1952:
Received first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for "Sudden Fear"
1950:
Walked out on Fox contract when he failed to be cast alongside Brando in "Viva, Zapata!"; role went to Anthony Quinn who won an Oscar
1951:
Returned to Broadway in "Darkness at Noon"
1952:
Received first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for "Sudden Fear"
1953:
Cast as the hired gunman in "Shane"; although filmed before "Sudden Fear", "Shane" was not released until the following year
1953:
Received top billing in a feature film for the first time in the Jack the Ripper Gothic thriller, "Man in the Attic"
1953:
First color film, "Second Chance"
1954:
Co-starred in "Sign of the Pagan"
1955:
Spent a summer season at the American Shakespeare Festival in Straford, Connecticut
1955:
Portrayed a movie idol in "The Big Knife"
1957:
Made guest appearance on TV's "The Perry Como Show"; surprised many by displaying his vocal abilities
1957:
Had dual role in "The House of Numbers"
1958:
Lived in Switzerland
1960:
Starred in the title role of the NBC adventure special "Rivak, the Barbarian"
:
Starred as Johnny Slate on the ABC TV series, "The Greatest Show on Earth"
1965:
Began playing primarily supporting parts in features with his role in "Once a Thief"
1963:
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard in "Contempt"
1966:
Played the Jabberwock in a one-hour NBC-TV musical adaptation, "Alice Through the Looking Glass"
1965:
Returned to the stage as the King of Siam opposite Celeste Holm's Anna Leonowens in "The King and I" in Anaheim, California
1974:
TV-movie debut, "Dracula"
1966:
Co-starred in "The Professionals"
1968:
Had title roles in the ABC special "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"; was injured in a fall during filming and later sued, receiving some $500,000 in damages
1969:
Cast as Fidel Castro in "Che!", the biopic of revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara
1973:
Co-starred with George C Scott and Faye Dunaway in "Oklahoma Crude"
1974:
Had title role in the CBS adaptation of "Dracula"
1980:
First TV miniseries, "The Golden Moment--An Olympic Love Story"
1981:
Hosted the special "Ripley's Believe It or Not!"
:
Hosted the ABC primetime documentary series, "Ripley's Believe It or Not"
:
Hosted the ABC half-hour primetime documentary series, "Ripley's Believe It or Not!"; daughter Holly served as co-host
1987:
Returned to features with his leading role in the adult action-fantasy, "Gor"
1992:
Hosted four syndicated historical documentary specials, "Legends of the West with Jack Palance"
1988:
Portrayed a painter in "Bagdad Cafe"
1989:
Co-starred in "Batman" directed by Tim Burton
1991:
Played Curly, an ornery trail boss who whips a trio of urban dwellers into shape to participate in a Montana cattle drive in "City Slickers"
1992:
Startled audience and gave host Billy Crystal material for quips when he performed a series of one-armed push-ups as part of his Oscar acceptance speech at the Academy Awards ceremony after winning Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "City Slickers"
1994:
Appeared as Curly's twin brother in "City Slickers II: The Secret of Curly's Gold"
1994:
Provided the voice for the sinister villain Rothbert in the animated "The Swan Princess"
1995:
Had featured role in the CBS miniseries "Buffalo Girls"
1998:
Played title role in "Ebenezer", the TNT-aired adaptation of "A Christmas Carol"
1999:
Cast as Christopher Walken's father in the CBS "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End"
2000:
Returned to films after a six-year absence in "Marco Polo"
2001:
Portrayed Long John Silver in feature remake of "Treasure Island"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Hazle Township High School: Hazle , Pennsylvania -
University of North Carolina: -
Stanford University: Stanford , California -

Notes

Palance owns a ranch in California's Tehachapi Mountains where he runs 150 head of cattle.

Stories on Palance often note that the slightly coarse and leathery quality of the skin on his face was due to plastic surgery he underwent after suffering burns during combat in WWII, but in some interviews Palance has denied this.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Virginia Baker. Actor. Met when both worked as understudies in the national tour of "A Streetcar Named Desire"; married on April 21, 1949; divorced in 1969.
wife:
Elaine Rogers. Married in May 1987; divorced.

Family close complete family listing

father:
John Palahnuik. Coal miner. Ukranian.
mother:
Anna Palahnuik.
brother:
Leon Palahniuk. Made appearances in films like "Chato's Land" and "Te Deum".
daughter:
Holly Palance. Actor, screenwriter. Born on August 6, 1950; was one of Palance's co-hosts on TV's "Ripley's Believe It or Not".
daughter:
Brooke Palance. Born on February 9, 1952.
son:
Cody John Palance. Born in 1955; died of melanoma in 1999 at the age of 43.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Forest of Love" Summerhouse Press

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