Telly Savalas


Actor
Telly Savalas

About

Also Known As
Aristotle Savalas
Birth Place
Garden City, New York, USA
Born
January 21, 1922
Died
January 22, 1994
Cause of Death
Prostate Cancer

Biography

Already one of Hollywood's more versatile character actors, equally believable as a stalwart hero or sadistic villain, Telly Savalas later achieved pop-culture immortality as the bald, lollipop-chomping cop "Kojak" (CBS, 1973-78). Savalas had already gained a lifetime of experience with a three-year stint in the Army during WWII, work for the U.S. Information Services and at ABC News by ...

Family & Companions

Katherine Savalas
Wife
Marilynn Savalas
Wife
Married in 1961; divorced in 1974.
Sally Adams
Companion
Julie Savalas
Wife
Travel agent. Born c. 1957, married from 1984 until 1994.

Biography

Already one of Hollywood's more versatile character actors, equally believable as a stalwart hero or sadistic villain, Telly Savalas later achieved pop-culture immortality as the bald, lollipop-chomping cop "Kojak" (CBS, 1973-78). Savalas had already gained a lifetime of experience with a three-year stint in the Army during WWII, work for the U.S. Information Services and at ABC News by the time he began his acting career in his late-thirties. Spotted in a TV performance by Burt Lancaster, Savalas was cast in the movie star's next two feature films, "The Young Savages" (1961) and "The Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962). From there, it was on to a steady string of appearances, often as the bad guy, in notable films like "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969) and "Kelly's Heroes" (1970). But it was his lengthy run on television as the eponymous police detective "Kojak" that made the actor a bona fide star of truly iconic status, with his tagline of "Who loves ya, baby!" entering the common vernacular, and his clean-shaven head serving as an inspiration to follicley-challenged men everywhere. Although he continued to work in various film projects during and after his series, the role of Kojak was one he would happily return to time and again over the years. Few actors could lay claim to a career as lengthy and diverse as the one enjoyed by Savalas for more than 30 years - fewer still, could bring to life a character as indelible as Lt. Theo Kojak.

Born Aristotle Savalas on Jan. 21, 1922 in Garden City NY, "Telly" was the second oldest of five children born to Greek immigrants Nicholas and Christina Savalas. After the family's restaurant business fell on hard times after the Great Depression, Savalas and his four siblings did what they could to help provide, including selling newspapers and shining shoes at NYC's Penn Station. By all accounts, Savalas was a precocious teenager but also a conscientious worker who spent summers as a life guard on the beaches of Long Island. After graduating from Sewanhaka High School in 1940, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. For his service during World War II, Savalas earned a Purple Heart before being discharged after a serious car accident which occurred while on leave in 1943. He later attended classes at the Armed Forces Institute, where he studied radio and television production, then continued his studies at Columbia University School of General Studies, from which he graduated in 1946. Savalas went on to work as a producer at the U.S. Information Agency and later for WABC news in a similar capacity. His work at the station quickly grew in scope, eventually earning him a spot as executive producer and host of the popular "Telly's Coffee House," for which he earned a Peabody Award.

By the late-1950s, Savalas had begun his transition into acting, and before long accrued a number of guest-starring appearances on such acclaimed anthology series as "Sunday Showcase" (NBC, 1959-1960) and "Armstrong Circle Theater" (NBC, 1950-57; CBS, 1958-1963). It was, however, his performance as mob kingpin Lucky Luciano in the crime docudrama series "The Witness" (CBS, 1960-61) that truly changed his fortunes as an actor. Savalas' performance as the mob boss so impressed movie star Burt Lancaster, that he asked to have Savalas cast in a prominent role for his upcoming crime melodrama "The Young Savages" (1961). Apparently, the collaboration was a good one. So much so that Lancaster brought the neophyte actor back for his next feature, the prison biopic "The Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962). Savalas' venomous portrayal of the sadistic Feto Gomez proved convincing enough to earn him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor that year. That same year he appeared alongside two more Hollywood heavyweights when he played a private investigator enlisted by attorney Gregory Peck to scare off vengeful ex-con Robert Mitchum in the classic thriller "Cape Fear" (1962).

After an extended period of supporting roles in somewhat forgettable films like "The Interns" (1962) and guest spots on such series as "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-64), Savalas landed the weighty role of Pontius Pilate in director George Stevens' religious epic "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965). For his performance as the man who condemned Jesus to crucifixion, Stevens asked Savalas to shave his head completely bald. Although he disliked his role, the actor felt the clean scalp added character and helped him stand out from the crowd. Savalas had found the signature look he would maintain throughout the remainder of his career. That same year, he appeared opposite Omar Sharif in the historical action-adventure "Genghis Khan" (1965) and fought valiantly against all odds alongside Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw in the somewhat more factual WWII action drama "Battle of the Bulge" (1965). Tapping back into the sadism that informed his portrayal of Feto Gomez, Savalas next played a brutal sergeant tormenting the titular French Foreign Legionnaire in the underwhelming remake of the classic tale of adventure and sacrifice, "Beau Geste" (1966).

Savalas attracted far more attention for his unhinged portrayal of the bible-thumping psychopath Archie Maggott in director Robert Aldrich's WWII action-adventure "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), the seminal "men on a mission" film by which all others would later be judged. Busier than ever, he starred opposite Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed as a war-mongering aristocrat in the Edwardian-era black comedy-adventure "The Assassination Bureau" (1969), then reteamed with Rigg, along with George Lazenby - in his only turn as James Bond - to play super villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). Having acquitted himself well in "The Dirty Dozen," Savalas was asked to join in a similar mission - this time as a hero - alongside Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland and Don Rickles in the hit WWII action-comedy "Kelly's Heroes" (1970). In one of his quirkier projects, he played a detective investigating a series of murders at a Santa Monica high school in the cult oddity "Pretty Maids All in a Row" (1971), a pitch-black sex comedy starring Rock Hudson and Angie Dickenson, directed by Roger Vadim and written by "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry.

Savalas' prolific career as a supporting character actor was transformed with the lead role in the celebrated Abby Mann-scripted TV-movie "The Marcus Nelson Murders" (CBS, 1973). Based on an actual murder case, the telefilm focused on the tough, no-nonsense police detective Lt. Theodopolous "Theo" Kojak (Savalas) and his efforts to exonerate an innocent man accused of brutally killing two women. "The Marcus Nelson Murders" served as the pilot for the influential police procedural series "Kojak" (CBS, 1973-78), and took Savalas from supporting player to cultural phenomenon. With his ubiquitous lollipop clenched firmly between his teeth and his constant refrain of "Who loves ya, baby!" Kojak was firmly established in the pop-culture iconography. During the show's immensely popular and lengthy run - during which he won an Emmy for Lead Actor - Savalas even brought his brother George on board to play one of Kojak's subordinates, Det. Stavros. Flush with success, Savalas, a devoted gambler, purchased a thoroughbred racehorse, which he named "Telly's Pop" - not in a nod to his TV character, but as a salute to his late father.

Throughout his tenure on "Kojak," Savalas managed to shoot several genre films in Europe while on break from the show, including such projects as the Mario Bava occult shocker "Lisa and the Devil" (1974), co-starring Elke Sommer. Seizing the opportunity that his popularity afforded him, Savalas indulged his singing aspirations when he recorded two music albums, Telly (1974) and Who Loves Ya, Baby (1976), then embarked on the requisite vanity film project when he wrote, directed and starred in the psychological thriller "Beyond Reason" (1977). As "Kojak" wound to a close - much to Savalas' disappointment - he refocused his efforts toward landing more roles in feature films, including the NASA conspiracy thriller "Capricorn One" (1978), the POW action-adventure "Escape to Athena" (1979) and the disastrous disaster sequel "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" (1979). Much to his delight, Savalas was able to reprise his signature role as Theo Kojak in several made-for-TV movies, beginning with "Kojak: The Belarus File" (CBS, 1985). And, despite the fact that his original character had died in the first film, Savalas returned in the form of new team leader Maj. Wright for the made-for-TV sequels "Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission" (NBC, 1987) and "Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission" (NBC, 1988).

Now in the twilight of his career, Savalas continued to work, most often in television. He enjoyed a recurring role on the next generation of police procedural, "The Commish" (ABC, 1991-95), starring actor Michael Chiklis, who would adopt Savalas' clean-scalped look for his role in "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08) years later. He played one last villain, this time known simply as the "Most Evil Man," for his posthumous appearance in the low-budget firefighter spoof "Backfire" (1995), also featuring his old "Cape Fear" co-star, Robert Mitchum. Although he had continued to work, Savalas was a seriously ill man throughout the remaining years of his life. In 1989 he was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder, but according to those close to him, did little to combat the disease. For 20 years Savalas had maintained a suite at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel in Universal City, CA, and it was there that he died from complications due to prostate cancer on January 22, 1994, one day after his 72nd birthday.

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Beyond Reason (1977)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Back Fire! (1995)
Mind Twister (1994)
None So Blind (1990)
Plates (1990)
Flowers For Matty (1990)
It's Always Something (1990)
Fatal Flaw (1989)
Ariana (1989)
The Hollywood Detective (1989)
Harry Bell
Dirty Dozen, The: The Fatal Mission (1988)
Major Wright
Angel of Death (1987)
Hallen
Kojak: The Price of Justice (1987)
The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987)
Major Wright
Gobots: Battle of the Rock Lords (1986)
Voice
Kojak: The Belarus File (1985)
Cannonball Run II (1984)
The Cartier Affair (1984)
Fake-out (1982)
Police Lieutenant Thurston
Hellinger's Law (1981)
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
The Muppet Movie (1979)
Escape to Athena (1979)
Capricorn One (1978)
Beyond Reason (1977)
Inside Out (1976)
Harry Morgan
Killer Force (1975)
La Casa dell'Exorcismo (1975)
Una Ragione Per Morire (1974)
Major Wardrobe
She Cried Murder (1973)
The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973)
Sonny & Jed (1972)
Franciscus
Senza Ragione (1972)
Memphis
Horror Express (1972)
Captain Kazan
Vendetta (1972)
Visions... (1972)
Clay Pigeon (1971)
Frank Redford
Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)
[Capt. Sam] Surcher
I Familiari delle Vittime Non Saranno Avvertiti (1971)
A Town Called Hell (1971)
Mongo's Back in Town (1971)
Sophie's Place (1970)
Herbie Hassler
Kelly's Heroes (1970)
Big Joe
Land Raiders (1970)
Vince
The Family (1970)
Mackenna's Gold (1969)
Sergeant Tibbs
The Assassination Bureau (1969)
Lord Bostwick
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Ernst Stavros Blofeld
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1969)
Walter Braddock
Sol Madrid (1968)
Emil Dietrich
The Scalphunters (1968)
Jim Howie
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Archer Maggott
The Karate Killers (1967)
Beau Geste (1966)
Sergeant-Major Dagineau
Genghis Khan (1965)
Shan
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
Sergeant Guffy
The Slender Thread (1965)
Dr. Coburn
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (1965)
Harem recruiter
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
Pontius Pilate
The NEW Interns (1964)
Dr. Riccio
The Man From the Diners' Club (1963)
Foots Pulardos
Love Is a Ball (1963)
Dr. Gump
Johnny Cool (1963)
Mr. Santangelo
The Interns (1962)
Dr. Riccio
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Feto Gomez
Cape Fear (1962)
Charles Sievers
The Young Savages (1961)
Lieut. Richard Gunnison
Mad Dog Coll (1961)
Lieutenant Darrell

Writer (Feature Film)

Beyond Reason (1977)
Screenplay

Music (Feature Film)

The Break-Up (2006)
Song Performer

Cast (Special)

The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration (1994)
Perfect Crimes (1991)
Narrator
The Television Academy Hall of Fame (1990)
Performer
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (1989)
Return to the Titanic -- Live! (1987)
Narrator
The 59th Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1987)
Performer
The 38th Annual Emmy Awards (1986)
Performer
The 37th Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards (1985)
Performer
The American Film Institute Salute to Frank Capra (1982)
Performer
My Palikari (1982)
CBS: On the Air (1978)
Bob Hope Special: The Bob Hope Special From Palm Springs (1978)
Windows, Doors and Keyholes (1978)
Battle of the Network Stars III (1977)
Host
Battle of the Network Stars II (1977)
Circus of the Stars (1977)
Telly... Who Loves Ya, Baby? (1976)
Host
Battle of the Network Stars I (1976)
The Bob Hope Comedy Special (1976)
Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope in "Joys" (1976)
Dinah in Search of the Ideal Man (1973)
The Watchman (1964)
Ramon Castillo
The Cat and the Canary (1960)
Hendricks

Misc. Crew (Special)

Return to the Titanic -- Live! (1987)
Creative Consultant

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Flintstones 25th Anniversary Celebration (1986)
Flintstones 25th Anniversary Special (1986)
Alice in Wonderland (1985)
Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story (1980)
The French Atlantic Affair (1979)

Life Events

1959

TV acting debut, "Armstrong Circle Theater"

1961

Feature acting debut, "The Young Savages"

1973

Played title role of Theo Kojak on the CBS police drama, "Kojak"

1974

Debut album, "Telly"

1977

Feature directorial and screenwriting debut "Beyond Reason"

1985

Reprised role of Theo Kojak on the TV-movie, "Kojak: The Belarus File"

1987

Played last feature film role in "Les Predateurs de la nuit/Faceless"

1994

Last TV appearance, "The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration"

Photo Collections

Kelly's Heroes - Movie Poster Art
Here is the original art from the Kelly's Heroes (1970) movie poster, drawn by noted illustrator Jack Davis.

Videos

Movie Clip

Kelly's Heroes (1970) - Think Of Us As Tourists Straight from the opening credits, Clint Eastwood (title character) brings a captured German officer (David Hurst) to sergeant Big Joe (Telly Savalas), whose interests, while not routine, are not entirely clear, Stuart Margolin his aide Little Joe, in Kelly's Heroes, 1970.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - Teresa Was A Saint On the evening following their mysterious opening encounter on the beach, George Lazenby as James Bond (establishing himself with some baccarat chemin-de-fer in his first appearance in the role) again gets to rescue Diana Rigg as Teresa or, as she’ll explain, Tracy, in the sixth 007 feature, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - A Well-Known Congenital Distinction Complexity as Bond (George Lazenby), escorted by Yuri Borienko deeper into the secret Swiss Alpine lair, knows he’s visiting the real Blofeld (Telly Savalas), who doesn’t yet know Bond isn’t the real genealogist Sir Hilary, come to consider his claim to a French noble title, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979) - I Hope You're A Religious Man On his tug in the Mediterranean the morning after the first movie, Captain Turner (Michael Caine) with mate Wilbur (Karl Malden) and semi-stowaway Celeste (Sally Field) find the liner, planning salvage, when Telly Savalas arrives, playing a Greek doctor, in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, 1979.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979) - Did You Come By Canoe? A quick roll call as Michael Caine and his improvised salvage crew (Sally Field, Karl Malden), with Telly Savalas heading a Greek medical team, discover survivors not seen in the original, Veronica Hamel, Peter Boyle and Shirley Jones with back-stories, in Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, 1979.
Dirty Dozen, The (1967) - I Want That Knife Right In The Gut Reisman (Lee Marvin), aiming to get his military-convicts ready for their behind-the-lines probably-suicide mission, tries to get Posey (Clint Walker) agitated, colleagues (Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson et al) taking note, in The Dirty Dozen, 1967.
Dirty Dozen, The (1967) - Stop By Anytime, Bozo Maj. Reisman (Lee Marvin) returns to camp just as his martinet superior Breed (Robert Ryan) is trying to interrogate his semi-legitimate all-convict unit (John Cassavetes, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, et al) in Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen, 1967.
Dirty Dozen, The (1967) - I Pick My Own Enemies With MP’s commanded by Richard Jaeckel, Lee Marvin as Reisman interviews military death row inmates for his maybe-suicidal with possible-amnesty mission, notably football hero Jim Brown as Jefferson, with Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland et al, in The Dirty Dozen, 1967.
Mad Dog Coll (1961) - A Competent Violin Gene Hackman (as the uniformed cop) has no lines as detective Darrell (Telly Savalas) waylays Vince (John Davis Chandler, title character) who's been getting rough with innocent Elizabeth (Brooke Hayward) in Mad Dog Coll, 1961.
Mad Dog Coll (1961) - Open, Hello Pop! John (Davis) Chandler appears as the title character in an opening sequence featuring a theme sung by Hal Waters and aiming well over the top from Columbia's Mad Dog Coll, 1961.
Mad Dog Coll (1961) - Don't Slouch, Now! Casting novelty as cops on stake-out (Gene Hackman and Telly Savalas) see Elizabeth (Brooke Hayward) bump into Joe (young Jerry Orbach) en route to visit the title-character (John Davis Chandler) in Mad Dog Coll, 1961.
Interns, The (1962) - It's Our Duty To Cut! They don't do exploratory surgery much anymore, but surgeon Riccio (Telly Savalas) is all for it, making his point especially to foreign student Mado (Haya Harareet, from Ben-Hur) in The Interns, 1962.

Trailer

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) -- (Original Trailer) There’s a case to be made that the producers overshot the mark in compensating for the absence of Sean Connery, in the sixth James Bond feature, giving George Lazenby possibly more promotion than he needed, in the ever-reëvaluated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969, with Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.
Clay Pigeon (1971) -- (Original Trailer) Arlo Guthrie’s “I Could Be Singing,” featured in the film, is the background for the original trailer for the budget-challenged counter-culture crime oddity, with it’s impressive cast, Clay Pigeon, 1971, by would-be Hollywood maverick director and star Tom Stern, not the well-known cinematographer.
Genghis Khan - (Original Trailer) The Asian conqueror (Omar Sharif) and his mentor (Stephen Boyd) vie for the same woman in Genghis Khan (1965).
Pretty Maids All in a Row - (Original Trailer) A young man's first sexual explorations are threatened by a string of murders in Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) written by Gene Roddenberry, starring Rock Hudson and Angie Dickinson.
Dirty Dozen, The - (Original Trailer) A renegade officer trains a group of misfits for a crucial mission behind enemy lines in The Dirty Dozen (1967) starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Jim Brown.
Capricorn One - (Original Trailer) The government fakes a Mars landing then sets out to kill the astronauts involved in the thriller Capricorn One (1978).
Greatest Story Ever Told, The - (Original Trailer) The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) is an epic re-telling of the life of Christ, directed by George Stevens and starring Max Von Sydow, Dorothy McGuire, Claude Rains and many more
Mackenna's Gold - (Original Trailer) A group of men, lead by a questionable sheriff and a wanted bandit, descend upon the desert in search of a lost canyon of gold in Mackenna's Gold (1969).
Battle of the Bulge, The - (teaser trailer) The Battle of the Bulge (1965), a giant all-star movie of the tide-turning WWII battle.
Scalphunters, The - (Original Trailer) A trapper (Burt Lancaster) and his educated slave (Ossie Davis) track an outlaw band in Sydney Pollack's The Scalphunters (1968).
Slender Thread, The - (Original Trailer) Sidney Poitier mans the suicide hotline in Sydney Pollack's first movie The Slender Thread (1965).
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell - (Original Trailer) Gina Lollobrigida leads three U.S. veterans to believe each is the father of her child in Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968).

Family

Christina Savalas
Mother
Died 1988.
George Savalas Demosthenes
Brother
Actor. Died October 2, 1985 of leukemia at age 58; played supporting role on "Kojak", billed first as "Demosthenes" and later as "George Savalas".
Gus Savalas
Brother
Actor.
Christina Savalas
Daughter
Born c. 1951, mother Katherine Savalas.
Penelope Savalas
Daughter
Born c. 1962, mother Marilynn Savalas.
Candace Savalas
Daughter
Actor. C. 1963, mother Marilynn Savalas.
Nicholas Savalas
Son
C. 1973, mother, Sally Adams.
Christian Savalas
Son
Born c. 1984, mother Julie Savalas.
Ariana Savalas
Daughter
Born c. 1987, mother Julie Savalas.

Companions

Katherine Savalas
Wife
Marilynn Savalas
Wife
Married in 1961; divorced in 1974.
Sally Adams
Companion
Julie Savalas
Wife
Travel agent. Born c. 1957, married from 1984 until 1994.

Bibliography