Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy birthday, Eli Wallach!


“'Course I'm respectable—I'm old…politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough…”  So says Noah Cross (John Hudson) in the 1974 film classic Chinatown, and while today’s Thrilling Days of Yesteryear birthday spotlight celebrant turns ninety-five today, the respect that he received this year in the form of an honorary Academy Award in November wasn’t because he’s reached such a ripe old age…or at least I hope it isn’t.  Eli Herschel Wallach, born in Brooklyn, NY on this date, is quite simply one of the finest character actors of his or anyone else’s generation—with a resume of outstanding film, stage, television and radio roles that more than justify the long overdue recognition he received at this year’s second annual Governors Awards presentation.

Wallach won a Tony Award in 1951 for his performance in Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo and an Emmy Award in 1967 for The Poppy is Also a Flower…but inexplicably, the man has never copped an Oscar statuette—he’s never even been nominated!  How can an individual who’s turned in such rich and unforgettable performances in films like Baby Doll, The Lineup, The Magnificent Seven, The Misfits, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Tiger Makes Out, Cinderella Liberty, Movie Movie, The Hunter and The Godfather, Part III (to name only a few) be consistently ignored by his peers?  As W.C. Fields himself once said: “It baffles science!”—Wallach has continued to be one of the hardest working thesps in his profession; he’s continued his amazing dedication to his craft with recent films like The Ghost Writer and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Despite his staggering C.V., Wallach says that the one role for which he’s received more fan mail than any other was that of “Mr. Freeze” on TV’s Batman—he was the third individual to play the villain, along with Otto Preminger and George Sanders.  But leave it to The Greatest Cable Channel in the History of Mankind™ (ka-ching!) to give Mr. W his due; he’s TCM’s Guest Programmer this month and will have a chinwag with Bobby Osbo on December 20th spotlighting his own performance in Doll as well as The Shop Around the Corner, The Great Dictator and 8 ½.  Here at TDOY, we remain in awe of both the man’s talent and stamina—so happy natal anniversary to you, Mr. Wallach (I don’t feel proper calling him “Eli”)…and happy birthday to those people who share your special day:

Fay Bainter (1893-1968) – Academy Award-winning stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Make Way for Tomorrow, Jezebel, Young Tom Edison, Woman of the Year, State Fair and Deep Valley

John Tyrrell (1900-1949) – Stage and screen character actor seen in scads of serials, B-westerns and Columbia two-reel comedies, usually as a henchman of some sort

Clinton Sundberg (1903-1987) – Unsung stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Good News, Easter Parade, The Barkleys of Broadway, Annie Get Your Gun and The Fat Man

Clarence Nash (1904-1985) – Voiceover actor of radio, television and film who specialized in duck sounds—he played Gracie Allen’s pet duck Herman on Burns & Allen but is best known as the voice of Donald Duck

Bob Duncan (1904-1967) – Unsung motion picture character actor who appeared in quite a few serials and B-westerns, usually as a henchman of some sort

Arch Oboler (1909-1987) – Stage, screen, radio and television writer-director-producer best known for his contributions to radio’s Lights Out; also directed and wrote such films as Bewitched, Five, Bwana Devil and The Twonky

Louis Prima (1910-1978) – Actor, singer and bandleader whose film appearances include Senior Prom, Hey Boy! Hey Girl! and The Continental Twist; also voiced “King Louie” in the 1967 Walt Disney classic The Jungle Book


Rod Cameron (1910-1983) – Film and television beefcake actor known primarily for his B-westerns and serials (Secret Service in Darkest Africa, G-Men vs. the Black Dragon); also starred in the TV series City Detective, State Trooper and Coronado 9

Leigh Brackett (1915-1978) – Science fiction author and motion picture screenwriter whose film contributions include The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, Hatari!, El Dorado, The Long Goodbye and The Empire Strikes Back

Hurd Hatfield (1917-1998) – Stage, screen and television actor best known as the titular character of The Picture of Dorian Gray; his other films include The Unsuspected, Joan of Arc, The Left Handed Gun, King of Kings, Mickey One and The Boston Strangler

Frances Gifford (1919-1984) – Stage, screen and television actress best known as Nyoka Meredith in the classic 1941 serial Jungle Girl

Howard Zinn (1922-2010) – Author-historian, playwright and activist who wrote the essential read A People’s History of the United States

Ted Knight (1923-1986) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television character actor immortalized on the boob tube as fatuous anchorman Ted Baxter on TV’s Mary Tyler Moore; also starred in the sitcom Too Close for Comfort and did much voice work for cartoons including Journey to the Center of the Earth and Super Friends

Johnny Duncan (1923-     ) – Not the country music singer but the film and television actor best known as the second actor to play Robin, the Boy Wonder (in the 1949 serial Batman and Robin)

Boyd Bennett (1924-2002) – Rockabilly singer-songwriter (Seventeen)

Bent Fabric (1924-     ) – Grammy Award-winning Danish pianist-composer who scored a huge pop hit in 1961 with Alley Cat

Noam Chomsky (1928-     ) – Linguist-philosopher and political activist best known for his book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media; I imagine Noam’s pretty lonely without Howard Zinn around to help him celebrate his birthday

Hugh X. Lewis (1932-     ) – Country music singer-songwriter; he co-wrote this Stonewall Jackson hit:


Ellen Burstyn (1932-     ) – Academy Award-winning TDOY actress fave whose vehicles include The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Same Time Next Year, Resurrection and Requiem for a Dream

Mike Minor (1939-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor best known as future Betty Jo Bradley husband Steve Elliott on TV’s Petticoat Junction; also had gigs on such television soap operas as As the World Turns, All My Children and Another World

Harry Chapin (1942-1981) – Pop music singer-songwriter


W.D. Richter (1945-     ) – Motion picture writer-director-producer whose cinematic contributions include Slither, Nickelodeon, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, All Night Long, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension and Late for Dinner

James Keach (1947-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor (and Savannah, GA native) whose vehicles include The Long Riders, Vacation, The Razor’s Edge, Wildcats and The Experts; brother of Stacy, son of Stacy, Sr. and husband to jewelry shill/medicine woman Jane Seymour

Vincent Baggetta (1947-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose TV gigs include The Eddie Capra Mysteries, The Colbys, Chicago Story and Days of Our Lives

Tony Thomas (1948-     ) – Motion picture and television producer whose hits include Nurses, Blossom, Empty Nest, Benson, The Golden Girls and It’s a Living; brother of Marlo and son of Danny

Gary Morris (1948-     ) – Country music singer-songwriter who also briefly pursued an acting career on stage (Les Miserables) and TV (The Colbys)


Tom Waits (1949-     ) – Singer-songwriter and actor

Priscilla Barnes (1955-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known as nurse Terri Alden in the last three seasons of the TV sitcom Three’s Company

Jeffrey Wright (1965-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Presumed Innocent, Basquiat, Ali, Syriana, W. and TV’s Angels in America

C. Thomas Howell (1966-     ) – Bland teen heartthrob actor who somehow managed to get people into theater seats to see vehicles like The Outsiders, Grandview, USA, Red Dawn, Secret Admirer, The Hitcher and Soul Man


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1 comment:

quizshowbob said...

Eli Wallach is the BEST! "The Misfits" is one of my favorite movies.