Eli Wallach was the uncle of N.Y. Times A.O. Scott? Somehow or some way that information had eluded me until this morning. The greatly admired Wallach passed into the infinite late yesterday, at age 98. I was starting to crash when I read the news around 11 pm or so Pacific, and my first flash was his performance as the fiery Caldera in John Sturges‘ The Magnificent Seven (’60). Wallach may have regarded Seven as a paycheck gig (“Movies are a means to an end…I go and get on a horse in Spain for ten weeks, and I have enough cushion to come back and do a play”) but Caldera is eternal and certainly rules this morning.
Wallach had been cast as Private Maggio in Fred Zinneman‘s From Here to Eternity (’53), but then the mafia left a horse’s head in Harry Cohn‘s bed one morning and Frank Sinatra got the role instead. Seriously, Wallach abandoned Maggio when he was given a starring role in Elia Kazan‘s production of Tennessee Williams‘ Camino Real. Sinatra was overjoyed. Wallach was touching and feisty but not quite commanding as the lonely and widowed Guido in John Huston‘s The Misfits. I never much cared for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly — too many pretentious close-ups, too much of a strenuous attempt to push its own mythology — so Wallach’s role in that admittedly legendary film never sunk into my head…sorry. Oh yeah, that’s right — he had a supporting role in The Godfather, Part III but nobody likes to think of that film. Better to sweep it under a rug.
I happened to see Wallach and his wife Anne Jackson in a minor Murray Schisgal play on Broadway in the early ’80s (it may have been A Need for Brussels Sprouts) and I met him at a party once, but that was it for live encounters. A good fellow and a live-wire performer. 90 movie roles over a half-century of performing. Hats off and bon voyage.