Jack Palance (born Volodymyr Palahniuk; February 18, 1919 - November 10, 2006) was an American actor. During half a century of film and television appearances, Palance was nominated for three Academy Awards, all as Best Actor in a Supporting Role, winning in 1991 for his role in City Slickers.
Palance was born Volodymyr Palahniuk in the Lattimer Mines section of Hazle Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to Anna (née Gramiak) and Ivan Palahniuk, an anthracite coal miner. Palance's parents were Ukrainian immigrants, his father a native of Ivane Zolote in southwestern Ukraine (modern Ternopil Oblast) and his mother from the Lviv Oblast.
One of six children, he worked in coal mines during his youth before becoming a professional boxer in the late 1930s. Fighting under the name Jack Brazzo, Palance reportedly compiled a record of 15 consecutive victories with 12 knockouts before losing a close decision to future heavyweight contender Joe Baksi in a "Pier-6" brawl. Years later he recounted: "Then, I thought, you must be nuts to get your head beat in for $200". Palance's athletic ability ranged away from the squared circle, as well. He was an outstanding high school football player and this skill was recognized by Raymond Wolf, the Head Coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Palance began his career at Carolina as a fullback, but Coach Wolf and the staff felt that he was best-suited to play in the line and, after some consideration, Palance left the game for good.
With the outbreak of World War II, Palance's athletic career ended and his military career began as a member of the United States Army Air Forces. Palance's rugged face, which took many beatings in the boxing ring, was said to have become disfigured while bailing out of a burning B-24 Liberator bomber during a training flight over southern Arizona (where Palance was a student pilot). His distinctive cheekbones and deep-set eyes were said to have been the result of reconstructive surgery. The story behind Palance's face was repeated numerous times (including in respected film reference works), but upon his death, several obituaries of Palance quoted him as saying that the entire story had been contrived: "Studio press agents make up anything they want to, and reporters go along with it. One flack created the legend that I had been blown up in an air crash during the war, and my face had to be put back together by way of plastic surgery. If it is a 'bionic face,' why didn't they do a better job of it?"
Palance was honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1944. After the war he attended Stanford University, leaving one credit shy of graduating to pursue a career in the theatre. (A bachelor of arts degree in Drama was conferred to him, honorary Class of '49, in '95) During his university years, to make ends meet he also worked as a short order cook, waiter, soda jerk, lifeguard at Jones Beach State Park, and photographer's model.
Palance's acting break came as Marlon Brando's understudy in A Streetcar Named Desire, and he eventually replaced Brando on stage as Stanley Kowalski.
In 1947, Palance made his Broadway debut, and this was followed three years later by his screen debut in the movie Panic in the Streets (1950). The very same year he was featured in Halls of Montezuma about the U.S. Marines in World War II, where he was credited as "Walter (Jack) Palance." Palance was quickly recognized for his skill as a character actor, receiving an Oscar nomination for only his third film role, as Lester Blaine in Sudden Fear.
The following year, Palance was again nominated for an Oscar, this time for his role as the hired gunfighter Jack Wilson in Shane. Several other Western roles followed, but he also played such varied roles as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula and Attila the Hun. Three years before Palance played the part, comic book artist Gene Colan based his interpretation of Dracula for the acclaimed series The Tomb of Dracula on Palance, explaining, "He had that cadaverous look, a serpentine look on his face. I knew that Jack Palance would do the perfect Dracula."
In 1957, Palance won an Emmy for best actor for his portrayal of Mountain McClintock in the Playhouse 90 production of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Jean-Luc Godard persuaded Palance to take on the role of Hollywood producer Jeremy Prokosch in the 1963 nouvelle vague movie Le Mépris with Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli. Although the main dialogue was in French, Palance spoke mostly English.
Later, in 1966, he appeared in the movie Alice Through the Looking Glass directed by Alan Handley in which he played the Jabberwock.
In 1969, Palance recorded a country music album in Nashville, released on Warner Bros. Records. It featured Palance's self-penned song "The Meanest Guy That Ever Lived". The album was re-released on CD in 2003 by the Water label (Water 119).
Palance starred in the television series Bronk between 1975 and 1976 for MGM Television.
In 1982, Palance began hosting a television revival of Ripley's Believe It or Not!. The weekly series ran from 1982 to 1986 on the American ABC network. The series also starred three different co-hosts from season to season, including Palance's daughter Holly Palance, actress Catherine Shirriff and singer Marie Osmond. Ripley's Believe It or Not! was in rerun syndication on the Sci-fi Channel (UK) and Sci-fi Channel (US) during the 1990s.
Palance's success on Ripley's Believe It or Not! resulted in a demand for his services. He made memorable appearances in Young Guns (1988), Tango & Cash (1989) and Tim Burton's Batman (1989), all of which served to reinvigorate his movie career. Palance would be involved in new projects each year right up to the start of the 21st century. He also performed on Roger Waters' first solo album release The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking in 1984.
Palance, at the time chairman of the Hollywood Trident Foundation, walked out of a Russian Film Festival in Hollywood in 2004. After being introduced, Palance said, "I feel like I walked into the wrong room by mistake. I think that Russian film is interesting, but I have nothing to do with Russia or Russian film. My parents were born in Ukraine: I'm Ukrainian. I'm not Russian. So, excuse me, but I don't belong here. It's best if we leave." Palance was awarded the title of "People's Artist" by the President Vladimir Putin on that occasion; however, Palance refused the title.
In 2001, Palance returned to the recording studio as a special guest on friend Laurie Z's Heart of the Holidays album to narrate the famous classic poem "The Night Before Christmas."
In 2002, he starred in the television movie Living with the Dead opposite Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Ladd. In 2004, he starred in another television production, Back When We Were Grownups opposite Blythe Danner; Palance played Poppy. This would be his final performance.
According to writer Mark Evanier, comic book creator Jack Kirby modeled his character Darkseid on the actor.
Legendary advertising copywriter Eric Molina repeatedly states the Palance's Skin Bracer commercial is the reason he entered the profession.
Four decades after his film debut, Palance won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on March 30, 1992, for his performance as cowboy Curly Washburn in the 1991 comedy City Slickers. Stepping onstage to accept the award, the intimidatingly fit 6' 4" (1.93 m) actor looked down at 5' 7" (1.70 m) Oscar host Billy Crystal (who was also his co-star in the movie), and joked - mimicking one of his lines from the film - "Billy Crystal... I crap bigger than him." He then dropped to the floor and demonstrated his ability, at age 73, to perform one-handed push-ups.
Crystal turned this into a running gag. At first, he quipped, "I told Jack before the ceremony, 'Decaf, Jack, decaf'" then at various points in the broadcast he announced that Palance had done the following:
was backstage on the Stairmaster;,
"...just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign";,
rendezvoused with the Space Shuttle in orbit;,
fathered all the children in a production number;,
been named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive;,
had won the New York primary election.,
At the end of the broadcast, Crystal told everyone he would like to see them again, "But, I've just been informed Jack Palance will be hosting next year."
Years later, Billy Crystal appeared on Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton and fondly recalled that after the Oscar ceremony Palance approached him during the reception, "He stopped me and put his arms out and went, 'Billy Crystal, who thought it would be you?.' It was his really funny way of saying thank you to a little New York Jewy guy who got him the Oscars".
In 1993, during the opening of the Oscars, a spoof of that Oscar highlight featured Palance appearing to drag in an enormous Academy Award statuette with Crystal again hosting, riding on the rear end of it. Half way across the stage, Palance dropped to the ground as if exhausted, but then performed several one-armed push-ups before regaining his feet and dragging the giant Oscar the rest of the way across the stage.
Death and legacy:
On November 10, 2006, Palance died of natural causes at age 87 at his daughter Holly's home in Montecito in Santa Barbara County. His remains were cremated, his ashes retained by family and friends. Jack Palance lived for a number of years around Tehachapi, near Bakersfield, in southern California.
Palance has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6608 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1992, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Palance was married to his first wife, Virginia Baker, from 1949 to 1968, they had three children: Holly (born in 1950), an actress, Brooke (born in 1952) and Cody (1955-1998). On New Year's Day 2003, Palance's first wife Virginia Baker, (July 7, 1922 - January 1, 2003) was struck and killed by a car in Los Angeles.
His daughter Brooke married Michael Wilding, son of Michael Wilding Sr. (1912-1979) and Elizabeth Taylor; they have three children.
Cody Palance, an actor himself, appeared alongside his father in the film Young Guns. Cody would die from malignant melanoma at age 42 on July 16, 1998. Palance had hosted The Cody Palance Memorial Golf Classic to raise awareness and funds for a cancer center in Los Angeles. Aside from acting Cody was also a musician.
In May 1987, Palance married his second wife, Elaine Rogers. Palance painted and sold landscape art, with a poem included on the back of each picture. He was also the author of The Forest of Love, a book of poems published in 1996 by Summerhouse Press.
Palance acknowledged a lifelong attachment to his Pennsylvania heritage and visited there when able. Shortly before his death he placed his Butler Township, Pennsylvania, Holly-Brooke farm up for sale and his personal art collection up for auction.
Panic in the Streets
Halls of Montezuma
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Man in the Attic
Flight to Tangier
The Silver Chalice
Sign of the Pagan
as 'Attila, the Hun'
The Big Knife
I Died a Thousand Times
Playhouse 90: Requiem for a Heavyweight
House of Numbers
The Man Inside
Flor De Mayo
Ten Seconds to Hell
Sword of the Conqueror
Night Train to Milan
Once a Thief
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Kill a Dragon
Legion of the Damned
as Parson Josiah Galt
as Fidel Castro
It Can Be Done Amigo
Father Jackleg (Originally Tedeum)
The Great Adventure
The Cop in Blue Jeans
Black Cobra Woman
Portrait of a Hitman
Welcome To Blood City
The One Man Jury
Hawk the Slayer
as Carl Grissom
Outlaw of Gor
Tango & Cash
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture,
Nominated - Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold
The Swan Princess
Cops & Robbersons
(as Long John Silver)
Talking to Heaven
Between Hitler and Stalin
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde
Bram Stoker's Dracula
The Hatfields and the McCoys
Devil Anse Hatfield
The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang
The Ivory Ape
The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story
Evil Stalks This House
Keep the Change
The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics
Dr. Jeremy Wheaton (segment "Where the Dead Are")
I'll Be Home for Christmas
The Incredible Adventures of Marco Polo
Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End
Living With the Dead
Allan Van Praagh
Back When We Were Grownups
Paul 'Poppy' Davitch
Episode "The Man Who Couldn't Remember"
Westinghouse Studio One
Episode "The King in Yellow"
Westinghouse Studio One
Episode "Little Man, Big World"
The Gulf Playhouse
Episode "Necktie Party"
Episode "Said the Spider to the Fly"
Episode "The Last Chance"
Episode "The Kiss-Off"
The Motorola Television Hour
Scott Malone/Kurt Bauman
Episode "Brandenburg Gate"
Episode "Cagliostro and the Chess Player"
What's My Line
Harlan "Mountain" McClintock
"Requiem for a Heavyweight", Emmy Award for Best Single Performance by an Actor
Zane Grey Theatre
Episode "The Lariat"
"The Last Tycoon"
"The Death of Manolete"
The Greatest Show on Earth
Circus manager Johnny Slate
Series - top billing
What's My Line
Episode "The Many Colors of Courage"
Run for Your Life
Episode "I Am the Late Diana Hays"
Alice Through the Looking Glass
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
2 episodes "The Concrete Overcoat Affair: Parts I and II"
They Came to Rob Las Vegas
"Trail of Tears"
The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour
Det. Lt. Alex 'Bronk' Bronkov
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Episode "Planet of the Slave Girls"
Tales of the Haunted
Episode "Evil Stalks This House"
Ripley's Believe It or Not!
Himself - Host
Episode "Bitter Harvest"
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license