Jack Palance


1919-2006. Lattimer, Pennsylvania, United States

With his menacing gaze, athletic frame and sinister smile, this former boxer was the go-to bad guy in 1950s Hollywood. The son of a Ukrainian immigrant coal miner, Palance initially followed in his father's footsteps before hitting the pro boxing circuit, but his career was cut short by World War II. For decades, a popular legend claimed that he was severely burned in a military plane crash and that corrective plastic surgery was responsible for his distinctive, gaunt face, but Palance later said that the story was cooked up by studio publicists. Whatever the truth, after his stint in the military, Palance began taking an interest in acting. In the late 1940s, he landed a number of Broadway gigs, notably as Marlon Brando's understudy in A Streetcar Named Desire, a role Palance eventually took over. The play's director, Elia Kazan, then cast Palance in his first feature, the 1950 film noir Panic in the Streets, in which he played a killer infected with pneumonic plague. Palance's subsequent roles were almost all of the villain variety. He earned his first Oscar nod as a husband with murder on his mind in Sudden Fear and his second for his chill-inducing turn as a gunslinger in Shane. Taking a journeyman approach to his craft, the character actor accepted pretty much any movie offered him, from now-forgotten actioners like The Barbarians to Jean-Luc Godard's New Wave classic Contempt, as well as TV roles like his Emmy-winning turn in Requiem for a Heavyweight. By the late 1960s, Palance found more work overseas, where he was still typecast as a heavy. After a four-year stint hosting Ripley's Believe It or Not, the sexagenarian actor took an eccentric romantic role as a charmingly offbeat painter in the 1988 indie Bagdad Café, proving he could do more than just sneer. Four years later, he scored a career high by poking fun at his own stereotype in the 1991 comedy City Slickers. As a seemingly villainous but really lovable old cowboy coot named Curly, Palance finally won an Academy Award and gave a memorable acceptance speech, which included a set of one-handed push-ups as proof of his virility. Oscar host and City Slickers costar Billy Crystal lovingly made fun of Palance's stunt throughout the evening. Although Palance continued to appear on the big and small screens, his career had slowed dramatically by the late 1990s. In his twilight years, he pursued other longtime interests such as painting and writing, and his softer, more private side was on display in the 1996 long-form poem The Forest of Love: A Love Story in Blank Verse. Palance had been absent from the spotlight for a couple of years when he died in November 2006 of natural causes. Following his death, Palance's family established a memorial trustee scholarship in his name at Penn State Hazleton, located near his beloved hometown.

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