Nationality: American. Born: Walter Jack Palahnuik (or Vladimir Palanuik) in Lattimer, Pennsylvania, 18 February 1920 (some sources give 1919). Education: Attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Stanford University, California. Family: Married 1) Virginia Baker, 1949 (divorced), two daughters and one son; 2) Elaine Rogers, 1987. Career: Worked as coal miner, cook, radio repairman, and boxer; then served in World War II as bomber pilot: shot down and needed plastic surgery; after the war studied at Stanford; 1947—debut on Broadway; 1950—film debut in Panic in the Streets; 1956—acclaimed role in TV play Requiem for a Heavyweight; appeared in TV series The Greatest Show on Earth, 1963–64, and Bronk, 1975–76, and in mini-series Buck Rogers, 1980, The Chisholms, 1980, and Buffalo Girls, 1995. Awards: Best Supporting Actor Award for City Slickers, 1991. Agent: c/o Susan Smith & Associates, 121 North San Vicente Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA, 90211, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
(as Walter Jack Palance)
Panic in the Streets (Kazan) (as Blackie)
(as Jack Palance)
Halls of Montezuma (Milestone) (as Pigeon Lane)
Sudden Fear (Miller) (as Lester Blaine)
Shane (Stevens) (as Stark Wilson); Second Chance (Maté) (as Cappy Gordon); Arrowhead (Warren) (as Toriano); Flight to Tangier (Warren) (as Gil Walker); Man in the Attic (Fregonese) (as Slade)
The Silver Chalice (Saville) (as Simon Magus); Sign of the Pagan (Sirk) (as Attila the Hun)
Kiss of Fire (Joseph M. Newman) (as El Tigre); The Big Knife (Aldrich) (as Charles Castle); I Died a Thousand Times (Heisler) (as Roy Earle)
Attack! (Aldrich) (as Lt. Costa)
The Lonely Man (Levin) (as Jacob Wade); House of Numbers (Rouse) (as twin brothers, Bill and Arne Judlow); Flor de mayo (Beyond All Limits) (Gavaldón) (as Gatsby)
The Man Inside (Gilling) (as Milo March)
Ten Seconds to Hell (Aldrich) (as Eric Koertner)
Austerlitz (The Battle of Austerlitz) (Gance) (as Weirother)
I mongoli (The Mongols) (De Toth, Savona, and Freda) (as Ogotai); Rosemunda e Alboino (Sword of the Conqueror) (Campogalliani) (as Alboino); Il guidizio universale (The Last Judgment) (De Sica)
Barabba (Barabbas) (Fleischer) (as Torvald); La guerra continua (Warriors Five) (Savona) (as Jack)
Le Mépris (Contempt) (Godard) (as Jeremy Prokosch)
Les Tueurs de San Francisco (Once a Thief) (Nelson) (as Walter Pedak)
The Professionals (Richard Brooks) (as Captain Jesús Raza); The Spy in the Green Hat (Sargent) (as Louis Strago)
Torture Garden (Francis) (as Ronald Wyatt); Kill a Dragon (Moore) (as Rick)
Il mercenario (The Mercenary; A Professional Gun) (Corbucci) (as Ricciolo); The Desperados (Levin) (as Parson Josiah Galt); Che! (Fleischer) (as Fidel Castro)
The McMasters (Kjellin) (as Kolby); Monte Walsh (Fraker) (as Chet Rollins); Vamos a matar, compañeros! (Compañeros) (Corbucci) (as Xantos)
The Horsemen (Frankenheimer) (as Tursen); Si puo fare . . . amigo (The Big and the Bad) (Lucidi) (as gunman)
Chato's Land (Winner) (as Quincey Whitmore); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Jarrott—for TV)
Oklahoma Crude (Kramer) (as Hellman); Te deum (The Con Men) (Castallani)
Dracula (Curtis—for TV) (title role); Craze (Francis) (as Neal Mottram); The Godchild (Badham—for TV)
The Hatfields and the McCoys (Ware—for TV); The Four Deuces (Bushnell); Africa Express (Lupo); The Diamond Mercenaries (Killer Force) (Guest)
The Great Adventure (Baldanello)
Welcome to Blood City (Sasdy) (as Sheriff Frendlander); I padroni della città (Mr. Scarface; Rulers of the City) (di Leo); Portrait of a Hit Man (Buckhantz) (as Jim Buck)
One Man Jury (Martin) (as Wade); God's Gun (Kramer)
Dead on Arrival (Martin); Seven from Heaven (Clark); The Shape of Things to Come (McCowen) (as Omus); Cocaine Cowboys (Lommel) (as Raf); Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Haller—for TV); Angels Brigade (Clark); The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang (Curtis—for TV)
The Ivory Ape (Kotani—for TV); Ladyfingers; Without Warning (It Came . . . without Warning) (Clark); Hawk the Slayer (Marcell) (as Voltan)
Alone in the Dark (Sholder) (as Frank Hawkes)
Bagdad Cafe (Out of Rosenheim) (Adlon) (as Rudy Cox)
Gor (Kiersch) (as Xenos); Young Guns (Cain) (as L. G. Murphy)
Batman (Burton) (as Carl Grissom); Outlaw of Gor (Cardos) (as Xenos); Tango and Cash (Konchalovsky) (as Yves Perret)
City Slickers (Underwood) (as Curly)
Solar Crisis (Sarafian) (as Travis); Keep the Change (Tennant—for TV) (as Overstreet); Salmonberries (Adlon)
Cyborg II: Glass Shadows (Schroeder) (as Mercy)
The Swan Princess (Rich) (as voice of Rothbart); Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics (for TV) (as Jeremy Wheaton); Cops & Robbersons (Ritchie) (as Jack Stone); City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold (Weiland) (as Duke Washburn)
Buffalo Girls (Hardy—for TV) (as Bartle Bone)
Treasure Island (as voice of Long John Silver); Ebenezer (Jubenville—for TV) (as Ebenezer/Future Scrooge); I'll Be Home for Christmas (Jerry London) (as Bob)
Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End (Jordan—for TV) (as John Witting)
By PALANCE: article—
Interview with J.-L. Sablon, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), Octo-ber 1989.
Interview with J. Lovitz, in Movieline (Escondido), May 1994.
On PALANCE: articles—
Ecran (Paris), December 1978.
Brock, Alan, in Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July 1982.
Rimoldi, O., "The Screen Menaces!" in Hollywood Studio Magazine (Studio City), 1989.
Martin, D., "Jack Palance, Living the Western," in New York Times, 21 July 1991.
Film Monthly (Berkhamstead), December 1991.
Current Biography 1992, New York, 1992.
Reilly, Anthony, "Off Palance," in Premiere (New York), July 1994.
* * *
As much as any other actor, the career of Jack Palance has been determined by his physical appearance. His taut-skinned and somewhat Asian features and the legacy of his Slavic background were rendered even more distinctive by the severe burns and resulting plastic surgery he endured after the crash of a bomber he was piloting during World War II. His resulting look never would allow him to be cast as a romantic hero. In short, Palance seemed destined to be typecast as a sadistic heavy.
After some Broadway experience (notably with Elia Kazan), the actor moved on to Hollywood like so many others associated with the Actors Studio. He started out in movies playing creepy villains in prestige films. In Kazan's Panic in the Streets, he is striking if somewhat hysterical as a trigger-happy, plague-stricken hood. In Shane, he is especially menacing as a gunslinger who is the very image of grim death. In Sudden Fear, his character is more outwardly respectable: Lester Blaine, an actor who woos and wins heiress-turned-playwright Joan Crawford. Only what she does not know is that he just may be a fortune hunter and killer. This should not be surprising, as Palance simply is not the romantic type. Given his developing screen image, Palance was in character as Blaine is transformed from attentive suitor to outright heavy. The actor's career was off to a fast start, as evidenced by his two Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations (for Sudden Fear and Shane).
During this period, Palance also appeared as a villain in a number of costume epics, playing a very satanic Simon Magus in The Silver Chalice and an energetic Attila the Hun in Sign of the Pagan. But his best screen work was to come in several films directed by Robert Aldrich, who perceptively realized that Palance's daunting appearance could be made to suggest an inner vulnerability. In The Big Knife, he plays a movie star mired in a corrupt Hollywood that serves as a microcosm of American society. In this role, Palance powerfully conveys a moral decay to which he contributes but which eventually traps him as well. In Attack! and Ten Seconds to Hell he plays similar characters, soldiers who are inevitably (and sadly) doomed by their involvement in the deadly business of war.
From the 1960s on, Palance's career became run of the mill. He appeared in a seemingly endless number of foreign and domestic costume epics, throwaway melodramas and actioners, and uninspired television movies. Occasionally an interesting credit was thrown into the mix: Godard's Contempt, the Westerns The Professionals and Monte Walsh, and Percy Adlon's Bagdad Cafe. But Palance for the most part was earning his mortgage money by appearing in the likes of Kill a Dragon, Africa Express, The Diamond Mercenaries, Dead on Arrival, The Last Ride of the Dalton Gang, Gor, Outlaw of Gor, and so on.
In 1991, Palance was fortunate enough to be cast as Curly, the weather-beaten trail boss who interacts with Billy Crystal, in the popular baby boomer comedy City Slickers. His performance won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar; that, along with his Oscarcast display of physical dexterity, earned him the kind of notoriety and publicity other faded veteran actors only dream of. Curly is a larger-than-life character if there ever was one, and Palance plays him broadly and with a partial wink at the viewer. He appears to be enjoying himself immensely as he offers a deft parody of all of his macho villain characters.
Still, one wishes that the career of Jack Palance had developed differently and that, over the decades, he had been able to maintain the high level of his earliest screen work.
—R. Barton Palmer, updated by Rob Edelman