Eli Wallach was an award-winning stage, film and television actor whose career spanned more than 60 years.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, he attended the University of Texas, after which he returned to New York and earned a master’s degree in education at City College. Although he intended to become a teacher, he was drawn to the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied acting before joining the Army during World War II. He served five years in the Medical Corps, during which he rose to captain. Upon returning to New York, he became a founding member of the renowned Actors Studio, headed by Lee Strasberg.
He made his Broadway debut in the short-lived 1945 production Skydrift. Around this time he met actress Anne Jackson, who became his wife in 1948. In the years that followed, they worked together frequently, at times drawing comparisons to Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne for their acclaimed stage collaborations.
Like many New York theater actors of the era, Wallach began working in live television in the early 1950s. His initial credits included Lights Out, Armstrong Circle Theatre and The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. He continued to appear on television for more than half a century, with roles in series, miniseries and made-for-TV movies. They included General Electric Theater, Playhouse 90, Naked City, Batman, Kojak, Paradise Lost, Skokie, Executioner’s Song, L.A. Law, Law & Order, Murder, She Wrote, The Education of Max Bickford, ER and scores of others.
He won an Emmy in 1967 for the telefilm Poppies Are Also Flowers and was nominated on four other occasions — for performances in CBS Playhouse, Something in Common, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Nurse Jackie.
His film career began with a major success when he received a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the 1956 release Baby Doll. He went on to appear in numerous other movies, including The Magnificent Seven, The Misfits, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, The Deep, Winter Kills, The Godfather Part III, The Two Jakes, The Holiday and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. In 2010 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored him with a special Oscar, describing him as “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.”
Wallach died June 24, 2014, in New York City. He was 98.