Hand color tinted photo of Jack Palance from the 1970 movie, Monte Walsh
Jack Palance (February 18, 1919 – November 10, 2006) was a Ukrainian American film actor. With his rugged facial features, Palance was best known to modern movie audiences as both the characters of Curly and Duke in the two City Slickers movies, the first for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but his career spanned half a century of film and television appearances.
Palance, one of five children, was born Volodymyr Palahniuk in the Lattimer Mines section of Hazle Township, Pennsylvania, the son of Anna (née Gramiak) and Ivan Palahniuk, who was an anthracite coal miner. Palance’s parents were Ukrainian immigrants, his father a native of Ivane Zolote in Southwestern Ukraine and his mother from the Lviv region. He worked in coal mines during his youth before becoming a boxer.
In the late 1930s, Palance started a professional boxing career. Fighting under the name Jack Brazzo, Palance reportedly compiled a record of 15 consecutive victories with 12 knockouts before fighting the future heavyweight contender Joe Baksi in a “Pier-6” brawl. Palance lost a close decision, and recounted: “Then, I thought, you must be nuts to get your head beat in for $200”.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Palance’s boxing 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 disfigured when he bailed out of a burning B-24 Liberator bomber while on a training flight over southern Arizona, where he was a student pilot. Plastic surgeons repaired the damage as best they could, but he was left with a distinctive, somewhat gaunt, look. After much reconstructive surgery, he was discharged in 1944.
Palance graduated from Stanford University in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama. 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.
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.
While still busy making movies, in the 1960s Palance also released an album of country-Western music for Warner Bros. Records. This happened in 1969 and it recalled the Lee Hazlewood music that was popular at the time. Recorded in Nashville with the usual studio cats, the album is a playful country rock romp not unlike other late 60’s Nashville recordings and featured Palance’s self penned classic song “The Meanest Guy That Ever Lived”. The album was re-released in 2003 by the “Walter” label in CD version.
He also hosted (with his daughter Holly Palance) the television series Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.
Appearances in Young Guns (1988) and Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) reinvigorated Palance’s career, and demand for his services kept him involved in new projects each year right up to the turn of the century.
Palance, at the time chairman of the Hollywood Trident Foundation, walked out of a Russian Film Festival in Hollywood. 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.”
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, his performance as Poppy being Palance’s last.
According to writer Mark Evanier, comic book creator Jack Kirby modeled his character Darkseid on the actor.
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 then turned this into a running gag. At various points in the broadcast, he announced that Palance was backstage on the Stairmaster; had “just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign”; had rendezvoused with the Space Shuttle in orbit; had fathered all the children in a production number; had been named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive; and had won the New York primary election. At the end of the broadcast, Crystal told everyone he’d like to see them again “but I’ve just been informed Jack Palance will be hosting next year.” (The following year, host Crystal arrived on stage atop a giant model of the Oscar statuette, being towed by Palance using his teeth.)
Marisa Tomei Academy Award Controversy
At the 1993 Academy Awards, Palance presented the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress to Marisa Tomei, which resulted in a famous Oscar controversy. The American film critic Rex Reed was dissatisfied with Tomei’s win, and started a rumor that Palance had erroneously called out the wrong name when opening the envelope. Reed espoused that Palance had been unable to read the printing on the card inside the envelope, had become confused or was too “drunk” or “stoned” to announce the winner properly. In 1997, Reed claimed on television that a “massive cover-up” was underway to prevent the public from finding out about the mistake. The rumor became a Hollywood urban legend. Palance refuted Reed’s claim, saying he had been correct in reading Tomei’s name as the winner when opening the envelope. He called the rumor about the “false win” upsetting and felt it would destroy Tomei’s career.
Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, issued an official statement: “The legend of Marisa Tomei’s ‘mistaken Oscar’ has appeared in various forms over the years and in that short time has achieved the status of urban myth. There is no more truth to this version than to any of the others we’ve heard. If such a scenario were ever to occur, the Price Waterhouse people backstage would simply step out onstage and point out the error. They are not shy.”
Tomei refused to comment on the rumor, calling it extremely hurtful. She would go on to receive critical acclaim and respect for future performances in Unhook the Stars, Alfie and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and received Academy Award nominations for In the Bedroom and The Wrestler. Roger Ebert commented on his website that “Not only is the rumor untrue, it is unfair to Marisa Tomei, and Rex Reed owes her an apology.”
Hollywood Walk of Fame
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).
Daughter Brooke married Michael Wilding, son of Michael Wilding Sr. (1912-1979) and Elizabeth Taylor; they have three children as well.
An actor himself, Cody Palance appeared alongside his father in the film Young Guns, and was just 42 when he died from malignant melanoma on July 16, 1998. Jack Palance had hosted The Cody Palance Memorial Golf Classic to raise awareness and funds for a cancer center in Los Angeles. Besides being an actor, at one time Cody Palance was also a great music performer who did many live performances with his band.
Palance became divorced and married Elaine Rogers in May 1987. On New Year’s Day 2003, his first wife Virginia Baker (July 7, 1922 – January 1, 2003) was struck by a car and killed in Los Angeles.
Palance painted and sold landscape art, with a poem included on the back of each picture. He is also the author of The Forest of Love, a book of poems, published in 1996 by Summerhouse Press.
True to his roots, Palance acknowledged a life-long attachment to his Pennsylvania heritage and visited there when able. Shortly before his death, he had placed his Butler Township, Pennsylvania, Holly-Brooke farm up for sale and his personal art collection up for auction.
Palance died at the age of 87, of natural causes, at his home in Montecito in Santa Barbara County. He was cremated, and his ashes were retained by family and friends.
Jack palance was also a resident of the Tehachapis for a good part of his life. Tehachapi California is located near Bakersfield California, part of the span of high desert in the mid-southern section of California.