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'Shane' Actor Jack Palance


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Courtesy of LA Times

'City Slickers' Actor Jack Palance

by Myrna Oliver


Actor Jack Palance

MONTECITO, California -- Jack Palance, the leather-faced, gravelly-voiced actor who earned Academy Award nominations for "Sudden Fear" and "Shane," and who finally captured the Oscar almost 40 years later as the crusty trail boss in the 1991 comedy western, "City Slickers," died Friday, November 10 of natural causes. He was 87.

Palance, who had been in failing health with a number of maladies, passed away in Montecito at the home of his daughter Holly, according to family members. Jack Palance was one of the best-loved bad guys in motion picture and television history.

Palance portrayed the murderous husband in 1952's "Sudden Fear," the creepy gunslinger in 1953's "Shane" and the cantankerous cattle driver, Curly in "City Slickers" -- and kept acting well into his 80s. His performance accepting the Oscar may have been more memorable than the gnarly star turn that earned it.


Jack Palance, who was 72 at the time, does one-handed push-ups

upon winning the Best Supporting Oscar in 1992.

Upon winning, Palance dropped to the stage floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and delighted the audience with vigorous, one-armed push-ups. Septuagenarian actors, he said, must continually prove their virility to keep working in youth-oriented Hollywood.

The surprise stunt provided fodder for a series of ad-libbed jokes throughout the evening by Billy Crystal, his "City Slickers" co-star and the show's host. The next year's ceremony, in 1993, opened with Palance -- then 74 -- using his teeth to tow across the stage a 20-foot-tall Oscar statuette ridden by Crystal.

The two men worked together again in the 1994 sequel, "City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold." Since Palance's Curly had died in the first film, he portrayed Curly's equally curmudgeonly identical twin. "Only Palance returns with a flourish," the review in The Times said. "He's as gnarled and critter-like as ever."


In the 1994 sequel, Billy Crystal (left) and Jack Palance (right) rode

together again in 'City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold'

Equally at home on television, he earned an Emmy for his role as a has-been boxer in "Requiem for a Heavyweight" in 1956. And he was still doing quality work on television in the 1990s -- notably in the third installment of the Glenn Close-Christopher Walken vehicle, "Sarah Plain and Tall," as Walken's long-lost and resented father.

In the Wild West retelling of "A Christmas Carol," Palance starred as the title character in the movie, "Ebenezer," which debuted on cable in 1998. The classic Charles Dickens story was updated with a protagonist who runs a saloon in the 1870s and snarls, "Christmas, hogwash."

"This Ebenezer Scrooge is no harmless old crank; he's a gun ready to go off -- and that makes his redemption all the more cathartic," a Times reviewer wrote.


Jack Palance (left) with Jean Hagen, his costar in the

1955 film, 'The Big Knife'

Given his customary vile appearance in the black garb of various bad guys in the Old West, there was little wonder that Palance and his pictures easily made 1997's "The Manly Movie Guide" by David Everitt and Harold Schechter. His name is listed with such classic Western toughs as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

In reality, the man born February 18, 1919 was named Volodymir Ivanovich Palahniuk and hailed not from the West but from the coal country around Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania. Actually, Palance was a fairly sensitive fellow.

Although he enjoyed raising cattle, he was a vegetarian who had painted abstract landscapes since the 1950s, loved trees and wrote poetry. He wrote and illustrated a book with the non-villainous title of "The Forest of Love: A Love Story in Blank Verse" that was published in 1996.


Palance won his Oscar at the 64th Annual

Academy Awards

Surrounded by art in Rome, where he lived for a number of years making spaghetti Westerns, Palance was inspired to take up painting and his artwork bore the stamp of Impressionism. His art had been exhibited about a dozen times, he told the Allentown Morning Call in 1999.

Palance maintained a 1,000-acre cattle ranch in California's Tehachapi Mountains and a 500-acre farm near his roots in heavily forested Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. His ranch brand was an "H" with a "B" and a "C" woven around it, the initials of the first names of his children, Holly, Brooke and Cody.

It was the farm, he said, that inspired his book about a man's love for a woman and nature. "Everything I talk about is about Pennsylvania," he said of the prose poem that was published among his paintings and line drawings of trees. "I'm not inspired as much by California."


Jack Palance

"I think I want to devote my last years, however many there are, to writing," he said in the Morning Call story, "because roles for the older actor are not too available."

As for his refusal to eat red meat, Palance said: "I've got so many cattle that I didn't want to feel like I was eating them Because if you walk amongst the cattle, occasionally you'll find that you have a friend. These little ones -- they'll run after you like a dog."

The celluloid tough guy, at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, grew up in coal-mining country but had no intention of becoming a miner. He attended the University of North Carolina on a football scholarship and dropped out to try boxing.


Jack Palance

He had a 12-2 record as a professional boxer, and by the 1940s was making $200 a fight, The Times reported in 1995. "Then I thought, 'You must be nuts to get your head beat in for $200.' The theater seemed a lot more appealing," Palance told The Times.

When World War II came, he served in the Army Air Forces. A bomber pilot who had seen little action, he was at the controls when his plane lost an engine and slammed nose-first into the ground. He suffered severe head injuries and required extensive facial reconstruction. "There are some moments you never get over," Palance said in 1995. "That was one of them."

After his discharge, he changed his last name to Palance and resumed his education at Stanford University, studying journalism. He became a sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle and also worked for a radio station. Unhappy with the $35-a-week journalist's pay, he took the advice of an actress friend and headed for Broadway. Within two weeks, Palance was in a play.


Joan Crawford and Jack Palance starred in

the 1952 film 'Sudden Fear'

After appearing in such fare as "Temporary Island" and "The Vigil" and a stint as Marlon Brando's understudy in "A Streetcar Named Desire," he won a "most promising personality" award for his 1950 appearance in "Darkness at Noon."

His theatrical success helped him in Hollywood, where Palance made his film debut in director Elia Kazan's "Panic in the Streets" in 1950. Billed as Walter Palance, he portrayed a fugitive carrying the bubonic plague. The role earned him a back-handed accolade from columnist Hedda Hopper, who described him as "a man who could play Frankenstein without makeup."

Within two years, he earned his first Academy Award nomination as the menacing actor husband of Joan Crawford's playwright in "Sudden Fear." A year later, he was nominated again for being, in the words of film historian Leonard Maltin, "unforgettable in [the] role of the creepy hired gunslinger" Jack Wilson in "Shane."


Keenan Wynn (left) and Ed Wynn (right) star with Jack Palance in

'Playhouse 90' in the 1956 episode 'Requiem for a Heavyweight'

In 1956, Palance put his real-life training as a boxer to work in "Requiem for a Heavyweight," which was written by Rod Serling and aired as the second telecast of the dramatic anthology series, "Playhouse 90." The New York Times review called the show "an artistic triumph that featured a performance of indescribable poignancy by Jack Palance."

Though he appeared in about 100 motion pictures, Palance also was featured in many specials and movies for television. He had lead roles in such series as "The Greatest Show on Earth" on ABC from 1963-64, in which he played hard-driving circus boss, Johnny Slate and "Bronk" on CBS from 1975-76, as contemplative police detective, Lt. Alex Bronkov.

As the host of "Ripley's Believe It or Not" on ABC from 1982 to 1986, he "loved to skulk about the ruins, and add a sinister tone to his narration of the stories," according to "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows." His actress daughter, Holly, joined him as co-host for part of that time.


In 2003, Jack Palance escorts his wife, Elaine, to the

75th Annual Academy Awards

"He's an original in the category of old-timers who don't care what people think," Holly Palance told The Times in 1995. "You have to remember that he clawed his way out of the mines. A lot of what he calls manhood is the simple love of privacy." He didn't talk, she said, unless he had something important to say.

In addition to his daughters, Holly Palance and Brooke Palance Wilding, he is survived by his wife, Elaine Rogers Palance; a brother, John Palance; a sister, Anne Despiva; and three grandchildren. Palance was married to actress Virginia Baker for 18 years, and they had three children. The marriage ended in divorce.

His son, Cody, who appeared with his father in the 1988 film "Young Guns," died of cancer in 1998. Services are pending, and instead of flowers the family requests donations to Penn State University Hazelton Campus.

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