Jack Palance, Memorable Screen Heavy, Dies at 87

Obituaries   Jack Palance, Memorable Screen Heavy, Dies at 87
Jack Palance, the career film actor with theatre roots, who played a series of memorable villains in the 1950s, died Nov. 10 at his house in Montecito, California. He was 87.

Tall and lanky, with narrow eyes, high wide cheekbones and a shock of dark hair, he made a memorable impression in his first film, Elia Kazan's thriller "Panic in the Streets" in 1950, in which he played a tough gangster unknowingly carrying the bubonic plague. Two years later he won an Oscar nomination for his performance as Joan Crawford's killer husband in "Sudden Fear." Many critics commented on the actor's animal intensity and obvious relish for his work.

But it was his next film, the iconic western "Shane," that gained him movie immortality. He played Jack Wilson, a laconic, sinister hired gun brought to a western frontier town to dispatch the virtuous title character, played by Alan Ladd. Though the character is on screen for only a short time, Mr. Palance's performance is what many people remember best about the film. Many still consider his portrayal the epitome of the ice-cold professional gunslinger. He won another Oscar nomination for his work.

Jack Palance, born in Lattimer, PA, to a coal miner father, received his acting training on the New York stage. He made his Broadway debut in the original production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He played the role of Stanley Kowalski after star Marlon Brando broke his nose. It was, however, Mr. Palance who actually broke it. As the story goes, Brando set up a punching bag in the theatre's boiler room and asked Jack to join him in a workout. Jack did, but threw a punch so hard it missed the bag and hit Brando's nose. As one of Mr. Palance's past occupations was professional boxer, the sock had an impact. Brando went to the hospital and Mr. Palance went on stage.

He also played Kowalski in the touring production of the Tennessee Williams play.

He then appeared in two short-lived Broadway plays, A Temporary Island and The Vigil. His final Broadway show was Sidney Kinglsey's Darkness at Noon, in which he co-starred with Claude Raines and Kim Hunter. It ran 186 performances and won Mr. Palance a Theatre World Award. His other films included "The Silver Chalice," "The Big Knife," which was based on Clifford Odets' play, "I Died a Thousand Times," "Attack!," Jean-Luc Godard's "Contempt," in which he played a vulgar American movie producer. He won the Oscar for the 1991 comedy "City Slickers," in which he played Curly, a cowhand character that was, in many ways, a parody of the "Shane" persona he created many years before. In the picture, Curly dies standing up with a cigarette burning in his mouth.

Mr. Palance was married three times. His marriage to Virginia Baker produced three children, Holly, Brooke and Cody. Cody died of a melanoma in 1998 at 43. He was also married Elaine Rogers, who survives him.

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