Classic Video Showplace

Jack Palance

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

This month we look back at the anniversary of the passing of a unique Hollywood icon.

Of all the actors in the latter half of the 20th-century, very few film stars had a more deliberate delivery than the man often featured as a lead villain in many films–Jack Palance.

Jack was born Volodymyr Palahniuk to Ukrainian immigrant parents in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania on February 18, 1919. The son of a coal miner, Volodymyr took up boxing at an early age, but, upon losing an unsanctioned fight before his 18th birthday, he decided that acting on stage would be a “safer” profession.

He then accepted a football scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina but stopped playing after two years because of, according to his obituary, the “commercialization” of the NCAA.  Upon the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted into the United States Army Air Force, using the name “Walter Polanski.”  It was during his training that a report surfaced of a training accident involving “Walter,” where he was severely injured jumping out of a burning plane while on a base in Arizona. Upon his entrance into film acting a few years later, this incident was embellished by Hollywood press agents to claim the actor had his entire face reconstructed from this accident, which brought about his strong cheekbones and unique facial features.

After receiving an honorable discharge after the end of WWII, Polanski then attended Stanford University but left one credit short of graduation to start his acting career in the theater.  To support himself he also worked as a photographer’s model, a waiter, short-order cook, a lifeguard and a soda jerk.

He made his Broadway debut in 1947’s The Big Two, portraying a Russian soldier before being selected as Marlon Brando’s understudy in A Streetcar Named Desire.

It was at this time that his stage name was briefly changed to “Walter Palanski” before the actor himself heard too many people mispronouncing his name, so he later changed it to Walter Jack Palance.

In 1950 he began his film career, mostly playing “mean” characters, by portraying a gangster in Panic In the Streets, and received second billing behind Joan Crawford in just his third film, Sudden Fear, which earned him an Oscar for best supporting actor.

In the very next year he earned another Academy Award nomination for his role as the hired gunslinger in the western, Shane.

Throughout the next 30 years, Palance often worked in various films and television shows outside of America (he starred in three Italian-based films in 1976 alone).  This fact was lost on many United States viewers who lauded Palance’s performance when he “returned” to TV with his 1980’s hit show as the narrator of Ripley’s…Believe It Or Not.

He would also return to more commercially appealing, American-produced movies in the later 1980s with hits like Batman (starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicolson), Young Guns and Tango and Cash.

But perhaps his most beloved character ever came about when Billy Crystal, who was a fan of Palance’s career as a boy, approached him about playing the cantankerous but true cowboy hero, Curly Washburn, in the 1991 smash hit, City Slickers.  

His performance (turned in at the tender age of 76) earned him his second Academy Award.  His nearly forty-year gap between winning Oscars was the longest “drought” in the long running award’s history, until Alan Arkin claimed that distinction in 2006.

The movie (and Palance’s role in particular) was so popular that it spawned a sequel, in which Palance returned, even though his character died near the end of the original.  (He came back as Curly’s twin brother in City Slickers 2).

Jack continued to star in movies and make television guest appearances until 2002.  He died four years later, much like Curly Washburn did, in his sleep.

He was 87.

You can see Palance starring in the Italian-produced blockbuster, The Cop In Blue Jeans, airing on the Astound TV Network.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.