Thursday, June 26, 2014


I didn't always dig Eli Wallach's choices as an actor. Not what he chose to act in, but in the more limited sense of acting technique they call "choices"—meaning how you choose to address a particular moment as the character, or what traits you choose to emphasize of the character's etc. But even when I didn't agree with his choices, in other words didn't like how he was portraying a character in that moment, I was always impressed, ALWAYS, with how strong those choices were, even when meant to convey the opposite of what we consider to be strong.

What I mean is, whenever I saw Wallach in a role in the movies or on TV (unfortunately I never saw him on stage where he was renowned as one of the greatest stage actors of the 20th century) he always made me sit up and pay attention to the character he was playing. Wallach's acting was always engaging. He did it his way and his way was incredibly successful for a character actor forced to fend for himself after the studio system died.

I was in the same room with him a few times over the decades, but I never truly met him until a party on the Upper West Side of Manhattan about ten years ago. It was a party to introduce a candidate running for the presidency of The Screen Actors Guild, and for some reason I was invited along with a lot of actors a lot better known than me (which is almost every professional actor!). I was pleased that people I thought would have forgotten who I was since I'd left L.A—and hadn't done much on film or TV since—still remembered me and seemed genuinely happy and even excited to see me.

Looking around the room I recognized most of the people there and then noticed an old white man and an old black man sitting alone on a couch. It took me a minute to realize the old black man was Harry Belafonte. I had been friends with one of his daughters back in L.A. and had been near him a few times, maybe even met him though I can't remember now, and he was always one of my heroes for his Civil Rights activism.

The old white man I had no idea who he was. Then he got up and shuffled toward me heading for the kitchen or bathroom or somewhere beyond me and the closer he got the more I realized I knew who he was but it wasn't until he passed right beside me that this little old man turned and smiled up at me and I realized Damn that's Eli Wallach. On his way back he stopped and we introduced ourselves to each other and talked a bit and I felt very honored.

We're all unique, but some of us make their uniqueness felt more strongly than others. Eli Wallach was one of those. He was almost a hundred when he passed yesterday. That's a pretty good run of uniqueness.

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