Eli Herschel Wallach (born December 7, 1915) is an American BAFTA-, Tony Award- and Emmy Award-winning and Golden Globe-nominated film, TV and stage actor, who gained fame in the late 1950s; for his performance in Baby Doll he won a BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer and a Golden Globe nomination. One of his most famous roles is that of Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Other roles include his portrayal of Don Altobello in The Godfather Part III and Arthur Abbott in the The Holiday.
Wallach served as a staff sergeant in Hawaii in a military hospital in the United States Army in World War II. However, he was soon sent to Officer Candidate School in Abilene, Texas to undergo training to become a medical administrative officer. He graduated as a Second Lieutenant and was sent to Madison Barracks in New York, where he was promptly shipped to Casablanca and, later in the war, to France. It was there that a superior discovered his acting history and asked him to form a show for the patients. He and other members from his unit wrote a play called Is This the Army?, which was inspired by Irving Berlin's This is the Army. In the comedic play Wallach and the other men clowned around as various dictators, Wallach himself portraying Hitler.
Wallach's film debut was in Elia Kazan's controversial Baby Doll and he went on to have a prolific career in films, although rarely in a starring role. Other early films include The Misfits, The Magnificent Seven and as Tuco (the 'Ugly') in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Wallach is central to one of the most infamous show business legends. In 1953 he was cast as Angelo Maggio in the movie From Here to Eternity. He was abruptly replaced by Frank Sinatra before filming began. Sinatra went on to win an Oscar for the performance and revived his career. Legend has it that Sinatra used pressure from his reputed underworld connections to get the part. That story inspired a similar incident depicted in the classic 1972 film The Godfather. Wallach says he turned down the role to appear in a Tennessee Williams play: "Whenever Sinatra (who won an Academy Award for the role) saw me, he’d say, 'Hello, you crazy actor!'"
In 2006, Wallach made a guest appearance on the NBC show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, playing a former writer who was blacklisted in the 1950s. His character was a writer on The Philco Comedy Hour, a comedy show that aired on the fictional NBS network. This is a reference to The Philco Television Playhouse, several episodes of which Wallach actually appeared on in 1955. Wallach earned a 2007 Emmy nomination for his work on the show.
Before accepting a role as a villain in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, Henry Fonda called Wallach and asked "What the hell does he [Leone] know about the West?" Wallach assured Fonda he would be pleasantly surprised if he accepted the role. After the film's success Fonda called Wallach back to thank him.
Wallach and Leone, though having built a good relationship during shooting The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, had a falling-out later on. Leone had asked Wallach to play a role in his upcoming film, A Fistful of Dynamite, but the actor explained he had a scheduling conflict. After much pleading Wallach finally relented and turned down the other offer and waited for Leone to raise enough Hollywood money for the picture. However, the studio Leone went to had an actor, Rod Steiger, with one more picture in his studio contract and the studio announced that Leone would have to use him if they were to put up any financing. Leone then called to apologize to Wallach, who remained dumbstruck on the other end of the line. After even refusing to give Wallach a token payment for losing out on two jobs the actor said "I'll sue you"—to which Leone replied, "Get in line", and slammed down the phone. In his autobiography, Wallach relates that as regrettedly being the final time that the two spoke to one another.
In 2005, Wallach released his autobiography The Good, the Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage. In this tome, Wallach talked about his most famous role as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He mentioned that he didn't realize he was going to be "blessed" with that title until he saw the film. He mentioned it was an honor to work with Clint Eastwood, whom he praised for his professionalism. Wallach mentioned, however, that director Sergio Leone was notoriously careless in ensuring the safety of his actors during dangerous scenes. It was during filming that Wallach accidentally drank from a bottle of acid that a film technician had carelessly placed next to his soda bottle. He spat it out immediately, but was furious that his vocal cords could have been damaged if he'd swallowed any of it. Leone gave him some milk to wash his mouth out with and apologized for the incident, but also commented that accidents do happen.
Wallach lost sight in his left eye as the result of a stroke. According to his autobiography the incident occurred "some years ago".