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Hollywood legend Eli Wallach dies at age 98

by Ryan Torok

June 25, 2014 | 2:25 pm

Eli Wallach

Eli Wallach, the star of classic films “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly,” has died.

The child of Polish Jewish immigrants, Wallach was 98-years-old. Married to actress Anne Jackson, he leaves behind three children

I am not enough of a cinephile to know Wallach’s most famous work, but I caught him in one what I am sure critics would consider one of his superfluous pieces, 2006’s “The Holiday.”

That film, a romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law, follows two women strangers (Winslet, Diaz) who do a house swap as a way to shake things up in their lives. This brings Winslet, an English woman, to Beverly Hills, where she has a meet-cute with her neighbor, an elderly warm, widower named Arthur Abbot (Wallach). A tour of Arthur’s mansion, particularly his office where papers upon papers sits in stacks on his office desk, reveals he lived a long fulfilling life as a Hollywood screenwriter.

The relationship that unfolds between Wallach and Winslet’s characters is among the high points of the film. Its great how Winslet’s character takes to Arthur, the way she is moved by how Arthur eats his dinners alone in front of the television set.

If I recall correctly – and it has been a while since I’ve seen the film – she asks him to dinner. His inspirational advice to her, during the scene that follows, helps her turn her life around. He tells Winslet, who is depressed over a bad breakup and thus hiding out in an unfamiliar city, is that she is acting like the Best Friend of the movie of her life. Pucker up, he tells her. You are the Leading Lady.

His words have impact.

I have been seeing a therapist for three years and she has never made me understood my problems the way you just did, she tells him (I’m summarizing), while wiping her tears away.

Brilliant, she says to him of his advice. Brutal but brilliant.

Like I said, I don’t know Wallach’s filmography well. Nor do I know much about his life, although this piece in the Independent by writer Rob Hastings does a good job of paying tribute to the actor who was brought up on the Italian streets of New York, graduated from the University of Texas, appeared in more than 100 movies and was just as prolific on the stage as he was on the screen.

Born in 1915, he was, as they say, before my time.

In his own, he apparently accomplished quite a bit. Even in his old age he was still working away. Just a few years ago he appeared in Oliver Stone’s blockbuster sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”

Also of interest was that his college roommate was Walter Cronkite.

Hastings gives an amusing anecdote about how rooming with Cronkite might have been the reason for why Wallach, even when he could barely hear, was so good in interviews with journalists.

In 2005, he published an autobiography, “The Good, The Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage.”

In terms of his Judaism, how much his religion mattered to him is unclear. "Eli Wallach Jewish" – which, by the way, is the go-to Google search for any lazy Jewish journalist writing today about Wallach -- didn’t provide much useful information.

However, even the casual fan can see how he lived his life to the fullest, which, readers, is the greatest mitzvah a person can do. Wallach was a Leading Man, on-screen and off. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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