Monday, February 11, 2019

Remembering Jack Palance by Kaye Spencer #westernfictioneers #hollywood #classicwesterns

As I develop the characters in the stories I write, I invariably attribute a Hollywood celebrity’s appearance, mannerisms, and persona related to particular roles they’ve played to my characters. I'm careful, however, to leave enough imagination wiggle room for the reader to create their own mental image of my characters...

...except for the supporting villain in my western historical romance, THE COMANCHERO’S BRIDE. I deliberately created this villainous character in the image of a well-known Hollywood villain of his time,  Jack Palance.
Jack Palance - Publicity photo for film 'Man in the Attic'
By 20th Century Fox - ebay, Public Domain,
 Since 2019 marks one hundred years since his birth, let’s take a brief look at his life and his acting career. I have used information from these websites: Jack Palance biography at | Jack Palance page at   | Jack Palance biography Website

Pertinent information

  • Born: February 18, 1919
  • Died: November 10, 2006
  • Married twice – three children
  • Birth name:Vladimir Ivanovich Palahniuk of Ukranian descent and born in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania, which was coal country. His father an anthracite miner, who died of black lung disease.
  • received a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina
  • dropped out be a professional boxer as Jack Brazzo
  • served as an Army Air Force bomber pilot in WWII
  • after military service, he returned to college to study journalism at Stanford University
  • worked as a sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle

Jack Palance in The Godchild 1974
Public Domain,
Examples of his acting career

Stage (Broadway)

  • 1947 – 1st stage performance in “The Big Two” – his role was a Russian soldier
  • 1947 – understudy for Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in Broadway's “A Streetcar Named Desire” (he eventually assumed this role)

Anecdote:  While an understudy to Marlon Brando … Brando, who was into athletics, rigged up a punching bag in the theater’s boiler room and invited Jack to work out with him. One night, Jack threw a hard punch that missed the bag and landed square on Brando’s nose. The star had to be hospitalized and understudy Palance created his own big break by going on for Brando. Jack’s reviews as Stanley Kowalski helped get him a 20th Century-Fox contract.

A few notable movies (early in his acting career, he was billed as Walter Jack Palance)

  • 1950 – 1st movie: Panic in the Streets (with Richard Widmark) – his role was as a plague-carrying fugitive  – Widmark said, “...the toughest guy I ever met. He was the only actor I've ever been physically afraid of.”
  • 1951 Halls of Montezuma (again with Richard Widmark) – his role was a boxing Marine
  • 1952 Sudden Fear – his role was a rich and famous playwright who plots to murder his wife (Joan Crawford) and run off with girlfriend (Gloria Grahame)
  • 1953 Second Chance with Robert Mitchum
  • 1953 Shane – his role was “...finest villain of the decade, that of creepy, sadistic gunslinger Jack Wilson”
Jack Palance in 'Shane'
Google Search, Google, Palance&tbs=sur:fc#imgrc=ID_BbZMGHHdvIM:

  • 1956 Attack – his first lead role – WWII action film with Lee Marvin, Eddie Albert, Buddy Ebsen
  • 1960s and early 1970s movies found him in filming in Europe with much success
  • 1966 The Professionals with Burt Lancaster
  • 1970 Monte Walsh with Lee Marvin
  • 1972 Chato's Land with Charles Bronson
  • 1988 Young Guns with the Hollywood “brat pack”
  • 1989 Batman with Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton
  • 1989 Tango and Cash with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell
  • 1991 City Slickers with Billy Crystal
  • 1994 Cops and Robbersons
  • 1999 Treasure Island as Long John Silver

Jack Palance CBS Television
CBS Television, Jack Palance 1975, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Oscar Nominations and Win for Supporting Actor

  • Nominated: Sudden Fear
  • Nominated: Shane
  • Won: City Slickers
A few of his television appearances
  • Studio One in Hollywood
  • The Gulf Playhouse
  • The Motorola Television Hour
  • Zane Grey Theater
  • Playhouse 90: Rquiem for a Heavyweight as a down-and-out boxer (Emmy nomination)
  • The Greatest Show on Earth
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Bronk – series in which he was the title character Lt. Alex Bronkov
  • Host of Ripley's Believe It or Not!

General Trivia

  • Owned a California cattle ranch, exhibited his landscape paintings (poem on the back of each), and was a published poet (The Forest of Love 1966)
  • Fell asleep in his square during a taping of The Hollywood Squares television program (1965)
  • Awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960
  • Inducted in Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum 1992
  • Turned down role of General Chang (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country 1991) due to scheduling conflicts (part went to Christopher Plummer)
  • Wanted the Kid Shelleen role in Cat Ballou (1965) for which Lee Marvin received an Oscar
  • Played Dracula, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and Ebenezer Scrooge
  • Has been described as having ‘an imposing glare, intimidating stance, and kill-shark smile’
  • Recorded a country music album in 1969, “Palance” – he wrote the song “The Meanest Guy that Ever Lived”, which is included on the album
'Blackjack County Chains' performed on the Porter Waggoner show in 1970

 Many of you will recall his famous one-handed push up during his Oscar acceptance speech.

Now, for the excerpt from THE COMANCHERO’S BRIDE when we meet “Jack”:

Grayson leaned back in his chair. “They need to see me as a man of action. A man who can get things done. A man who takes charge. I have to head-up the rescue crusade myself, and you’ll write about it, firsthand, emphasizing my discomfort and desperation to save her, which makes Elizabeth’s peril all the more real and heart-rending to the readers.”

“This is going to cost you more, Gray.” Doyle swirled the whiskey in his glass. “I create and destroy careers from comfortable accommodations, not from the midst of inconveniences that go hand-in-hand with chasing an outlaw from here to Mexico.”

“There’s a mighty big piece of country in between here and the Rio Grande.”

Grayson and Doyle turned as one person to stare at the man standing beside their table. Grayson sized him up in a glance and didn’t like what he saw. The stranger was tall, grizzled and unkempt, clad in weather-worn, dirty buckskins, and he sported a battered, sweat-stained hat cocked at an angle over shoulder-length gray scraggly hair. He carried a faded military haversack slung across his body. His rifle, muzzle pointed down, rested in the crook of his right arm, which lifted his right shoulder higher than the left with a rounded, misshapen hump. He had the look of a mountain man, mean, rough-hewn, and hard as granite, but his defining feature was his puckered eye that drew the left side of his face into a disturbing grin. The eye itself was canted in the socket, a milky white-blue orb that sometimes seemed to focus and other times to look right past a person.

Although the man was starkly out of place in the swank surroundings, he didn’t seem to notice, or, more importantly, didn’t care. Grayson saw the concierge watching from the doorway, his expression strained and demeanor nervous at this stranger’s presence, inappropriately attired as he was for this establishment and that he openly carried a rifle. Grayson made a mental note to slip a hefty tip to the concierge to buy his cooperation.

“Who are you?” Grayson demanded.

“I’m the tracker yer lookin’ to hire. Name’s Jack.”


“Jack’s good enough.”

Grayson reassessed the man coolly, his initial unfavorable impression changing. This crude-cast stranger might just be the sort of man he needed.

“Have a seat.” Although Grayson nodded to the concierge that all was well and the small man visibly relaxed, although he maintained his watchful position at the doorway.

Grayson offered bourbon, and a chair across the table, but Jack declined both with a slight head shake then took a chair that put his back to the wall and beside Grayson. Grayson exchanged a quick glance with Doyle.

“What’s your price?”

“Depends on the job.”


Available on as a single purchase

AND in the boxed set


Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

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  1. I have always loved Jack Palance. He seemed to always play such interesting parts and he was quite physically fir well into his elder years.
    I loved your excerpt for THE COMENCHERO'S BRIDE.
    All the best, Kaye.

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for stopping by to comment. Jack Palance was in the right place at the right time in Hollywood with his villainous persona.

  2. An impressive career for a very impressive actor. Doris

    1. He was an impressive actor. He certainly 'owned' the roles he took on. Thanks for stopping in.

  3. Kaye, this is an excellent post. I did not know so many of these things about him. Very interesting to learn! A bomber pilot? Who knew? If our enemies had known he was the one fighting them, they'd have turned tail in a heartbeat! LOL

    1. Cheryl,

      If you look on YouTube for his Oscar acceptance speech and the one-armed push up, there is a video of his entire speech. I purposely didn't include it here, because of its off-colored and toes-on-the-edge sexist 'jokes', but it's still worth watching to get the full effect of his personality.

  4. He said on a late night TV show that they sprayed his pants with dog repellent so the dog in Shane would slink by him in fear. I always thought it was one of the best shots in the movie.