- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jack Palance, the craggy-faced menace in “Shane,” “Sudden Fear” and other films who turned successfully to comedy at 70 with his Oscar-winning self-parody in “City Slickers,” died yesterday. He was 87.

Mr. Palance died of natural causes at his home in Montecito, Calif., surrounded by family, spokesman Dick Guttman said.

When Mr. Palance accepted his Oscar for best supporting actor he delighted viewers of the 1992 Academy Awards by dropping to the stage and performing one-armed push-ups to demonstrate his physical prowess.

That year’s Oscar host, Billy Crystal, turned the moment into a running joke, making increasingly outlandish remarks about Mr. Palance’s accomplishments throughout the show.

It was a moment that epitomized the actor’s 40 years in films. Always the iconoclast, Mr. Palance had scorned most of his movie roles.

“Most of the stuff I do is garbage,” he once told a reporter, adding that most of the directors he worked with were incompetent, too.

“Most of them shouldn’t even be directing traffic,” he said.

Movie audiences, though, were electrified by the actor’s chiseled face, hulking presence and the calm, low voice that made his screen presence all the more intimidating.

His film debut came in 1950, playing a murderer named Blackie in “Panic in the Streets.”

After a war picture, “Halls of Montezuma,” he portrayed the ardent lover who stalks the terrified Joan Crawford in 1952’s “Sudden Fear.” The role earned him his first Academy Award nomination for supporting actor.

The following year brought his second nomination when he portrayed Jack Wilson, the swaggering gunslinger who bullies peace-loving Alan Ladd into a barroom duel in the Western classic “Shane.”

That role cemented Mr. Palance’s reputation as Hollywood’s favorite menace, and he went on to appear in such films as “Arrowhead” (as a renegade Apache), “Man in the Attic” (as Jack the Ripper), “Sign of the Pagan” (as Attila the Hun) and “The Silver Chalice” (as a fictional challenger to Jesus).

Forty-one years after his film debut, Mr. Palance played against type, to a degree. His “City Slickers” character, Curly, was still a menacing figure to dude ranch visitors Mr. Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby, but with a comic twist. And Mr. Palance delivered his one-liners with surgeonlike precision.

A strapping 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Mr. Palance excelled at sports and won a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina. He left after two years, disgusted by commercialization of the sport.

Mr. Palance decided to use his size and strength as a prizefighter, but after two hapless years that resulted in little more than a broken nose, he joined the Army Air Corps in 1942. A year later he was discharged after his B-24 lost power on takeoff and he was knocked unconscious.

The GI Bill of Rights provided Mr. Palance’s tuition at Stanford University, where he studied journalism. But the drama club lured him, and he appeared in 10 comedies. Just before graduation he left school to try acting professionally in New York.

“I had always wanted to express myself through words,” Mr. Palance said in a 1957 interview. “But I always thought I was too big to be an actor. I could see myself knocking over tables. I thought acting was for little … guys.”


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