Childhood & Early Life
Jack Palance was born Volodymyr Palahniuk, on February 18, 1919, in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania. His parents, Ivan, and Anna, were Ukrainian immigrants. Palance was one of their six children. His father worked in coal mines for a living.
Following his father’s footsteps, Palance too worked in coal mines as a youngster. In late 1930s, he took to professional boxing, and fought under the name, ‘Jack Brazzo.’ He had a highly successful boxing career, until an injury forced him to quit. He had fifteen consecutive victories in boxing.
During the World War II, Palance served in the ‘United States Army Air Forces’ as a bomber pilot. He was injured in the war, and received a ‘Good Conduct Medal’ for his services. In 1944, Palance was honorably discharged from duty. Thereafter, he joined the ‘Stanford University’ where he studied theater. During this period, he worked as a cook, a lifeguard, and even as a waiter. He also worked for a radio station.
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In 1947, Jack Palance made his stage debut with the play, ‘The Big Two,’ directed by Robert Montgomery. In the same year, he played ‘Stanley Kowalski’ in the ‘Broadway’ play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ The play was a huge success. In 1948, Palance performed in two plays, ‘A Temporary Island,’ and ‘The Vigil.’
In 1950, Jack Palance made his film debut in ‘Panic in the Streets.’ In the movie, he played a gangster. After the success of the movie, ‘20th Century Fox’ offered him a long term contract.
In 1952, Palance starred opposite Joan Crawford, in the thriller movie, ‘Sudden Fear.’ He played a homicidal husband who stalked his wife. In 1953, he played another classic character, a gunfighter ‘Jack Wilson,’ in the movie, ‘Shane.’ Both the characters required Palance to put a nasty look. With his imposing figure and sinister smile, it was a cake walk for Palance, and that showed in his performances. He received ‘Academy Award’ nominations for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for both the movies. With the success of these movies, Palance was hailed as the perennial bad guy of Hollywood.
In the 1950s, Palance was the evil presence in various Hollywood movies. In 1953, he played a heroic role in ‘Flight to Tangier.’ In 1955, he played a robber with a good heart, in the movie ‘I Died a Thousand Times.’ Though the movie was not a big success, his character got applause from audiences. In 1957, Palance won an ‘Emmy Award’ for his performance as ‘Mountain McClintock’ in the teleplay, ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight.’
Jack Palance moved to Europe during the peak of his career, and acted in many foreign films. He appeared in the lead role in ‘The Man Inside,’ produced by the London-based ‘Warwick Films.’
He also acted in various Italian movies, such as ‘Sword of the Conqueror,’ ‘The Last Judgement,’ and ‘Night Train to Milan.’ In 1963, Palance played a Hollywood producer in the French movie, ‘Le Mepris.’
After making his presence felt in foreign movies, Palance returned to the US. He starred in the TV series, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ from 1963 to 1964. He had a supporting role in the box office hit, ‘The Professionals.’ In the film ‘Che!,’ Palance played the Cuban leader, ‘Fidel Castro.’ Although the movie failed to make an impact, Palance excelled in his performance. In the 1970s, Palance mostly worked from Italy. He did various foreign movies, such as ‘Black Cobra Woman,’ ‘Blood and Bullets,’ and ‘The One Man Jury.’
Palance played many famous characters on television as well. His performance in the thrillers like ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ and ‘Dracula,’ made him popular among the common household.
In 1973, he acted in the title role of the movie, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula.’ The audiences felt that his deathly look and piercing eyes made him a perfect fit to be the ‘Dracula.’ In 1982, Palance appeared as the host of the television series, ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not.’ The series was aired on ‘ABC’ network from 1982 to 1986.
Jack Palance appeared in comic roles quite late in his career. The transition from villain to comedian brought him laurels. In 1991, he played a comic character in the movie, ‘City Slickers.’ His character was a cowboy, ‘Curly Washburn.’ His incredible performance in this movie won him the ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Actor in Supporting Role.’
Personal Life & Legacy
Jack Palance was married twice. He married Virginia Baker in 1949. The couple had three children: Holly, Brooke, and Cody. Holly Palance is an actress and she co-hosted ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not,’ with her father. The couple divorced in 1968. In 1987, Palance married his second wife, Elaine Rogers.
Palance had an artistic inclination, and in his twilight years, he pursued his interests with enthusiasm. He sold landscape pictures with a poem on the back of every picture. ‘Forest of Love,’ a collection of poems authored by him, was published in 1996.
On November 10, 2006, Palance breathed his last, after suffering a stroke. At the time of his death, he was in California with his daughter, Holly. Jack Palance was honored with a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’
There was a lot of speculation about Palance’s facial features. It was said that he underwent a plastic surgery after his face was crushed in a plane crash during the war. He rubbished these stories as a publicity stunt.
When Palance went on stage to receive the Oscars, he entertained the audience by dropping to the ground and doing one-armed push-ups. His antics became big news overnight.
In 2004, Palance walked out of a Russian Film Festival saying, “I am a Ukrainian, not Russian. I feel like I walked into the wrong room.”