ELI WALLACH - In Memoriam
By Linnda Durre'
Eli Wallach regaled me with stories and photos of him and Marilyn Monroe from "The Misfits"; with Carroll Baker in "Baby Doll," and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," with Clint. I listened like a rapt child at the knee of a wise and wizened grandfather. What film lore! I was enchanted.
Marilyn and I had the same agent, the legendary and wonderful - Irving Salkow, who sold my TV series to Aaron Spelling in three days when I was 22 years old and I joined the Writers Guild - WGA. Marilyn died when I was a teenager. Alas, I never met her. What a thrill that would have been!
Eli and I were at Cinecitta Studios in Rome - he was playing Don Altobello in "The Godfather, Part III" and I was playing a cocktail waitress, Bunny dip and all. Eli was using a cane as an extension of his body, and - spoiler alert - playing a secret betrayer of Michael Corleone.
It was the scene where Al Pacino distributes the checks to all the Mafia dons so he can "officially retire" from the family business, as if. The classic line, "Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in" was uttered later in his New York home's kitchen.
I was paired with the late Nicky Blair, who played the maitre d' in the film and in real life at his very successful, eponymous restaurant on Sunset Strip. Alas, my scene ended up on the cutting room floor.
All the Mafia dons -played by recognizable character actors - Al Ruscio, Carmine Caridi, Mickey Knox, just to name a few - meet their death by machine gun from a helicopter hovering above the glass domed penthouse, the band in blue lame jackets, the "girls" in evening gowns, and the cocktail waitresses - me, included - in gold lame and sequins.
I looked like the Vegas version of a female Speedy Alka Seltzer, gold sequined flat hat and all - in gold stockings, gold shoes, gold gloves, gold sequined bow tie, and a tangerine lame poofy mini-skirt. If the wardrobe had been real gold, I would have been Ft. Knox.
Not one natural fiber in the outfit. One match and I'd sound like the Wicked Witch of the West, yelling, "I'm melting, I'm melting!"
My father remarked, "You have a Ph.D. and you're playing a cocktail waitress!?!?" I replied, "I'm an actor, writer, and future filmmaker. This is experience and it's on my resume. I can say I was directed by Francis Ford Coppola!"
The film was produced by Coppola and co-producers Gray Frederickson and Fred Roos, with all three winning Oscars for The Godfather, Part II; executive producers Fred Fuchs and Nicolas Gage, associate producer Marina Gefter, and co-producer Charles Mulvehill.
Eli and the clever, witty George Hamilton took me to a lovely restaurant for lunch during a break from filming. The laughter, the jokes, and the impersonations at that table were hilarious!
Eli and I corresponded for a while after we both returned from Italy.
Eli starred in classic films and so many others -"The Magnificent Seven," the psychiatrist in "Nuts" with Barbra Streisand, "Lord Jim" with Peter O'Toole, "Mystic River", "The Deep", "Cinderella Liberty", "The Hunter" with Steve McQueen, and "The Two Jakes" with Jack Nicholson, just to name a few.
Aside from his classics, my two favorite roles of his were:
Richard Dreyfuss's father Jay Bickford in "The Education of Max Bickford" and in "Mistress" with DeNiro, Danny Aiello, Martin Landau, and Robert Wohl.
"Mistress" is one of the required movies for filmmakers on the vicissitudes and life lessons of producing, directing, and dealing with the backers who want their girlfriends or mistresses to be cast in the movie. Eli's clothes in this film by costume designer Susan Nininger (The Bodyguard) were appropriately tacky - diamond pinky rings, neck chains, open throated shirts, and polyester pants. So not him!
When his book came out, I read it cover to cover - "The Good, The Bad, and Me: My Anecdotage." Such a fun, fast moving memoir.
Eli and Anne invited me to an off Broadway performance they were doing of the highlighted scenes of their plays together. It was charming, just as they were.
Affectionate with each other, gently teasing and always genuinely respectful, you could feel the love and rapport they had with each other as spouse, fellow acting colleague, and parent.
Eli and Anne were married for 66 years, with three children, five grandchildren, and even great grandchildren! He died yesterday, June 24 at the age of 98. God bless your talented soul, Eli Wallach!
©2015 Linnda Durre' , All Right Reserved