Jack Palance Vs. Vladimir Putin

On weeks like these, it’s hard not to feel … well, a little silly or impotent writing about movies and their business. So instead of doing that, I’m going to relay a story about Jack Palance.

Palance is one of the most famous tough guys in Hollywood history, coming to showbiz after boxing and serving in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. I remember seeing him in one of the first movies I can remember seeing: Batman, where he played the crime boss who set Jack Nicholson’s Jack Napier up for the fall that turned Napier into the Joker. But he had a long and storied history: the heavy in Shane (for which he received an Oscar nomination) and Second Chance (in which he went toe to toe with Robert Mitchum). He eventually won an Academy Award for City Slickers as aged cowboy Curly Washburn.

Jack Palance was not born Jack Palance; like so many movie stars, he changed his name to something a bit more palatable to the ticket-buying public (though the ticket-buying public was buying tickets to see him box at that time). And that’s how Volodymyr Palahniuk became Jack Palance.

My point: his parents were Ukrainian immigrants and Palance remained proud of his heritage to the end of his life. In 2004, he was asked to accept an award at an event sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Culture. When he was introduced to accept the award, he took the stage and said: “I feel like I walked into the wrong room by mistake. I think that Russian film is interesting, but I have nothing to do with Russia or Russian film. My parents were born in Ukraine: I’m Ukrainian. I’m not Russian. So, excuse me, but I don’t belong here. It’s best if we leave.”

And then he walked out.

Vladimir Putin wasn’t there, but one imagines Vladimir Putin was none-too-pleased when he got the report if any underling dared bring it to his attention. Make no mistake: This was an insult to the Russian strongman and a well-delivered one at that, aimed as it was at Russian efforts to expand cultural influence. One could make a larger point here about the importance of artists not offering themselves up as propaganda wins for authoritarian regimes. It would be a fair point, and one artists should think about when China comes knocking.

But the narrow point is good enough. Jack Palance was a Ukrainian-American badass. One hopes the home of his parents is filled with similar sorts.

Palance’s face had been altered by burns — and plastic surgery — suffered when the bomber he was piloting crashed during World War II.

The look made Palance perfect for noir films, like 1952’s Sudden Fear, for which he was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar. He got another for his role in Shane a year later.

After years of playing the heavy in Hollywood, Palance became a hit in comedy films late in life. At 70, he won an Oscar for his over-the-top role as Curly in the Billy Crystal film City Slickers.

On that occasion, Palance used his acceptance speech to express frustration with filmmakers who don’t consider working with older actors. To prove his point, Palance dropped to the surface of the stage and powered through a set of one-armed pushups. The crowd cheered.

[This post has two sources: The part above the pictures is by Sonny Bunch who blogs about movies for THE BULWARK. The part below the pictures is taken from NPR’s obituary in 2006. ]

6 thoughts on “Jack Palance Vs. Vladimir Putin

  1. When I got older I appreciated any actor who played his part well – good guy or bad guy. I remember seeing the one arm push up scene. AMAZING.

    Liked by 1 person

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