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Eli's Coming : Wallach's Career Has Endured From TV's Golden Age to Film to Stage, and Now to 'Vendetta'

May 19, 1991|SUSAN KING | Times Staff Writer

Eli Wallach was standing in the courtyard of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills posing for photo graphs.

The door behind the actor swung open and out walked a young man in purple sweats, trying to restrain a rambunctious puppy on a leash.

"I know you," said the young man. "I've worked with your daughter."

"I know you, too," Wallach said. "What's your name?"

"Matthew," he replied, while rushing past Wallach. "Matthew Broderick. "

"Oh," Wallach said, grinning. "He's a great actor."

"Great" also has been used to describe Wallach's acting talents.

As a veteran of Broadway, he has appeared in Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo" and Murray Schisgal's "Luv."

As a longtime film actor he has performed in "The Misfits," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and, most recently, "The Godfather III."

For the record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 2, 1991 Orange County Edition TV Times Page 9 Television Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Eli Wallach's actress daughter was incorrectly identified in an interview with Wallach in the May 16 issue TV Times. Her name is Roberta Wallach.

And as a veteran of television going back to its Golden Age, he appeared on "Studio One," "Philco Playhouse" and "Playhouse 90" and won an Emmy in 1967 for the drama "A Poppy Is Also a Flower." He was seen earlier this month as a judge with a mental problem on "L.A. Law."

Wallach, 75, walked over to a shaded table in the courtyard to talk about his latest project, "Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride," a four-hour miniseries airing Monday and Tuesday on Channel 5. Wallach plays Frank Latella, a powerful New York don who befriends a beautiful young woman (Carol Alt) out to avenge the murder of her father by a Mafia hit man (Eric Roberts). The miniseries already has been shown on Italian television.

"It was a very big hit in Italy," Wallach said. "It was called 'Woman of Honor.' It's a very interesting movie. It's rather operatic. We shot it in a little town in the southeast corner of Sicily. It's a baroque, beautiful little town."

Wallach made "Vendetta" before he filmed "The Godfather III," in which he was memorable as the murderous Don Altobello, the don who died of poisoned cannolis.

"When we got the ("Godfather III") script, the last 10 pages were missing," Wallach said. "None of us knew our fate. It's very interesting, because in life, none of us know our fate."

Wallach, an avid photographer, opened an envelope of pictures. "I have a picture of that scene," he said, finding a photo of Don Altobello receiving the box of killer cannolis from Connie Corleone (Talia Shire).

"I looked like Ralph Bellamy here," he said, laughing. "This is all makeup. They do all kinds of things with rubber, you know. I was in the makeup chair for one hour and 20 minutes every day."

Wallach recalled when Francis Coppola hired him to play Don Altobello, the director told him, " 'You are going to play an old, dear close friend of the Corleone family. Old Don Corleone, Marlon Brando, depended upon your advice. You were close to him.' And I said, 'If I was such an old, old dear close friend of the Corleones why wasn't I in 'Godfather' or 'Godfather II'?

"And Francis said, 'Oh, you were in Sicily! ' "

Acting is a way of life not just for Wallach, but his family as well. He is married to actress Anne Jackson and two of his daughters, Katherine (the one who worked with Broderick) and Rachel ("The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds"), are actresses.

His favorite film, Wallach said, is his first--1956's steamy "Baby Doll," in which he played Carroll Baker's sleazy lover. Based on two Tennessee Williams' one-act plays, "Baby Doll" was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency for its "carnal suggestiveness."

"My God," Wallach said, laughing. "Cardinal Spellman said, 'If you see this movie you are in danger of excommunication.' They asked him, 'Did you see it?' And he said, 'Why drink the water when you know the water supplied is tainted.' "

People always ask Wallach what it was like to film 1961's "The Misfits," which was the last picture for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.

"We were just doing a movie," he said. "But unfortunately, one of the circumstances was that Marilyn's marriage (to playwright Arthur Miller) was breaking up while we were doing the movie. It made it very difficult because all the three men in the film talk about how gorgeous she is and it made her sicker and more unhappy. I don't know if the movie is completely successful, but that movie and 'Baby Doll' have touched more people. There's a residue that's left. I love those kind of movies."

Wallach was suffering from a bad cold, having just completed another film, "Mistress," at 2 that morning.

"It's the story of an odyssey of a young man trying to sell a movie script in Los Angeles with an agent and another writer," Wallach said. "They meet up with three money men, each has a mistress. I am the first one they meet and I have a mistress who is 23. I wore a gold chain with a wide-open shirt. You know how they (older men) try to maintain their youth? So I had fun doing that.

"Robert De Niro plays the second one with a mistress and Danny Aiello is the third one with the mistress. It's a charming, sweet little movie."

"Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride" airs Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Channel 5.

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