12 July, 2008

Lee Van Cleef

Lee Van Cleef was an American film actor who appeared mostly in Western and action pictures. His sharp features and piercing eyes often led to his casting as an antagonist but he was also cast as a protagonist, such as with his role depicting a bounty hunter in For a Few Dollars More.

Van Cleef was born Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef, Jr. in Somerville, New Jersey. Van Cleef served in the United States Navy during World War II and became an actor after a brief career as an accountant. His first acting experiences were on stage, including a small role in the original Broadway production of Mister Roberts. His first film was the classic Western High Noon, in which he played a villain. He also had a bit part as the sharpshooter in the climax of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms around the same time. In 1956 he co-starred with Peter Graves in the B-grade Sci-Fi movie It Conquered the World.

Van Cleef played different minor characters on four episodes of the TV series The Rifleman between 1959 and 1962. He appeared as minor villains and henchmen in various Westerns, including The Tin Star and Gunfight at the OK Corral. He also played one of Lee Marvin's villainous henchmen in the 1962 John Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with James Stewart and John Wayne. He had a small, uncredited role as one of the river pirates in 1962's How the West Was Won.

In 1962, Van Cleef was involved in a serious car accident and was forced temporarily to retire from acting. Between 1962 and 1965 Van Cleef worked as a freelance painter and carpenter, after which the actor appeared in several spaghetti Westerns, including For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly , as well as The Big Gundown and The Sabata Trilogy. Van Cleef also had a supporting role in John Carpenter's cult hit Escape from New York. He also appeared as a villainous swindler in the Bonanza episode, The Bloodline, along with 90 movie roles and 109 other television appearances over a 38-year span.

In the early 1980s he played John Peter McCallister, the "first Occidental to become a ninja" in NBC's The Master. His last television appearance was in 1984 when he left the show The Master. Episodes of the show were later remarketed as made-for-TV movies, two of which were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Van Cleef lost the tip of his middle finger on his right hand while building a playhouse for his daughter. This can be seen in the close-up shots of his hand during the gunfights in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and in an early scene of The Grand Duel.

He died from a heart attack in Oxnard, California and was interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. His gravestone reads "Lee Van Cleef Jan 9, 1925 - Dec 16, 1989 'Best of the Bad' Love and Light".

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