Jack Palance was an American actor and singer. He was nominated for three Academy Awards, all for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, winning in 1992 for his role in City Slickers.
Palance was born in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania, the son of Anna and Ivan Palahniuk, an anthracite coal miner. His parents were Ukrainian immigrants, his father a native of Ivane Zolote in southwestern Ukraine and his mother from the Lviv Oblast, an ethnic Pole. One of six children, he worked in coal mines during his youth before becoming a professional boxer in the late 1930s. Fighting under the name Jack Brazzo, Palance reportedly compiled a record of 15 consecutive victories with 12 knockouts before losing a close decision to future heavyweight contender Joe Baksi in a Pier-6 brawl.
With the outbreak of World War II, Palance's athletic career ended, and his military career began as a member of the United States Army Air Forces. Palance was honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1944. After the war, he attended Stanford University, leaving one credit shy of graduating to pursue a career in the theatre. During his university years, he worked as a short order cook, waiter, soda jerk, lifeguard at Jones Beach State Park, and photographer's model.
Palance's acting break came as Marlon Brando's understudy in A Streetcar Named Desire, and he eventually replaced Brando on stage as Stanley Kowalski. In 1947, Palance made his Broadway debut. He debuted on television in 1949, and this was followed a year later by his screen debut in the movie Panic in the Streets (1950). The same year he was featured in Halls of Montezuma about the United States Marines in World War II, where he was credited as "Walter (Jack) Palance". Palance was quickly recognized for his skill as a character actor, receiving an Oscar nomination for his third film role as Lester Blaine in Sudden Fear.
The following year, Palance was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the hired gunfighter Jack Wilson in Shane. Several Western roles followed, but he also played varied roles such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula and Attila the Hun. Three years before Palance played the role, comic book artist Gene Colan based his interpretation of Dracula for the acclaimed series The Tomb of Dracula on Palance, explaining, "He had that cadaverous look, a serpentine look on his face. I knew that Jack Palance would do the perfect Dracula."
He became a Hollywood leading man, starring in Man in the Attic, followed by mid-1950s films such as The Big Knife, in which he played a conflicted Hollywood movie star, and I Died a Thousand Times, a scene-by-scene remake of High Sierra (1941) with Palance in the role played previously by Humphrey Bogart.In 1957, Palance won an Emmy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Mountain McClintock in the Playhouse 90 production of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Jean-Luc Godard persuaded Palance to take on the role of Hollywood producer Jeremy Prokosch in the nouvelle vague movie Le Mépris (1963). Although the main dialogue was in French, Palance spoke mostly English. Later, in 1966, he appeared in the television movie Alice Through the Looking Glass, directed by Alan Handley, in which he played the Jabberwock. He had a featured role opposite Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster in the Western adventure The Professionals (1966). Palance provided narration for the 1967 documentary, And Still Champion! The Story of Archie Moore.
In 1969, Palance recorded a country music album in Nashville, released on Warner Bros. Records. It featured Palance's self-penned song "The Meanest Guy That Ever Lived". The album was re-released on CD in 2003 by the Water label (Water 119).
Palance starred in the television series Bronk between 1975 and 1976 for MGM Television.
In 1980, Jack Palance narrated the documentary The Strongest Man in the World by Canadian filmmaker Halya Kuchmij, about Mike Swistun, a circus strongman who had been a student of Houdini’s. Palance attended the premiere of the film on June 6, 1980 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
In 1982, Palance began hosting a television revival of Ripley's Believe It or Not!. The weekly series ran from 1982 to 1986 on the American ABC network. The series also starred three different co-hosts from season to season, including Palance's daughter Holly Palance, actress Catherine Shirriff and singer Marie Osmond. Ripley's Believe It or Not! was in rerun syndication on the Sci-fi Channel (UK) and Sci-fi Channel (US) during the 1990s.
Palance's success on Ripley's Believe It or Not! and the international box-office hit of Bagdad Cafe (1987) resulted in a demand for his services. He made memorable appearances in Young Guns (1988), Tango & Cash (1989) and Tim Burton's Batman (1989). He also performed on Roger Waters' first solo album release The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking (1984).
In 2001, Palance returned to the recording studio as a special guest on friend Laurie Z's album Heart of the Holidays to narrate the classic poem "The Night Before Christmas". In 2002, he starred in the television movie Living with the Dead opposite Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Ladd. In 2004, he starred in another television production, Back When We Were Grownups, opposite Blythe Danner. This was his final performance.
Four decades after his film debut, Palance won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor on March 30, 1992 for his performance as cowboy Curly Washburn in the comedy City Slickers (1991).
On November 10, 2006, Palance died of natural causes at age 87 at his daughter Holly's home in Montecito, California.