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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 November 2006, 12:05 GMT
Obituary: Jack Palance
Jack Palance
Palance's screen career spans five decades
Jack Palance, whose rugged looks and gravelly voice brought menace to the big screen in a long and distinguished career, has died aged 87.

He is best remembered for his role as the cold-blooded gunslinger in the classic western, Shane, but it was a comedy - 1991's City Slickers - that won him an Oscar.

Born Vladimir Palahnuik in 1919, Palance was the son of Ukrainian immigrants living in Pennsylvania.

During his youth, he worked alongside his father as a coal miner and later began a career as a professional boxer, fighting under the name Jack Brazzo.

But when World War II broke out he joined the Army Air Corps, only to be discharged in 1943 when his B-24 aircraft lost power on take-off and he was knocked unconscious.

He spent many months recovering from the accident, requiring plastic surgery on his face, and received an honourable discharge.

Brando's understudy

Jack Palance wins an Emmy
Palance won an Emmy for his portrayal of a washed up boxer
Later, Palance studied journalism at Stanford, but was drawn to the stage after performing with the university's drama club.

He left shortly before graduation to seek a professional acting career in New York.

His career breakthrough came when he was chosen as Marlon Brando's understudy in a 1947 Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

According to legend, he made it onto the stage after accidentally punching Brando on the nose during a workout in the theatre's boiler room.

The show's director, Elia Kazan, later gave him his first film role in 1950's Panic in the Streets, in which he played the bad guy - a killer infected with bubonic plague.

Only two films later, he received his first Academy Award nomination - for 1952's Sudden Fear.

Palance played Lester Blaine, an actor who attempts to seduce a successful playwright in an attempt to prove he is good enough to play a romantic lead.

But it was the following year's Shane which really made his name.

Shane's success

The gunslinger instructor was very impressed
George Stevens Jr, son of Shane director George Stevens
The film, with its beautiful cinematography of Wyoming's bleak landscapes and themes of good versus evil, is considered one of Hollywood's greatest westerns.

It starred Alan Ladd as a vaguely mysterious former gunslinger who tries to settle down with a homesteading family but is bullied into a duel by Palance's ruthless character.

George Stevens Jr, the son of Shane director George Stevens, said he remembered Palance arriving on the set weeks before his scenes were to be shot.

The actor would "get on his grey horse and then ride off and we'd see him stop and practice getting on and off the horse", Stevens said.

"He was from New York and didn't know how to do that.

Jack Palance in City Slickers
He won an Oscar for his role in the 1991 comedy City Slickers
"And he also worked with the fast draw guy to practice drawing his gun. At the end, the gunslinger instructor was very impressed."

Shane won Palance another Academy nomination for best supporting actor, but he was beaten by Frank Sinatra, who picked up the prize for his role in From Here To Eternity.

Nonetheless, the role cemented Palance's reputation as Hollywood's favourite bad boy, and he went on to appear in such films as Arrowhead (as a renegade Apache), Man in the Attic (as Jack the Ripper) and Sign of the Pagan (as Attila the Hun).

He also made frequent television appearances, and won an Emmy in 1957 for his portrayal of an end-of-the-line boxer in Requiem for a Heavyweight.

But, at the height of his fame, Palance declared he was weary of being type-cast and moved with his wife and three young children to Lausanne, Switzerland.

He spent six years in Europe, but returned home complaining he was being offered "the same kind of roles I left Hollywood because of".

Oscar performance

Jack Palance at the Oscars
Palance stunned the 1992 Oscars audience by performing push-ups
Palance holds the dubious honour of experiencing the longest gap between being nominated for an Oscar and actually winning one - 39 years.

He took the award for his role in 1991's City Slickers, in which he played the aging but still tough cowboy Curly Washburn, who quietly inspires a group of businessmen during a western cattle drive.

On receiving the trophy, the 73-year-old Palance startled the Oscar audience by dropping to the floor and performing a series of one-handed press-ups.

"That's nothing, really," he said after finishing his workout. "As far as two-handed push-ups, you can do that all night, and it doesn't make a difference whether she's there or not."

The racy remark went down in history, not least because his City Slickers co-star - and Oscar host - Billy Crystal turned it into a running joke, making increasingly outlandish remarks about Palance's accomplishments throughout the ceremony.

It was a magic moment that epitomized the actor's years in films but, despite his long career, Palance was scornful of Hollywood.

"Most of the stuff I do is garbage," he once told a reporter, adding that most of the directors he worked with were incompetent.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, he had interests outside film - painting and selling art, and publishing a book of poetry in 1996.

In his later years, he also became a campaigner for cancer awareness after his son, Cody - who starred alongside his father in Young Guns - died of malignant melanoma.

Palance died of natural causes on 10 November 2006. He is survived by his second wife, Elaine Rogers Palance, and two daughters.

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