This article originally ran in the February 5, 1974 edition of the
Seated in a coffee shop in Boston, where he is currently in the middle of a three week run in Anouilh's play The Waltz of the Toreadors, Eli Wallach grins as he talks about himself.
"I was born and brought up in Red Hook, Brooklyn's Little Italy. I stayed there until I was old enough to go to college. I attended the University of Texas but returned to New York after graduation to get a Master's degree in teaching. I never taught though because I failed the teaching exam. That was a stroke of fate, I guess, because after that I became involved with acting."
A five year stint in the Medical Corps of the army interrupted Wallach's budding acting career but when he returned to civilian life he soon made his Off-Broadway debut in Tennessee Williams' This Property is Condemned. The only other performer in the play was young actress named Anne Jackson. The two clicked on and off the stage and have been married for the past twenty-five years.
Looking distinguished in long pork-chop sideburns, Wallach talks about his wife, who shares his top billing in The Waltz, with unabashed fondness: "I really enjoyed working with Anne. There are lines in The Waltz of the Toreadors when she turns and looks at me with venom in her eyes and says: 'you ruined my career.' We get a chance to thrash out our difficulties in the plays we do&ldots;in a lot of them I choke her or tie her up or rape her, it's all acted out. Our fantasies can be acted out."
He is a veteran of 25 films and countless plays and television productions. Currently he appears in the film Cinderella Liberty and another film of his entitled Crazy Joe is soon to be released.
"I prefer theatre to any other acting vehicle," Wallach says. "Take, for example, the film Cinderella Liberty. I worked for two weeks on that picture. I never really got a chance to polish the guy I play, to give him added dimensions. The general I play in The Waltz represents nine months to a year's work where I've been able to deepen certain values in the play. That's the luxury of acting in the theatre."
Because of his enthusiasm for live acting Wallach has been the vanguard of a group called LARC (Loose Actors Revolving Company.) This association was formed in order to make it easier for prominent performers to do short run theatre acting. "The idea was that an actor in America has no roots," Wallach says, "he's a gypsy, he wanders. He gets a job in a movie and he's gone off to Greece somewhere. He gets a TV series, he's lost for five years. Many actors feel the need to act on the stage so we decided to form a group where we could relieve one another. If one actor had to leave a play because of a movie commitment another one could take his place until he got back. It was a cooperative sort of thing."