Friday, November 10, 2006

Jack Palance and How to Say His Name

Jack Palance (bow your head or bend your knee when you say that name) insisted that his surname rhymed with "balance," and that the accent wasn't to be placed on the second syllable. But even when you know this, there's another trick to how the name of Jack Palance should be pronounced.

Palance was what the French like to call "a sacred beast" -- a category that also claimed the likes of Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed. When I read of his death earlier today, fron natural causes at age 87 -- mere weeks after many of his personal possessions were auctioned at his farm in Hazelton, Pennsylvania -- my first thought was of my friend, the French journalist/archivist Lucas Balbo, who once devoted an issue of his fan magazine NOSTALGIA to the actor. To Lucas, the actor's name was always to be spoken like an incantation, an audacious summoning of magic: "Zzzzhack PAL-ANCE!" Lucas spent some time visiting Donna and me back in 1989, as VIDEO WATCHDOG magazine was in its pre-production stages, and, ever since then, Donna and I have never thought of Jack Palance or spoken his name in quite the same way. We say it like someone says "And there you have it!" Et voila! The way a tightrope walker says "I made it" after crossing Niagara Falls. The way someone says "I have survived." Lucas taught us that to speak the name of Jack Palance aloud was to exclaim "Boredom BEGONE!"

To me, Palance was always one of the top tier movie grotesques, and I use that term with great respect and affection. I loved his panting delivery, his hardy yet feline quality, the way dialogue burbled from his lips like wine expressed from swollen grapes, his peculiar pronunciations (the way he said "Beelly the Kid" when name-checking history's greatest desperadoes in a Time/Life LEGENDS OF THE OLD WEST book commercial), his poetical stance, his divine eccentricities. He could take bland crap like RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT and make it compelling with his completely unpredictable reading of whatever was written on his cue cards. As another writer once said of Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud, he was one of those rare actors who could say nothing more than "Good morning" and transport you to a magical place -- amusing, surreal, or scary, whatever the script demanded. Palance could say "Good morning" the way Christopher Jones said "Give me the power!" in WILD IN THE STREETS... and if he didn't quite get away with it all the time, you at least had to admire the attempt.

His performances could be all over the map, from brilliant to barking mad, but he gave of himself to the screen generously, exuberantly, wildly -- the way Jackson Pollack gave paint to his canvases. "Walter Jack Palance" in PANIC IN THE STREETS. Jack the Ripper in MAN IN THE ATTIC. The bad guy in SHANE. The tortured actors in SUDDEN FEAR and THE BIG KNIFE. "Mountain" McClintock in REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT. Simon in THE SILVER CHALICE, believing he could fly. The sleek warrior in THE MONGOLS. The demented producer Jeremiah Prokosh in CONTEMPT, my favorite of all films. The man who collected Poe in TORTURE GARDEN. The completely frigging off-the-rails priest in MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE. My favorite of the screen's many Mr. Hydes. (Makeup artist Dick Smith once told me that Hyde's satyr-like likeness was based on a figure that he and his wife found while vacationing in Egypt, and that Palance's own facial features were so flat that he had to build up the forehead and cheekbones artificially. He also told me that when Palance suffered a bad fall and was briefly hospitalized during production, he visited and got a glimpse of the actor's bare torso -- a miasma of scars dating back to earlier stunts, air and automobile crashes, and his days in the boxing ring.) Fidel Castro in CHE!. A miscast DRACULA. The pot-smoking baddie in COMPANEROS. The African deity-worshipping antiques dealer of CRAZE. MISTER SCARFACE. BRONK. The bohemian Hollywood exile Rudi in BAGDAD CAFE. And he played Curly twice, once in THE MERCENARY and again in CITY SLICKERS (not the same Curly, of course... at least I don't think so) -- the latter of which brought him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and international headlines when he celebrated his victory with a set on one-handed push-ups. Believe it... or not.

So as we remember Jack Palance and discuss his legacy, remember how to say his name. The way he approached every role: with panache. Make that PANache, accent on the first syllable.

And merci beaucoup, Lucas, for teaching me this.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Thank you for this. I am in a play wherein I refer to Jack Palance. I was pronouncing it at rehearsal as you've stated above and it came up for discussion that the accent was to be on the second syllable. I now know that I was saying it right and good thing as we haven't gone live yet.

    Thanks again


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