|Subject: Full obit
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Date Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 12:12:34pm
In reply to:
Dead at 86
's message, "Jack Wallace, Actor" on Tuesday, April 21, 12:00:02pm
Jack Wallace may not have attained the flashy stardom and big money success of some of his contemporaries from the formative days of our now legendary local theater scene. But he managed, against considerable odds, to have a very fruitful stage, TV and film career. You might likely recognize his face and if you’d ever met him, or talked to those who did, you’d know he was as colorful and unforgettable as any of the hundreds of characters he played.
“I had the pleasure to have him as a friend and fellow actor for close to 50 years,” saysthe Chicago-born Joe Mantegna. “From the student film ‘Medusa Challenger’ we did together in the mid-70s, through the run of Dave Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ in 80s, to a multitude of films together, including the film ‘Lakeboat’ which I directed in 1999. That’s where Jack met his dear wife Margot, who was at his side when he passed.
“He was a huge fixture not just in my life, but in so many others. Damon Runyon would have built a statue of him. He was a man-child the likes of which we may seldom see again.”
Wallace died on April 16 in Los Angeles, his home only a few blocks from that in which Mantegna lives with his wife Arlene. He was 86 and had suffered much of this century from a variety of health woes, including most recently cancer.
His death comes in the wake of that of director Stuart Gordon. It was Gordon who tapped Wallace to become a member of his Organic Theatre Company and there Wallace joined a group of young actors that included Mantegna, Dennis Franz, William J. Norris and Andre DeShields.
In a lovely Facebook post, another Organic pal, Bruce Hickey, who directed Wallace in five plays, wrote, “He never saved it or held back, never left it behind, never phoned it in, or was waiting for opening night. Every night was opening night to him. Every audience, be it 1,000 on Broadway or 15 in a pub theater, were all special to him and gave them a ‘performance.’ That was his gift.”
Wallace came to the stage by a most unusual route.
Born on Aug. 10, 1933, as an only child in Pekin, Ill., he grew up on some of Chicago’s tougher streets, attended Wells High School, served three years in jail for armed robbery, got married, fathered two children, drank often and hard, worked a series of blue collar jobs such as window washer and, with no formal training but an interest sparked as a child — “I never thought acting was a sissy thing,” he once said — started to perform in small theaters around town.
Walking down Lincoln Avenue one afternoon in 1969, he wandered into a doorway where he found a group of actors in rehearsal for a play. Thinking he was there to audition, Chicago City Players director June Pyskacek asked him to join in. He did and sometime later, when the group was tossing around various new names for their company, Wallace suggested Kingston Mines, a small town in Illinois where his grandfather and father had once worked. It stuck and the Kingston Mines, in addition to launching the mega hit “Grease,” was an essential part of the off-Loop theater landscape in its formative years.
That story, among many, is included in Mark Larson’s recent book, “Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater” (Agate Midway). He recalled his interview with the actor: “When I talked with him, I remember his frequent refrain was, ‘Wait, wait! I got another one for you!’
From his first Kingston Mines encounter, Wallace focused on theater and roles came steadily.
A major one — and the reason he stopped drinking for keeps — came when he was cast in 1973 in the lead role of Randall Patrick McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It ran for months here and during that time Wallace found himself sharing a couch with film director Dino DeLaurentiis on Irv Kupcinet’s late night TV talk show.
On the spot, DeLaurentiis offering him a role in his upcoming film, “Death Wish,” obviously taken with what one writer referred to as Wallace’s “huge and felonious eyes … the fierce gaze and the rocky build of an urban samurai, not someone you’d be comfortable meeting in a deserted subway station.”
Wallace would over the next decades appear in more than 100 movies (“Mad Dog and Glory,” “Nixon,” “Medusa Challenger,” "Boogie Nights”), TV shows (“Law & Order,” “Six Feet Under,” “Criminal Minds”) and dozens of plays.
He was admired by audiences and the theater crowd, many of whom referred to him as “the lion” because, as one said, “his heart was so strong and big.” The Goodman Theatre’s artistic director Robert Falls, a frequent Wallace collaborator, wrote that, “He was magnificent. As gonzo a Chicago actor as any. … An utter original … one of Chicago’s greats.”
Wallace’s most frequent collaborator in stage and screen was playwright/director David Mamet. He appeared in virtually all of Mamet’s plays and movies.
Asked about his friend, Mamet wrote to me, in part:
“He was the nonpareil tough guy, beloved of all of us, audience and actors, of the ‘70s Chicago Theatre; Jack, always referred to by Richard Christiansen of the Tribune, the dean of Chicago critics, as ‘The Great Jack Wallace.’
“Like all actual tough guys there was no bluster about him; like the true, tough cops and soldiers, the actors who portray them all have a simplicity and sadness. Jack could make you cry by picking up a cup of coffee.
“We were doing my play ‘Edmond,' about a stockbroker who picks up a young waitress and kills her. Colin Stinton was playing Edmond. He’s in a police station, having been arrested, he thinks, for screaming at some woman on the El platform. He explains to the detective, played by Jack, ‘I was just going home, I’d had a fight with my wife, I spoke out of hand. I’m so sorry.’ Pause.
“DETECTIVE: ‘Why’d you kill that girl?’
“EDMOND: ‘What girl?’
“DETECTIVE: ‘That girl you killed.’
“Pause: The audience sits there stunned.
“There was no moment, in the near fifty years we worked with him, that we were not delighted and grateful to be in his presence. None of us ever knew, met, or saw a better actor.
"In this sad time of social distancing, and, for the moment, we can’t get together to celebrate him, and might say, as Hamlet said of the unburied Ophelia, ‘No further obsequies …?”
"Which line Jack might have approved, with his ultimate accolade, ‘… Yeah, yeah, that’s good.’”
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