Lee Van Cleef
|Lee Van Cleef|
Van Cleef as Ryan in
Death Rides a Horse (1969)
|Born||Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef, Jr.
January 9, 1925
Somerville, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||December 16, 1989
Oxnard, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California|
(1976–1989; his death)
Clarence Leroy "Lee" Van Cleef, Jr. (January 9, 1925 – December 16, 1989), was an American film actor who appeared mostly in Westerns and action pictures. His sharp features and piercing eyes led to his being cast as a villain in scores of films, such as Kansas City Confidential, High Noon, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. After his success in the last of these, he played the hero in many of his later movies.
Early life 
Van Cleef was born in Somerville, New Jersey, the son of Marion Levinia (née Van Fleet) and Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef, Sr. Both of his parents were of partial Dutch ancestry. Coming of age just in time for World War II, he served in the United States Navy aboard a submarine chaser in the Caribbean Sea, then in the Black and China seas on a mine sweeper. After the war, he had a brief career as an accountant. In 1951, he launched his acting career upon the encouragement of friends and family who thought that his unique looks could make him a success in film.
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His first acting experiences were on stage, including a small role in the original Broadway production of Mister Roberts. His first film was the Western High Noon, in which he played a villain. He also had a bit part as the sharpshooter in the climax of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms around the same time. In 1956, he co-starred with Peter Graves in the B-grade science fiction movie It Conquered the World.
Van Cleef appeared six times between 1951 and 1955 on the children's syndicated western series, The Adventures of Kit Carson, starring Bill Williams. He was cast three times, including the role of Rocky Hatch in the episode "Greed Rides the Range" (1952), of another syndicated western series, The Range Rider, starring Jock Mahoney and Dick Jones. In 1952, he was cast in the episode "Formula for Fear" of the western aviation series, Sky King, starring Kirby Grant and Gloria Winters.
In 1955, he was cast twice on another syndicated western series, Annie Oakley, starring Gail Davis and Brad Johnson. That same year, he guest starred on the CBS western series, Brave Eagle, starring Keith Larsen.
In 1958, Van Cleef was cast as Ed Murdock, a rodeo performer trying to reclaim the title in the event as Madison Square Garden in New York City, on the CBS crime drama series, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, starring David Janssen and Regis Toomey. Before he can make his career finale, however, Murdock is murdered through a conspriacy of his wife and her lover, played by Barbara Baxley and Harry Lauter. Dan Blocker appears in the episode as the rodeo performer Cloudy Sims.
Van Cleef played different minor characters on four episodes of ABC's The Rifleman, with Chuck Connors, between 1959 and 1962, and twice on ABC's Tombstone Territory. In 1958, he was cast as Deputy Sid Carver in the episode "The Great Stagecoach Robbery" of another syndicated western series, Frontier Doctor, starring Rex Allen. Van Cleef appeared in 1959 as Luke Clagg in the episode "Strange Request" of the NBC western series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin.
Van Cleef played a sentry on an episode of the ABC sitcom, The Real McCoys, with Walter Brennan. Van Cleef was cast with Pippa Scott and again with Chuck Connors in the 1960 episode "Trial by Fear" of the CBS anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson. A young Van Cleef also made an appearance as Frank Diamond in The Untouchables episode entitled "The Unhired Assassin." He also appeared in an episode of the ABC/Warner Brothers, western series, The Alaskans, starring Roger Moore.
Van Cleef guest starred on the CBS western series Have Gun - Will Travel, on the ABC/WB series, Colt .45, on the NBC western series, Cimarron City and Laramie and on Rod Cameron's syndicated crime dramas, City Detective and State Trooper. He guest starred in an episode of John Bromfield's syndicated crime drama, Sheriff of Cochise. Van Cleef starred as minor villains and henchmen in various westerns, including The Tin Star and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
In 1959, a severe alcohol-related car crash nearly cost Van Cleef his career. A resulting knee injury made his physicians think that he would never ride a horse again. This injury plagued Van Cleef for the rest of his life and caused him great pain. His recovery was long and arduous and halted his acting for a time. He then began a business in interior decoration with wife Joan, as well as pursuing his talent for painting, primarily of sea and landscapes. While building a studio off his house in Granada Hills, Lee cut off the tip of his finger on his right hand. This would later become rather a trademark for him. He described his down time from acting jobs as unhealthy dry spells. His acting career, it seemed, had run its course ending with many television appearances. It took his career some time to recover from this blow and in contrast to his earlier major roles, he had for several years only occasional small parts. He appeared as a villainous swindler in the Bonanza episode, "The Bloodline" (December 31, 1960). He played one of Lee Marvin's villainous henchmen in the 1962 John Ford movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with James Stewart and John Wayne. He had a small, uncredited role as one of the river pirates in the 1962 film, How the West Was Won. In 1963, Van Cleef appeared on CBS's Perry Mason in "The Case of the Golden Oranges." That same year he played Raoul Volta in "The Day of the Misfits" on the ABC western serives, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, based on a Robert Lewis Taylor novel, with child actor Kurt Russell in the title role.
However, in 1965, his career revived when the young Italian director Sergio Leone boldly cast Van Cleef, whose career was still in the doldrums, as one of the two protagonists, alongside Clint Eastwood, in Leone's second western, For a Few Dollars More. Leone then chose Van Cleef to appear again with Eastwood, this time as the primary villain Angel Eyes in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966. With his roles in Leone's films, Van Cleef became a major star of Spaghetti Westerns, playing central roles in films such as Death Rides a Horse, Day of Anger, The Big Gundown, and The Sabata Trilogy. Van Cleef also had a supporting role in John Carpenter's cult film Escape from New York. In 1984, Van Cleef was cast as a ninja master in the NBC adventure series The Master, but it was canceled after thirteen episodes. All in all, he is credited with 90 movie roles and 109 other television appearances over a 38-year span.
In the early 1980s, Van Cleef appeared in a very popular series of commercials for Midas mufflers, in which he played up his gunfighter persona, playing opposite many character actors of the time, including Jack Palance.
Personal life 
Van Cleef was married three times. He and his first wife, Patsy Ruth, were married from 1943 until their divorce in 1960. Later that year, he married his second wife, Joan Drane. He and Drane divorced in 1974. Two years later, he married his third wife, Barbara Havelone, to whom he remained married until his death in 1989.
Van Cleef worked up until he died on December 16, 1989, at the age of sixty-four. He collapsed in his home in Oxnard, California, from a heart attack. Van Cleef is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California.
- High Noon (1952)
- Untamed Frontier (1952)
- Kansas City Confidential (1952)
- The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
- The Lawless Breed (1953)
- The Bandits of Corsica (1953)
- White Lightning (1953)
- Arena (1953)
- Vice Squad (1953)
- Jack Slade (1953)
- The Nebraskan (1953)
- Private Eyes (1953)
- Tumbleweed (1953)
- Gypsy Colt (1954)
- Arrow In The Dust (1954)
- Rails Into Laramie (1954)
- The Yellow Tomahawk (1954)
- Princess of the Nile (1954) (Uncredited Bit Part)
- The Desperado (1954)
- Dawn At Socorro (1954)
- Treasure of Ruby Hills (1955)
- Ten Wanted Men (1955)
- The Naked Street (1955)
- Man Without A Star (1955) (Uncredited Bit Part)
- I Cover The Underworld (1955)
- The Road To Denver (1955)
- A Man Alone (1955)
- The Vanishing American (1955)
- The Conqueror (1955)
- The Big Combo (1955)
- It Conquered the World (1956)
- Tribute to a Bad Man (1956)
- Pardners (1956)
- Accused of Murder (1956)
- The Lonely Man (1957)
- The Tin Star (1957)
- The Quiet Gun (1957)
- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
- China Gate (1957)
- The Badge of Marshal Brennan (1957)
- The Last Stagecoach West (1957)
- Joe Dakota (1957)
- Gun Battle of Monterey (1957)
- Raiders of Old California (1957)
- Day of the Bad Man (1958)
- The Bravados (1958)
- The Young Lions (1958)
- Machete (1958)
- Guns, Girls, and Gangsters (1959)
- Ride Lonesome (1959)
- The Rifleman, "The Deadly Wait" (ABC-TV, 1959)
- The Slowest Gun In The West (TV) (1960)
- Posse From Hell (1961)
- The Twilight Zone – "The Grave" (CBS-TV, 1961)
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
- How the West Was Won (1962) (uncredited)
- The Dakotas as Larry Jackson in "A Man Called Ragan" and as Slade Tucker in "Thunder in Pleasant Valley" (ABC-TV both 1963)
- The Andy Griffith Show - "Banjo-Playing Deputy" (CBS-TV) (1965)
- For a Few Dollars More (1965)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
- The Big Gundown (1966)
- Death Rides a Horse (1967)
- Day of Anger (1967)
- Beyond the Law (1968)
- Commandos (1968)
- Sabata (1969)
- Barquero (1970)
- El Condor (1970)
- Captain Apache (1971)
- Return of Sabata (1971)
- Grand Duel (Storm Rider) (1972)
- Bad Man's River (1972)
- The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972)
- Mean Frank and Crazy Tony (aka Escape From Death Row) (1973)
- The Stranger and the Gunfighter (1974)
- Escape From Death Row (1975)
- Take a Hard Ride (1975)
- God's Gun (1976)
- Kid Vengeance (1977) (Filmed in Gran Canaria)
- The Perfect Killer (1977)
- Nowhere to Hide (1977) (TV)
- The Rip-Off (1978)
- The Hard Way (1979) (TV)
- The Octagon (1980)
- Escape from New York (1981)
- Killing Machine (1983)
- Codename: Wild Geese (1984)
- The Master (1984) (TV series)
- Jungle Raiders (1985)
- Armed Response (1986)
- Der Commander (1988)
- Speed Zone! aka Cannonball Fever (1989)
- Thieves of Fortune (1989)
In popular culture 
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Lee van Cleef's characters in the Sergio Leone movies were inspiration for the character Elliot Belt in the Lucky Luke comic album, The Bounty Hunter.
- Lee Van Cleef Biography (1925–1989)
- "Lee Van Cleef, Actor, Dies at 64; Played Villains in Many Westerns", The New York Times, December 17, 1989. Accessed November 25, 2007. "Lee Van Cleef was born in Somerville, N.J., on January 9, 1925. His first job was as a farm worker in his home state. He then worked as an accountant in Somerville before beginning in his movie career in 1950."
- ""Rodeo", Richard Diamond, Private Detective, February 20, 1958". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved March 30, 2013.