Lee Van Cleef
|Lee Van Cleef|
Van Cleef 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.
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 minesweeper. 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 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 classic High Noon, in which he played an antagonist. Featured curiously in the first shot of the movie, Van Cleef's character role here as a villain would be something he would polish and master over the next many years, culminating 15 years later in Sergio Leone's remarkable "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". Van Cleef 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 could make his career finale, however, Murdock was murdered through a conspriacy by his wife and her lover, played by Barbara Baxley and Harry Lauter. Dan Blocker appeared 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 the second of Leone's westerns, 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 now seminal western 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, and often surprisingly heroic, 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.
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 until his death on December 16, 1989, at the age of 64. 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.
In popular culture
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Reggae musician Lee Van Cliff modeled his stage name after the actor, and on his first album, Reggae Sunsplash!, used an unaltered form of the name.
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.
In the video game World of Warcraft, the villain Edwin Van Cleef was inspired by Lee Van Cleef.
In the 2000 movie Shanghai Noon the character of Marshal Nathan Van Cleef is an homage to Lee Van Cleef.
The Irish blues rock band The Strypes included a reference to Van Cleef in their song 'Angel Eyes'. This song appears on their debut album 'Snapshot', released in September 2013.
- 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.