Lee Van Cleef

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Lee Van Cleef
Born Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef, Jr.
(1925-01-09)January 9, 1925
Somerville, New Jersey, U.S.
Died December 16, 1989(1989-12-16) (aged 64)
Oxnard, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California
Occupation Actor
Years active 1952–1989
Known for Angel Eyes, Colonel Douglas Mortimer, Hauk, Sabata, Chris, Ryan, Jack Colby
Notable work The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More, High Noon, Escape from New York, Sabata, Return of Sabata, The Magnificent Seven Ride, Death Rides a Horse
Spouse(s) Patsy Ruth
(1943–1960; divorced)
Joan Drane
(1960–1974; divorced)
Barbara Havelone
(1976–1989; his death)
Children 4

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 on January 9, 1925 in Somerville, New Jersey, the son of Marion Levinia (née Van Fleet) and Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef senior. Both of his parents had Dutch ancestry.[citation needed] A suggestion that Marion Van Fleet was also of Indonesian or Eurasian ancestry has never been verified.

At the age of 17, Van Cleef obtained his high school diploma early in his senior year in order to enlist in the United States Navy in September, 1942. After basic training and further training at the Naval Fleet Sound School, he was assigned to a submarine chaser and then to a minesweeper, USS Incredible, on which he worked as sonarman. The ship initially patrolled the Caribbean, then moved to the Mediterranean, participating in the landings in southern France. In January 1945 Incredible moved to the Black Sea, and performed sweeping duties out of the Soviet Navy base at Sebastopol, Crimea. Afterwards the ship performed air-sea rescue patrols in the Black Sea, before returning to Palermo, Sicily.

By the time of his discharge in March 1946, Van Cleef had achieved the rank of Sonarman First Class (SO1), and earned his Mine Sweeper Patch. He had been awarded the Bronze Star and the Good Conduct Medal. By virtue of his deployments Van Cleef also qualified for the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

After leaving the navy, Van Cleef worked a series of jobs, including working on a cattle ranch, caretaker of a summer camp in Maine and, subsequently, accounting.


It was following his time in the Navy that Van Cleef was cajoled by a friend into reading for a part in an upcoming play, Our Town, at the Little Theater Group in Clinton, New Jersey. Van Cleef actually got the part.

From there, Van Cleef continued to meet with the group and audition for parts. The next biggest part was that of the boxer, Joe Pendleton, in the play Heaven Can Wait. During this time he was observed by visiting talent scouts who were impressed by Van Cleef's stage presence and delivery.[1] One of these scouts later took him to New York City talent agent Maynard Morris of the MCA agency who then sent him to the Alvin Theater for an audition. The play was Mister Roberts. The company director, Joshua Logan, liked Van Cleef immediately and took him on for the role of Mannion, one of the onboard sailors. Later, the play would go on the road for fifteen months with star Henry Fonda in the lead as Lieutenant JG Roberts.

During one of the performances of Mister Roberts in Los Angeles, Van Cleef was noticed by film director Stanley Kramer who offered Van Cleef a role in his upcoming film High Noon, in which seasoned professional Gary Cooper was already signed for the lead. Kramer originally wanted Van Cleef for the role of the deputy Harvey Pell, but as he wanted Van Cleef to have his "distinctive nose" fixed, Van Cleef declined the role in favor of the part of the silent gunslinger Jack Colby. This later proved to be a positive game change for him, as his was the "first to be seen" presence in the opening credits of High Noon and garnered him plenty of attention. Van Cleef was then cast mostly in villain roles. His trademark looks — sharp cheeks and chin, piercing eyes, hawk-like nose — gave him a style that went beyond words on screen. (The rumor that Van Cleef had "one green eye and one blue eye" has repeatedly been shown to be false.)[2]

Van Cleef was cast in many film and television roles after High Noon, mainly as a villain, from the part of Tony Romano in the film noir Kansas City Confidential in 1952 and culminating 14 years later in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In 1956, he co-starred with Peter Graves in the B-grade science fiction movie It Conquered the World.

In addition to westerns and the science fiction films, three of his early major roles were in noir films, Kansas City Confidential (1952), Vice Squad (1953) and The Big Combo (1955).

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. He also appeared in episode 82 of the TV series The Lone Ranger in 1952.

In 1954, Van Cleef appeared as Jesse James in the Jim Davis syndicated series, Stories of the Century.

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. Also in 1955 he played one of the two villains in an episode of The Adventures of Champion the Wonder Horse.

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 conspiracy 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.[3]

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, in an 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 1958, a severe car crash nearly cost Van Cleef his life and 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 second wife Joan, as well as pursuing his talent for painting, primarily of sea and landscapes. 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). Also in 1960 he made an appearance in the Gunsmoke episode "Old Flame", in which he played a happily married man with an old flame scorned that tries to deceive Marshall Dillon into killing him. 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 series 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, The Sabata Trilogy, and The Grand Duel. 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, John Saxon, and George Kennedy.

Personal life[edit]

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. Between 1965 and 1966, while making a playhouse for his daughter,Van Cleef accidentally cut off the tip of his right hand middle finger.


Despite suffering from heart disease from the late 1970s and having a pacemaker installed in the early 1980s, Van Cleef continued to work in films until his death on December 16, 1989, at the age of 64. He collapsed in his home in Oxnard, California, from a heart attack. Throat cancer was listed as a secondary cause of death.[4] Van Cleef is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California.



Year Title Role Notes
1952 High Noon Jack Colby Collaboration with Gary Cooper
1952 Untamed Frontier Dave Chitun
1952 Kansas City Confidential Tony Romano
1953 The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Corp. Stone
1953 The Lawless Breed Dirk Hanley
1953 The Bandits of Corsica Nerva
1953 White Lightning Brutus Allen
1953 Arena Smitty
1963 Vice Squad Pete Monte
1953 From Here To Eternity
1953 Jack Slade Bolt Mackay
1953 The Nebraskan Private Reno Benton
1953 Private Eyes
1953 Tumbleweed Marv
1954 Gypsy Colt Hank
1954 Arrow in The Dust Tilotson Henchman
1954 Rails into Laramie Ace Winton
1954 The Yellow Tomahawk Fire Knife
1954 Princess of the Nile Hakar Uncredited bit part
1954 The Desperado The Crayton twins, Paul/Buck
1954 Dawn at Socorro Earl Ferris
1955 Treasure of Ruby Hills Frank Emmett
1955 Ten Wanted Men Al Drucker
1955 The Naked Street Harry Goldish uncredited
1955 Man Without A Star Uncredited bit part
1955 I Cover the Underworld Flash Logan
1955 The Road to Denver Pecos Larry
1955 A Man Alone Clanton
1955 The Vanishing American Jay Lord
1955 The Conqueror Chepei Collaboration with John Wayne
1955 The Big Combo Fante
1956 It Conquered the World Dr. Tom Anderson
1956 Tribute to a Bad Man Fat Jones
1956 Pardners Gus
1956 Accused of Murder Police Sgt. Emmett Lackey
1957 The Lonely Man Faro
1957 The Tin Star Ed McGaffey
1957 The Quiet Gun Doug Sadler
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Ed Bailey Collaboration with Kirk Douglas
1957 China Gate Maj. Cham
1957 The Badge of Marshal Brennan Shad Donaphin
1957 The Last Stagecoach West Steve Margolies
1957 Joe Dakota Adam Grant
1957 Gun Battle of Monterey Kirby
1957 Raiders of Old California Sgt. Damon Pardee
1958 Day of the Bad Man Jake Hayes
1958 The Bravados Alfonso Parral
1958 The Young Lions 1st Sgt. Rickett
1958 Machete Miguel
1959 Guns, Girls, and Gangsters Mike Benett
1960 Ride Lonesome Frank
1961 Posse from Hell Leo
1962 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Reese Collaboration with John Wayne
1962 How the West Was Won River Pirate Collaboration with Eli Wallach and John Wayne; Uncredited
1965 For a Few Dollars More Col. Douglas Mortimer Collaboration with Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood
1966 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly "Angel Eyes"/Sentenza; "The Bad" Collaboration with Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, and Eli Wallach
1967 The Big Gundown Jonathan Corbett
1967 Death Rides a Horse Ryan Collaboration with John Phillip Law
1967 Day of Anger Frank Talby
1968 Beyond the Law Billy Joe Cudlip
1968 Commandos MSgt. Sullivan
1970 Sabata Sabata
1970 Barquero Travis
1970 El Condor Jaroo
1971 Captain Apache Capt. Apache
1971 Return of Sabata Sabata
1972 The Grand Duel (aka Storm Rider, The Big Showdown) Sheriff Clayton
1972 Bad Man's River Roy King
1972 The Magnificent Seven Ride Chris Adams
1973 Mean Frank and Crazy Tony (aka Escape From Death Row) Frankie Diomede
1974 The Stranger and the Gunfighter Dakota Also called "Blood Money"
1975 Take a Hard Ride Kiefer
1976 God's Gun Father John/Lewis
1977 Kid Vengeance (it) McClain Filmed in Gran Canaria
1977 The Perfect Killer (it) Harry Chapman
1978 The Rip-Off Chris
1980 The Octagon McCarn
1981 Escape from New York Bob Hauk
1983 Macchina per uccidere 2 (it) Julot
1984 Code Name: Wild Geese China
1985 Jungle Raiders Warren
1986 Armed Response Burt Roth
1988 Der Commander (de) Col. Mazzarini
1989 Speed Zone aka Cannonball Fever Rock-Skipping Grandfather
1989 Thieves of Fortune Sergio Daniel Christophero


Year Title Role(s) Episode(s) Network(s)
1952 Sky King Mark "Formula for Fear" NBC-TV, ABC-TC
1952 Boston Blackie Lou; Captain Jansen Inside Crime; Deep Six
1952-1953 The Range Rider El Latigo; Utah Joe; Rocky Hatch "Treasure of Santa Dolores"; "Outlaw's Double"; "Greed Rides the Range"
1952-1953 The Lone Ranger Joe Singer/Bull Harper/Henchman Jango "Desperado at Large"; "The Brown Pony"; "Stage to Estacado"
1954-1962 Death Valley Days unknown; Brogger "Snowshoe Thompson"; "The Hat That Won the West"
1955 The Man Behind the Badge Floyd "The Case of the Desperate Moment" CBS
1958 Mr. Lucky Rufe Beal "The Jesse Cowan Story"
1958 Zorro Antonio Castillo "Welcome to Monterey"
1958 Richard Diamond, Private Detective Ed Murdock "Rodeo"
1959 Mr. Lucky "Dangerous Lady"
1959 Yancy Derringer Ike Milton / Frank James "Outlaw at Liberty"
1959 Wanted: Dead or Alive, Jumbo Kane "The Hostage"
1959 The Real McCoys 1st Sentry "Grandpa Fights the Air Force"
1959-1962 The Rifleman, Dan Maury; Stinger; Wicks; Johnny Drako "The Deadly Wait"; "The Prodigal"; "The Clarence Bibs Story"; "Death Never Rides Alone" ABC-TV
1960 The Slowest Gun in the West Sam Bass TV movie
1960-1966 Gunsmoke Rad Meadows; Johnny Hooker; Ike Jeffords "Old Flame"/"The Pariah"/"My Father, My Son"
1960-1963 Laramie Wes Torrey; Dawson; Mac Morgan; Caleb ".45 Calibre"; "Killer Odds"; "Vengeance"; "The Stranger"
1960 Bonanza Appling "The Blood Line"
1961 Maverick Wolf McManus "Red Dog"
1961-1962 Cheyenne Braden; Larry Jackson; Harry "Trouble Street"; "A Man Called Ragen"; "Man Alone"
1961 The Twilight Zone Steinhart "The Grave" CBS-TV
1961 Stagecoach West Lin Hyatt "Never Walk Alone"
1963 The Dakotas Larry Jackson; Slade Tucker "A Man Called Ragan";"Thunder in Pleasant Valley" ABC-TV
1963 Perry Mason Edward Doyle "The Case of the Golden Oranges"
1962-1963 Have Gun - Will Travel Corbin; Golias "The Treasure"; "Face of a Shadow"
1964 Rawhide Fred Grant; Deck Sommers "The Enormous Fist" & "Piney" CBS-TV
1965 The Andy Griffith Show Skip "Banjo-Playing Deputy" CBS-TV
1965;1966 Branded "The Richest Man in Boot Hill","Call to Glory" NBC-TV
1966 Laredo Big Mike Kelly "Quarter Past Eleven"
1977 Nowhere to Hide
1979 The Hard Way
1984 The Master John Peter McAllister All episodes; starring role NBC-TV

In popular culture[edit]

The character Elliot Belt in the Lucky Luke album The Bounty Hunter

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.

Author Philip Pullman said Lee Van Cleef's appearance inspired the rough character Lee Scoresby in his His Dark Materials trilogy.

Irish rock band The Strypes reference Lee Van Cleef in their song "Angel Eyes".

The band Primus has a song about Lee Van Cleef on their album Green Naugahyde.[5]

Revolver Ocelot, a character from the Metal Gear video game series, is visually inspired by Lee Van Cleef's appearance.

Edwin Van Cleef in World of Warcraft.


  1. ^ Actors of the Spaghetti Westerns, chapter Lee Van Cleef, by James Prickett
  2. ^ Actors of the Spaghetti Westerns, by James Prickette, Lee Van Cleef: The Best of the Bad, by Michael G McGlisson, Lee Van Cleef: A Biographical, Film and Television Reference, by Mike Malloy
  3. ^ ""Rodeo", Richard Diamond, Private Detective, February 20, 1958". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  4. ^ Magers, Boyd. "Lee Van Cleef". Western Clippings. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  5. ^ [1]

External links[edit]