Silva as Chunjin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
September 15, 1928 |
Brooklyn, New York, United States
|Alma mater||Actors Studio|
Early life and career
Silva was born in Brooklyn, New York, of Sicilian and Spanish descent. He grew up in Harlem and quit school when he was 13 years old to attend drama classes, supporting himself as a dishwasher and waiter at a Manhattan hotel.
By 1955, Silva felt ready to audition for the Actors Studio. He was accepted, one of only five successful applicants out of more than 2,500. When the Studio staged Michael V. Gazzo's play A Hatful of Rain as a classroom project (which itself grew out of an earlier improvisation by Silva, Paul Richards and Anthony Franciosa, based on a scene written by Gazzo, entitled "Pot"), it proved so successful that it was presented on Broadway, with students Ben Gazzara, Shelley Winters, Harry Guardino, along with Franciosa, Richards and Silva, in key roles. Silva also appeared in the play's film version.
Early film roles and typecasting
In Hollywood, he played a succession of villains in films including The Tall T (1957) with Randolph Scott, The Bravados (1958) with Gregory Peck and The Law and Jake Wade (1958). In the 1959 adventure film Green Mansions, he played a forest-dwelling Venezuela native known as Kua-Ko who tries to murder a young woman played by Audrey Hepburn.
Silva was one of the eleven casino robbers in the 1960 Rat Pack caper film Ocean's 11 (1960) starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. He also played the communist agent Chunjin in the original The Manchurian Candidate (1962), again opposite Sinatra, and portrayed a Native American in Sinatra's and Martin's Rat Pack Western Sergeants 3 that same year.
Silva gradually became typecast playing mobsters, robbers and other criminals, although he did play a comic role as one of the stepbrothers in the 1960 Jerry Lewis film Cinderfella, a parody of Cinderella with Lewis in the title role. He appeared in two episodes of The Outer Limits television series. Other TV appearances included as a hitman in the episode "Better Bargain" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, plus roles on episodes of The Untouchables, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Mission Impossible, as well as Boris Karloff's suspense series Thriller.
In 1963, Henry Silva played the lead role in the gangster film Johnny Cool, which was produced by United Artists and Chrislaw. His character Salvatore "Johnny Cool" Giordano was a hitman sent on a mission by exiled mobster Johnny Colini to kill the underworld figures who had plotted against the mobster. Premiering on October 19, 1963, the film was successful at the box-office and was critically well received. So was the actor's first lead performance, which carried the film. The strong supporting cast features Elizabeth Montgomery, Mort Sahl, Telly Savalas, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis, Jr., most of whom Silva's character murders during the course of the film.
Variety praised Silva's performance, writing "Henry Silva, as a Sicilian-born assassin, is at home as the 'delivery boy of death'". The film's box-office receipts had become less favorable by late November (partly due to the death of President John F. Kennedy).
In 1965, an Italian film producer made Silva an offer to star as a hero for a change and he moved his family overseas. Silva's turning-point picture was a spaghetti western, The Hills Run Red (1966), which made him a hot box-office commodity in Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. Between 1966 and 1977 he starred or co-starred in at least 25 movies, the majority of which were Italian Poliziotteschi films, where he normally played the villain or hitman, or the dark hero, or a combination of the two. His best remembered of these are Manhunt (1972), Il Boss (1973), and Almost Human (1974).
He also appeared against type as the Japanese detective Mr. Moto in the 1965 murder mystery The Return of Mr. Moto and as an Apache who helps rape victim Michele Carey in the 1970 revenge western Five Savage Men.
Returning to the United States in the mid-1970s, he co-starred with Frank Sinatra in Contract on Cherry Street (1977) and Charles Bronson in Love and Bullets (1979). He then signed on as the evil adversary Killer Kane in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979).
In the 1980s and 1990s, he appeared as the arrogant hunter Colonel Brock in Alligator (1980), a drug-addicted hitman in Burt Reynolds' Sharky's Machine (1981), a former prison warden-turned-enforcer in Escape from the Bronx (1983), which was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000, a comedy gangster in Cannonball Run II (1984) opposite many of his former Rat Pack buddies, the villainous CIA agent Kurt Zagon in Steven Seagal's debut Above the Law (1988), the sinister mob hitman Influence in Dick Tracy (1990), and the voice of the supervillain Bane in Batman: The Animated Series (1994) and The New Batman Adventures (1998). Silva also plays the crime boss Ray Vargo in Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) who puts out a hit on the titular character.
Silva also starred as himself in a spoof of In Search of ...-type shows in the comedy Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) for a segment titled Henry Silva's "Bullshit, or Not!", and played a spectator at a boxing match in the 2001 version of Ocean's Eleven.
Henry Silva has been married three times. He has two sons; Michael Silva and Scott Silva, and several grandchildren.
- Viva Zapata (1952) as Hernandez - Peasant who challenges 'president' Zapata (uncredited)
- Crowded Paradise (1956)
- The Tall T (1957) as Chink
- A Hatful of Rain (1957) as Mother
- The Law and Jake Wade (1958) as Rennie
- The Bravados (1958) as Lujan
- Ride a Crooked Trail (1958) as Sam Teeler
- Green Mansions (1959) as Kua-Ko
- The Jayhawkers! (1959) as Lordan
- Ocean's 11 (1960) as Roger Corneal
- Cinderfella (1960) as Maximilian
- Sergeants 3 (1962) as Mountain Hawk
- The Manchurian Candidate (1962) as Chunjin
- A Gathering of Eagles (1963) as Col. Joe Garcia
- Johnny Cool (1963) as Johnny Cool / Salvatore Giordano
- The Secret Invasion (1964) as John Durrell - Assassin
- Je vous salue, mafia! (1965) as Schaft
- The Reward (1965) as Joaquin
- The Return of Mr. Moto (1965) as Mr. Moto
- The Plainsman (1966) as Crazy Knife
- The Hills Run Red (1966) as Garcia Mendez
- Matchless (1967) as Hank Norris
- Assassination (1967) as John Chandler / Philip Chandler
- Never a Dull Moment (1968) as Frank Boley
- Frame Up (1968) as Inspector Sterling
- Probabilità zero (1969) as Duke
- Five Savage Men (1970) as Chatto
- Man and Boy (1971) as Caine
- Manhunt (1972) as Dave
- L'insolent (1973) as Emmanuel Ristack dit 'L'insolent'
- Il Boss (1973) as Lanzetta
- Les Hommes (1973) as Everett
- Zinksärge für die Goldjungen (1973) as Luca Messina
- Cry of a Prostitute (1974) as Tony Aniante
- Almost Human (1974) as Commissario Walter Grandi
- Kidnap (1974) as Commissario Caprile
- White Fang to the Rescue (1974) as Mr. Nelson
- Manhunt in the City (1975) as David Vannucchi
- Shoot (1976) as Zeke
- Crimebusters (1976) as Maj. Paolo Altieri
- Free Hand for a Tough Cop (1976) as Brescianelli
- Contract on Cherry Street (1977) as Roberto Obregon
- Foxbat (1977) as Michael Saxon
- Napoli spara! (1977) as Santoro
- Love and Bullets (1979) as Vittorio Farroni
- Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979) as Kane
- Thirst (1979) as Dr. Gauss
- Day of the Assassin (1979) as Police Chief Jorge Gomez
- Virus (1980) as Gen. Garland
- Alligator (1980) as Brock
- Sharky's Machine (1981) as Billy Score
- Wrong is Right (1982) as Rafeeq
- Trapped (1982) as Henry Chatwill
- Megaforce (1982) as Duke Guerera
- Chained Heat (1983) as Lester
- Escape from the Bronx (1983) as Floyd Wrangler
- Le Marginal (1983) as Sauveur Meccacci
- Razza violenta (1984) as Kirk Cooper
- Cannonball Run II (1984) as Slim
- Man Hunt (1984) as Prison Boss
- Killer contro killers (1985) as Sterling
- Lust in the Dust (1985) as Bernardo
- Code of Silence (1985) as Luis Comacho
- Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986) as Argon
- Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) as Himself (segment "Bullshit or Not")
- Bulletproof (1988) as Col. Kartiff
- Above the Law (1988) as Kurt Zagon
- Trained to Kill (1989) as Ace Duran
- La via della droga (1989) as Capt. Wesson
- Cyborg - Il guerriero d'acciaio (1989) as Hammer
- Dick Tracy (1990) as Influence
- L'ultima meta (1991) as Warden Yashin
- Fists of Steel (1991) as Shogi
- The Harvest (1992) as Detective Topo
- Three Days to a Kill (1992) as Perez
- South Beach (1993) as Santiago
- The Silence of the Hams (1994) as Police Chief
- Fatal Choice (1995) as Gene Serino
- Drifting School (1995) as General Stearn
- Mad Dog Time (1996) as Sleepy Joe Carlisle
- The Prince (1996) as Marshall Stern
- The End of Violence (1997) as Juan Emilio
- Unconditional Love (1999) as Ted Markham
- Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) as Ray Vargo
- Ocean's Eleven (2001) as Boxing Spectator (final film role)
- "Henry Silva". Matinee Classics.
- DVD commentary for The Return of Mr. Moto, Mr. Moto Collection - Vol. 2, 20th Century Fox, 2007-02-13
- Note: Reliable sources state Silva is of Puerto Rican descent. But Silva states he is of Spanish-Sicilian heritage and specifically denies any Puerto Rican heritage in the DVD commentary for The Return of Mr. Moto.
- Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 280. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
- Garfield, David (1980). "Strasberg Takes Over: 1951-1955". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. pp. 109–111. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
- Variety, Review: Johnny Cool