Lee Van Cleef
Lee Van Cleef
Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef Jr.
January 9, 1925
Somerville, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||December 16, 1989 (aged 64) |
Oxnard, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)|
Patsy Ruth Kahle
(m. 1943; div. 1958)
Joan Marjorie Drane
(m. 1960; div. 1974)
|Service/||US Navy 1942–1946|
Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef Jr. (January 9, 1925 – December 16, 1989) was an American actor best known for his roles in Spaghetti Westerns such as For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In his film debut, High Noon, he was asked to have his nose altered to play a sympathetic character. However, after declining this request he was relegated to a non-speaking outlaw cast role. Van Cleef was often typecast as a minor villain for the majority of his career, proposedly due to his physical features. After suffering serious injuries in a car crash, Van Cleef's acting career started to decline. However, Sergio Leone offered him a major role in For a Few Dollars More. The film proved to be a huge hit and cited him as a box-office draw, largely in Europe.
Lee Van Cleef was born on January 9, 1925, in Somerville, New Jersey, to Marion Lavinia Van Fleet and Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef. Lee graduated high school early at the age of 17 from Somerville High School New Jersey in order to enlist in the United States Navy in September 1942.
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 Sevastopol, 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, he had achieved the rank of Sonarman First Class (SO1) and had earned his mine sweeper patch. He also 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, the American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was discharged from the Navy in 1946.
|Good Conduct Medal|
|European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal|
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal|
|American Campaign Medal|
|World War II Victory Medal|
Early acting career
After leaving the Navy, Van Cleef received his first acting role as a reader for the play Our Town at the Little Theater Group in Clinton, New Jersey. From there, he 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. 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.
Van Cleef's screen debut came in High Noon. During a performance of Mister Roberts in Los Angeles, he was noticed by film producer Stanley Kramer, who offered Van Cleef a role in his upcoming film. 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. He was then cast mostly in villainous roles, due to his sharp cheeks and chin, piercing eyes, and hawk-like nose, from the part of Tony Romano in Kansas City Confidential (1952), culminating 14 years later in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
In 1952, he made his television debut when he was cast in the episode "Formula for Fear" of the Western aviation series Sky King. Van Cleef appeared six times between 1953 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. He appeared in episode 82 of the TV series The Lone Ranger in 1952. In 1954, Van Cleef appeared as Jesse James in the syndicated series Stories of the Century.
In 1955, he was cast twice on another syndicated Western series, Annie Oakley. That same year, he guest-starred on the CBS Western series Brave Eagle. In 1955, he played one of the two villains in an episode of The Adventures of Champion the Wonder Horse. He played Cherokee Bob in the NBC Western series Tales of Wells Fargo in 1957. In 1958, he was cast as Ed Murdock, a rodeo performer trying to reclaim the title in the event at Madison Square Garden in New York City, on Richard Diamond, Private Detective.
Van Cleef played different 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. In 1959, Van Cleef appeared as Luke Clagg in the episode "Strange Request" of the NBC Western series Riverboat starring Darren McGavin, as Jumbo Kane in the episode "The Hostage" on the CBS Western series "Wanted Dead or Alive" starring Steve McQueen, and in an episode of Maverick titled "Red Dog" in 1961 starring Roger Moore and John Carradine.
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 on The Andy Griffith Show and 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.
Van Cleef guest-starred on the CBS Western series Have Gun – Will Travel, on the ABC/Warner Bros. 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. His film characters died in many of his Westerns and gangster portrayals.
In 1960, he appeared as a villainous swindler in the Bonanza episode, "The Bloodline" (December 31, 1960) and also made an appearance on Gunsmoke. In 1961, he played a role on episode 7 ("The Grave") of the third season of The Twilight Zone starring Lee Marvin. He played a villainous henchman of Lee Marvin's titular character in the 1962 John Ford movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring John Wayne and James Stewart. In 1963, he appeared on Perry Mason (episode: "The Case of the Golden Oranges"). That same year, he appeared in "The Day of the Misfits" on The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.
In 1965, Sergio Leone cast Van Cleef, whose career had yet to take off, as a main protagonist alongside Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More. Leone then chose Van Cleef to appear again with Eastwood, this time as the primary antagonist, 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 The Big Gundown (1966), Death Rides a Horse (1967), Day of Anger (1967), and The Grand Duel (1972). He played the title role in Sabata (1969) and Return of Sabata (1971), and co-starred with Jim Brown in an Italian-American co-production, Take a Hard Ride (1975). In two of his final westerns he co-starred with Leif Garrett in God's Gun (1976) and Kid Vengeance (1977), both of which were filmed mainly in Israel. Van Cleef later had a supporting role in John Carpenter's cult film Escape from New York (1981). He slipped out of the limelight in his later years. In 1984, he was cast as a ninja master in the NBC adventure series The Master, but it was canceled after thirteen episodes. In all, Van Cleef is credited with 90 movie roles and 109 television appearances over a 38-year span.
Van Cleef was married three times. His first marriage was to Patsy Ruth Kahle, in 1943. They had three children, Alan, Deborah and David, and divorced in 1958. His second marriage was to Joan Marjorie Drane, from 1960 to 1974. His final marriage was to Barbara Havelone in 1976, who survived him.
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 difficult 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.[self-published source?]
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 age 64. He collapsed in his home in Oxnard, California, from a heart attack. Throat cancer was listed as a secondary cause of death. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, California, with an inscription on his grave marker referring to his many acting performances as a villain: "BEST OF THE BAD".
|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' / Joe '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"|
|1954||The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin||Ed McCleod||"Rin Tin Tin and The Ranging River"|
|1955||The Man Behind the Badge||Floyd||"The Case of the Desperate Moment"||CBS|
|1955||Champion the Wonder Horse||Frank||"Crossroad Trail"||CBS|
|1957||Tales of Wells Fargo||Cherokee Bob||Alder Gulch||NBC|
|1958||Wagon Train||'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||77 Sunset Strip||Deek||"Attic"||Warner Bros.|
|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"||NBC-TV|
|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 Joey Bishop Show||Charlie||"Double Exposure"|
|1963||The Dakotas||Slade Tucker||"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"|
|1962–1963||Ripcord||Henry Kane / Jack Martin||"Thoroughbred"; "The Money Mine"|
|1964||Rawhide||Fred Grant / Deck Sommers||"The Enormous Fist"; "Piney"||CBS-TV|
|1965||The Andy Griffith Show||Purse Thief||"Banjo-Playing Deputy"||CBS-TV|
|1965||My Mother the Car||Nick Fitch||"Burned at the Steak"|
|1965–1966||Branded||"The Richest Man in Boot Hill", "Call to Glory"||NBC-TV|
|1966||Laredo||Mike 'Big Mike' Kelly||"Quarter Past Eleven"|
|1977||Nowhere to Hide|
|1980||The Hard Way||McNeal||ITV (UK)|
|1984||The Master||John Peter McAllister||All episodes; starring role||NBC-TV|
In popular culture
- Lee Van Cleef's characters in the Sergio Leone movies inspired the creation of the characters Elliot Belt of the Lucky Luke comic album The Bounty Hunter, and Cad Bane of the Star Wars franchise.
- The band Primus has a song about Lee Van Cleef on their album Green Naugahyde.
- Guitarist and ex-Guns N' Roses member Ron Thal recorded an instrumental piece titled "The Legend of Van Cleef".
- The Warcraft universe features the villain Edwin Van Cleef, inspired by Lee Van Cleef.
- The Black Library magazine Inferno! featured several short stories, within the Necromunda setting, starring a bounty hunter named Nathan Creed, who was written as a homage to Lee Van Cleef; writer Jonathan Green described the character as "Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood, The Man With No Name and John Wayne all rolled into one", and illustrations in the magazine clearly showed Creed as physically nearly identical to Van Cleef.
- Philip Pullman, author of the bestselling trilogy His Dark Materials, stated that the first name of his fictional American explorer, airman, and crack marksman Lee Scoresby was a reference to Van Cleef, with the character's surname as an homage to the famous Arctic explorer William Scoresby.
- Van Cleef was parodied in GLC: The Carnage Continues..., a short British comedy film of the late 1980s that humorously joined British politics with Hollywood action stars. Van Cleef is portrayed by the film's director Peter Richardson, though it rather suggests Van Cleef the personage is unrealistically playing Tony Benn, a British member of Parliament.
- Van Cleef served as visual inspiration for the characters of Revolver Ocelot and Old Snake in the Metal Gear Solid video game series as well as inspiring the gunslinger personality of the former.
- Hungarian musician Tamás Cseh wrote the song "Lee van Cleef".
- British singers Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott mention Lee and Clint Eastwood in the song, "When I Get Back to Blighty".
- References to Lee Van Cleef appear as Easter eggs in the episode S04E20 Entity. The entity is searching through personnel files on a projected computer screen. The first name that shows up is Lee Van Cleef, with team designation "SG-1" and a rank of "Master". His name appears several more times with pictures of different people. 
- Rowan, Terry (2013). The American Western A Complete Film Guide. Lulu.com. ISBN 978-1-300-41858-0. Retrieved June 30, 2017.[self-published source]
- Hatala, Greg. "Glimpse of History: 'Being born with a pair of beady eyes was the best thing that ever happened to me' – Lee Van Cleef", The Star-Ledger, August 26, 2013. Accessed November 4, 2017. "Looking at this photo of Clarence Leroy Van Cleef Jr. from the 1943 Somerville High School yearbook, it's hard to imagine him acquiring the sobriquet 'ugly.' Yet he was tagged just that 23 years later when he starred with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach in Sergio Leone's classic western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
- Blazeski, Goran (December 6, 2017). "Lee Van Cleef, the "Bad" in Leone's classic Western, was a decorated sonarman on a WWII minesweeper". The Vintage News. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
- Malloy, Mike (1998). Lee Van Cleef: A Biographical, Film and Television Reference. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 5. ISBN 0-7864-0437-X.
- "PO1 Clarence Leroy Van Cleef, Jr". TogetherWeServed. 2015. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
- "Actor Lee Van Cleef, Villain in Hundreds of Westerns". Apnews.com. December 26, 1989. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- Horner, William R. (2000). Bad at the Bijou. McFarland. p. 48. ISBN 078640938X.
- Kansas City Confidential
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- "'The Lone Ranger' on DVD: Hi-yo, Silver!". NJ.com. June 20, 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
- Boggs, Johnny D. (2011). Jesse James and the movies. McFarland & Co., Publishers. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-7864-8496-6.
- Miner, Allen H. (April 8, 1957), Alder Gulch, Tales of Wells Fargo, retrieved July 6, 2022
- "The Nickel Pop Gazette" (PDF). Jcurtmanshow.weebly.com.
- "The Alaskans". TV Guide. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
- "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)". Internet Movie Database. IMDB. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
- Robinson, Larry (December 12, 2019). "Lee Van Cleef was an iconic presence in the veteran villain category of film". Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
- Garner, Jack (May 27, 2015). "Jack's Plan B: 'Escape from New York'". Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Gannett. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- "Cowboy Film Villain Lee Van Cleef Dies". Los Angeles Times. December 17, 1989. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
- Woods, Mark. "Mark Woods: His dad was 'The Bad'". The Florida Times-Union.
- "Clarence Leroy (Lee) Van Cleef". Newnetherlandinstitute.org.
- "Lee Van Cleef, Actor, Dies at 64; Played Villains in Many Westerns". The New York Times. December 17, 1989.
- Marshall Trimble (March 31, 2015). "In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Lee Van Cleef (the Bad) is missing part of a finger. What happened to it? Also, did Eli Wallach play the Ugly? I have been told Van Cleef did". True West Magazine. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
- Prickette, James (January 20, 2012). Actors of the Spaghetti Westerns. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4691-4429-0.[self-published source]
- "Actor Lee Van Cleef, Villain in Hundreds of Westerns". AP News. Oxford, Calif. December 17, 1989. Retrieved August 19, 2018.
- AP (December 17, 1989). "Lee Van Cleef, Actor, Dies at 64; Played Villains in Many Westerns". NY Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- "Western Archivillain Lee Van Cleef Dies". Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company. December 17, 1989. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- Magers, Boyd. "Lee Van Cleef". Western Clippings. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
- Hughes, Howard (2006). Once Upon A Time in the Italian West: The Filmgoers' Guide to Spaghetti Westerns. I.B. Tauris. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-85773-045-9.
- Lombard, Philippe (September 6, 2017). Goscinny-scope: D'Astérix au Viager, tout le cinéma du maître de la BD (in French). Dunod. p. 40. ISBN 9782100771110.
- "The Cinema Behind Star Wars: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". StarWars.com. Lucasfilm Ltd. December 17, 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2018.
- "Primus – Lee Van Cleef (Official Music Video)". Archived from the original on November 17, 2021 – via YouTube.
- Green, Jonathan (April 16, 2011). "Jonathan Green, Author: N is for Nathan Creed". Jonathan Green, Author. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
- "Lee van Cleef by Tamas Cseh (amazon.com)". Amazon.
- "Cseh Tamás – Lee van Cleef". Archived from the original on November 17, 2021 – via YouTube.
- "Stargate SG-1 Easter Egg - Lee van Cleef".