THE BLADE: TOLEDO, OHIO, MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 1969
Van Cleef Prospers As ‘Good Guy’
By JOHN SCOTT
HOLLYWOOD (T-P) - - One of the four men who menaced Gary Cooper in “High Noon” has hit the jackpot 17 years later. Lee Van Cleef, who earned $500 a week in the classic western by acting villainous, is now an action film star whose fee per production is $400,000.
“I didn’t speak a word in “High Noon,’” Van Cleef recalled the other day as he relaxed between movies. “In 1951, Stanley and Earl Kramer saw me in a play, ‘Mister Roberts,’ and offered me the role eventually played by Lloyd Bridges in the film providing I would have my nose fixed. I refused and wound up as one of the four villains. The other three? Bob Wilke, Sheb Woolley, and Ian MacDonald.”
Is he glad he turned down the nose job?
“Absolutely,” the tall, lean, rugged-looking Van Cleef replied with a grin. “Now people remember this beak.”
After a straight diet of bad-man characterizations in about 50 movies, the arch-villain decided to exchange his black hat and horse for white ones, and to become what he calls “a modern hero.”
“By that, I mean a nonangelic sort of character who’s still on the side of the law,” he pointed out.
“And where did I develop this type of role? In Italy.”
Van Cleef said before his metamorphosis in United Artists’ “For a Few Dollars More,” an Italian-made western, he had raised his salary in the United States to $1,250 in “How the West Was Won.”
“Sergio Leone, the Italian director, was looking for types around Hollywood and talked me into going abroad,” Van Cleef recalled. “My story suddenly turned into a rags-to-riches saga. And just in time, too, because I was reaching a performing lag in Hollywood.”
Since 1965 the villain-turned-hero has made eight pictures abroad, all winners at the world’s box offices, and he’s enjoying stellar status for he first time.
In a week he’ll start “Barquero,” an Aubrey Schenck production for United Artists, on location in Colorado, after which he’ll return to Italy for “Professional Gun,” in which he will portray a jungle mercenary hired, because of his killer instinct, to avenge a father whose two children have been kidnaped and murdered. I do what the law can’t do,” he explained. “However, there are scenes of tenderness that make me into a sort of hero.”
In the negotiation stage are more U.S. films, including “Scalawag” and “El Condor,” and one to be made in South America, “Gaucho.”
“If I do “Gaucho” I’ll have to play guitar and sing,” Van Cleef chortled. “Like my nose, my singing will never be forgotten.”
Van Cleef found that in his European westerns and other adventure films he was playing what he figures to be a sort of James Bond type. “Or, if you prefer, the sort of role that brought Humphrey Bogart fame,” he said.
The actor pointed out that Italian-made westerns (which use outdoor locations in Spain) are primitive in some ways, but more inventive than westerns produced in Hollywood.
“They have borrowed our techniques, but if they use cliche situations they are done in colorful style,” he said. “One thing that hit me right away was the authenticity of props like weapons, etc., and those horses! No well-trained geldings, but fiery stallions. Actors better know how to ride ’em, or else.
“Various languages are dubbed for countries in which my European-made pictures are shown,” he went on. “ “They do this right in Rome. They try to get actors who speak a little English, so when they ‘post sinc’ into English the mouthings aren’t too far off. Phonetics are used, too.”
While Van Cleef looks bellicose, he’s anything but. His hobby is portrait and figure painting, with a studio in his San Fernando Valley home.