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Monday, July 23, 2012

"Van Cleef at Last Stars in Italy" - 1969 UPI Article

Article from United Press International - Jan 18, 1969

By VERNON SCOTT HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — The ads read: "Mr. Ugly Returns."

The actor in question is Lee Van Cleef who has become a star despite or because of his balding head, pointed nose and cruel mouth. He gives every appearance of being mean and dangerous. Although he has played villains in 50 movies since a silent bit part in "High Noon," Van Cleef's career was foundering four years ago. Nobody in Hollywood would hire him. "I was wondering how to pay the electric bill," the 44 year old actor said, stretching his husky frame over a bottle of beer.

Then the spaghetti westerns came to his rescue - the horse operas made in Italy on small, budgets with plenty of violence.; They made a star of Clint Eastwood and now Van Cleef, Many an unemployed performer heads for Rome to sit on the Via Veneto sipping wine and thumbing through scripts praying for work. The majority disappear or slink back to Hollywood unnoticed.

Van Cleef made the trip specifically to work for Sergio Leone in a costarring role with Eastwood in "A Few Dollars More." It was an instant hit abroad and reshaped Van Cleef's career. Now there are four unreleased pictures going for him: Three Westerns "Man To Man," "Letter Of The Law" and "Day's Of Anger," and a contemporary war film, "Commandos." All were made in Italy and Spain. Three years ago Van Cleef was fortunate if he commanded $1,250 per week for a movie. Now he asks and gets $300.000 per film, and the price undoubtedly will continue to rise. Because his face is unpretty, Lee probably will continue in action movies.

Lee is a virile, physical type along the lines of say, Lee Marvin or James Coburn. But his visage is much more menacing. "How do I feel about being called ugly?" he asked. "Well, it began when I did 'The Good, The Bad And The Ugly,' In Europe. Everybody figured ugly was me. But it doesn't bother me as long as the public doesn't mind." I hope the term ugly is a means of identification for me, not a personal insult. I imagine if people in this business meant it as a description I'd be out of work." Ugly or not, Van Cleef cannot walk in the streets of European countries without being mobbed by fans. His affection for the Italian people, especially, runs deep. It was they who turned, his career around.

Producers in Hollywood finally have received the Van Cleef message. He was offered top roles in "The Adventurers," "Topaz" and "The Great Bank Robbery," But Lee is biding his time and picking his shots. Even at the nadir of his career. Van Cleef, who is of. Dutch extraction, never lost faith in his ability as an actor. "I believed in what I was doing," he said. "I thought some day things would happen for me, although, I never dreamed as lavishly as what is happening now."

"I didn't consider going into any other type of work simply because there isn't anything else I'm able to do." Van Cleef may be consigned to playing rugged outdoor roles for years to come, but he is unwilling to accept the fact that he can act only with a horse under him or with bullets flying past his head. "There's no reason why I can't play contemporary roles in a suit and necktie," he said.

"I believe in what I'm doing — acting. And if you believe you can do something, you can accomplish whatever goals you set for yourself." It is difficult to imagine Van Cleef as a romantic leading man in a modern drama. But then one harbored doubts that he would ever have graduated from playing feature roles as villains in movies and uncounted television shows. His next picture will be "Barquero," another action western with the climax taking place in a gun battle aboard barges in he middle of a river. Once again, Lee Van Cleef will be playing the hero. A circumstance he finds most satisfying after a dozen years of being a nameless menace in the background.


  1. just got my computer back today. It's been under the weather. I wonder if Lee WAS offered those US films? I guess so but why did he turn them down? At the time, rather work in Europe..the place that put him on the map and finally gave him a decent paycheck?

  2. Most interesting.
    I reckon 'Letter Of The Law' became 'Beyond The Law'.