Jack Palance (AP Photo/Cox)
For more than 50 years, Jack Palance was one of Hollywood's great character actors. Rarely the leading man, he still caught our attention with his striking looks and strong talent. Today would have been Palance's 95th birthday, and we're bringing you 9 1/2 facts –– that's nine facts and a rumor –– about this silver screen great.
1. He wasn't born Jack Palance. His birth name was Volodymyr Palahniuk. His parents were Ukranian immigrants, and they raised him in Pennsylvania's coal mining country.
2. Like his father, Palance worked in the coal mines when he was young.
3. He played high school football, earning a place on the team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
4. Football wasn't the only sport at which Palance excelled. He became a professional boxer in the late 1930s, fighting under the name Jack Brazzo. After a string of wins he quit the sport, later reflecting, "I thought, you must be nuts to get your head beat in for $200."
5. Palance served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. After his military service, he enrolled at Stanford University. He was one credit away from graduation when he dropped out to pursue an acting career.
6. Palance's big acting break came when he was cast as Marlon Brando's understudy in the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He eventually replaced Brando in the role of Stanley Kowalski.
7. 1950's Panic in the Streets was Palance's first movie, and his career continued for 53 years until 2003's Between Hitler and Stalin. He was nominated for three Oscars for best supporting actor, and his lone win –– for 1991's City Slickers –– was memorable. In the middle of his acceptance speech, he famously dropped to the floor and performed a set of one-handed pushups.
8. Some of Palance’s other accolades include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, membership in the Western Performers Hall of Fame, an Emmy for a performance on an episode of Playhouse 90, a Golden Globe and an American Comedy Award for his role in City Slickers, and the title of "People's Actor of Russia" bestowed upon him by Vladimir Putin at a Russian film festival. Palance refused the last honor, citing his proud Ukrainian heritage.
9. Palance died Nov. 10, 2006, of natural causes. He was 87.
And what about that final fact/rumor? For years, the Hollywood public relations machine let fans believe that Palance's striking facial features –– his sharp cheekbones and deep-set eyes –– were the result of his heroic service in World War II. According to the rumor, Palance had to bail out of a B-24 Liberator bomber that was engulfed in flames, and his face was so badly disfigured that he required reconstructive surgery. As they put him back together again, plastic surgeons created that unique face. What’s the truth behind that rumor? Let's look to Palance's own words on the subject: "If it is a 'bionic face,' why didn't they do a better job of it?"
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.