Jack Palance died today. I will probably always remember him first as that spooky guy from Ripley's Believe it or Not when I was growing up. I used to think he was Ripley. He was so convincing and scary. He always had a young female co-star on the show - I always thought they were his daughters.
I remember him walking across a bridge over a geothermal heated pool and he put an egg in the water and took it out and it was hard boiled. That always amazed me. They were always traveling all over the world.
I used to watch this show with my dad and sister. My dad told me that Jack Palance was Ukrainian, like us. That was always a good thing. Even though he could be frightening, he could be friendly - I always thought he was letting us in on a secret.
Since I always thought he was Ripley, I never realized he had done other work in movies. I was 5 when Ripley's premiered in 1981 and was only 10 when it went off the air. Not many kids that age watch Shane or any movies that aren't animated.
Later in my life, he was in City Slickers and I realized that he wasn't Ripley. He told this story about having just finished being in Shane and having this director tell him he would win an academy award. And bam, 50 years later he won for City Slickers. After that I was always attached to Jack Palance. He was the grandfather I never knew. My own grandfather died in 1979 and I have no real memories of him. Jack was Ukrainian. He was successful. He was a hero in City Slickers - playing a parady of himself as a bad guy in all those westerns. He was an original and I think I always liked that about him.
I haven't yet seen any of those old westerns. I just read a little bit about him as a fighter and a veteran and read that he grew up just 155 miles south of Dryden, New York in Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1919, the year before my grandmother and three years before my own grandfather.
When you're a kid you dress up as your heroes at Halloween. When you're an adult and get invited to costume parties and Cowboy and Farmer parties you go as your heroes as adults. After knowing Jack almost my whole life and knowing him from City Slickers I think I was happy to attend a party last fall as a cowboy. Hold onto your heroes as long as you can. Learn from them, look up to them, emulate if it is what you want. Find your heroes and follow if you can.
Jack Palance, February 18th, 1919 - November 10th, 2006