While at an anniversary screening of “City Slickers” at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica August 12, 2011, Billy Crystal talked a bit about working with the late Jack Palance in that film. Palance co-starred as Curly Washburn, the most authentic of cowboys, in a role that earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, it provided Crystal with one of the best setups in Oscar history; Palance’s one-armed push-ups proved that he was not too old to act in a movie.
One movie the filmmakers viewed before they started shooting “City Slickers” was “Shane;” Crystal said it was the first movie he ever saw. When it came to casting Curly, he said that they considered no one but Palance for the role. “Shane” marked the last time Palance got an Oscar nomination until he did “City Slickers” — that’s a difference of 38 years!
Palance worked on “City Slickers” for a total of 10 days. Before he arrived on set, the crew kept saying “the big cat is coming.” The director of the movie, Ron Underwood, was described by Crystal as the “sweetest guy” and a “puppeteer.” But when it came to the first day of shooting, Palance told Crystal that he always got “nervous.” When Underwood asked him to do that “glare” of his one more time, Palance replied:
After that, he put up a fit which had Underwood’s hair standing on end. No one was expecting this kind of tantrum from the host of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” But after that first day things got better, even though Palance was never thrilled about being on a horse. Both he and Crystal continually ran lines with one another, and Crystal described the two weeks they worked together as feeling like nine months.
Crystal described Palance as a “real movie actor” in how he understood the size of his head. Palance owned the camera and his appearance in a way few actors can achieve. His role as Curly capped off a long and memorable acting career. While he sadly passed away in 2006, his legacy lives on from one generation to the next.
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