Darren Franich
December 07, 2010 at 05:59 PM EST

Image Credit: Everett CollectionEli Wallach’s birthday is not a national holiday… yet. But perhaps it should be. The actor, who turns 95 today, has been an old pro for such a long time — he was 50 when he played his most famous role — that he’s practically become a walking symbol of Greatest Generation professionalism. A few years ago, he merrily stole The Holiday out from under his younger co-stars. In a nearly wordless performance in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Wallach made his frail elder banker look like the smartest (and funniest, and most menacing) guy in the room. But we shouldn’t just praise Wallach for being one of the Grand Old Men of Cinema. He’s had a long, winding career on stage and the small screen. He was Mr. Freeze on the Batman TV series. He won a Tony award 50 years ago for a Tennessee Williams play, The Rose Tattoo. Most importantly, he was Tuco in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Homicidal, relentlessly malicious, hilariously venal and more than a little psychotic, Tuco is also the beating heart of the movie. (Clint Eastwood is just the cool-eyed straight man. You could say that Eastwood’s the pole, and Wallach is the lunatic tetherball.)

All that, and Wallach’s been married to the same woman — Anne Jackson, a fellow performer and frequent co-star — for 62 years. PopWatchers, join me in saluting one of the greats. May he continue to impress (and amuse) well into his 100s. And remember: Always take your gun into the bathtub.

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Francis Ford Coppola, Eli Wallach, and Jean-Luc Godard win Oscars (but not on TV)

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