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Lee Van Cleef
Lee Van Cleef - Death Rides A Horse (1).jpg
Van Cleef in Death Rides a Horse (1967)
Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef Jr.

(1925-01-09)January 9, 1925
Died December 16, 1989(1989-12-16) (aged 64)
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Occupation Actor
Years active 1952–1989
Patsy Ruth Kahle
(m. 1943; div. 1958)

Joan Marjorie Drane
(m. 1960; div. 1974)

Barbara Havelone
(m. 1976)
Children 3
Military career
Service/branch Flag of the United States Navy.svg US Navy
Years of service 1942–1946
Rank PO1 NOGC, winter.svg Sonarman First Class
Unit USS Incredible (AM-249)
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svg Bronze Star
U.S. Navy Good Conduct Medal ribbon.svg Good Conduct Medal
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal ribbon.svg Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal

Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef Jr. (January 9, 1925 – December 16, 1989) was an American actor. He appeared in over 170 film and television roles in a career spanning nearly 40 years, but is best known as a star of Italian Spaghetti Westerns, particularly the Sergio Leone-directed Dollars Trilogy films For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

Born and raised in New Jersey, Van Cleef served in the United States Navy during World War II aboard a minesweeper, earning a Bronze Star for his actions. After acting on stage in regional theatre, he made his film debut in the Oscar-winning Western High Noon (1952) in a non-speaking outlaw cast role. With distinctive, angular features and a taciturn screen persona, Van Cleef was typecast as minor villain and supporting player in Westerns and crime dramas. After suffering serious injuries in a car crash, Van Cleef's acting career started to decline. However, he achieved unexpected stardom when director Sergio Leone offered him the co-leading role in For a Few Dollars More. The film proved to be a huge hit and cited him as a box-office draw, largely in Europe.

Van Cleef went on to appear in such films as Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Death Rides a Horse (1967), Day of Anger (also 1967), Sabata (1969) and its sequel Return of Sabata (1971), El Condor (1970), The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972), Mean Frank and Crazy Tony (1973), Take a Hard Ride (1975), The Octagon (1980), Escape from New York (1981) and Speed Zone (1989). He also played the lead role of John Peter McAllister on the martial arts television series The Master (1984).

Early life

Lee Van Cleef was born on January 9, 1925, in Somerville, New Jersey, to Marion Lavinia Van Fleet and Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef. Lee graduated high school early at the age of 17 from Somerville High School New Jersey in order to enlist in the United States Navy in September 1942.

Military service

After completing his military training, Van Cleef was assigned to a submarine chaser and then to a minesweeper called the USS Incredible, on which he worked as a sonarman.

The ship initially patrolled the Caribbean, then moved to the Mediterranean, participating in the landings in southern France. In January 1945, Incredible moved to the Black Sea, and performed sweeping duties out of the Soviet Navy base at Sevastopol, Crimea. Afterwards, the ship performed air-sea rescue patrols in the Black Sea before returning to Palermo, Sicily.

By the time of his discharge in March 1946, he had achieved the rank of Sonarman First Class (SO1) and had earned his mine sweeper patch. He also had been awarded the Bronze Star and the Good Conduct Medal. By virtue of his deployments, Van Cleef also qualified for the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was discharged from the Navy in 1946.

Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star
United States Navy Good Conduct Medal ribbon.svg Good Conduct Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal ribbon Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
American Campaign Medal ribbon American Campaign Medal
Ribbon for World War II Victory Medal World War II Victory Medal

Acting career

After leaving the Navy, Van Cleef received his first acting role as a reader for the play Our Town at the Little Theater Group in Clinton, New Jersey. From there, he continued to meet with the group and audition for parts. The next biggest part was that of the boxer, Joe Pendleton, in the play Heaven Can Wait. During this time, he was observed by visiting talent scouts, who were impressed by Van Cleef's stage presence and delivery. One of these scouts later took him to New York City talent agent Maynard Morris of the MCA agency, who then sent him to the Alvin Theater for an audition. The play was Mister Roberts.

Van Cleef's screen debut came in High Noon. During a performance of Mister Roberts in Los Angeles, he was noticed by film producer Stanley Kramer, who offered Van Cleef a role in his upcoming film. Kramer originally wanted Van Cleef for the role of the deputy Harvey Pell, but as he wanted Van Cleef to have his "distinctive nose" fixed, Van Cleef declined the role in favor of the part of the silent gunslinger Jack Colby. He was then cast mostly in villainous roles, due to his sharp cheeks and chin, piercing eyes, and hawk-like nose, from the part of Tony Romano in Kansas City Confidential (1952), culminating 14 years later in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

Lee Van Cleef in Kansas City Confidential
Van Cleef in Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Aside from Westerns and the science fiction films, three of his early major roles were in noir films, Kansas City Confidential (1952), Vice Squad (1953) and The Big Combo (1955).

In 1952, he made his television debut when he was cast in the episode "Formula for Fear" of the Western aviation series Sky King. Van Cleef appeared six times between 1953 and 1955 on the children's syndicated Western series The Adventures of Kit Carson, starring Bill Williams. He was cast three times, including the role of Rocky Hatch in the episode "Greed Rides the Range" (1952), of another syndicated Western series, The Range Rider. He appeared in episode 82 of the TV series The Lone Ranger in 1952. In 1954, Van Cleef appeared as Jesse James in the syndicated series Stories of the Century.

In 1955, he was cast twice on another syndicated Western series, Annie Oakley. That same year, he guest-starred on the CBS Western series Brave Eagle. In 1955, he played one of the two villains in an episode of The Adventures of Champion the Wonder Horse. He played Cherokee Bob in the NBC Western series Tales of Wells Fargo in 1957. In 1958, he was cast as Ed Murdock, a rodeo performer trying to reclaim the title in the event at Madison Square Garden in New York City, on Richard Diamond, Private Detective.

Van Cleef played different characters on four episodes of ABC's The Rifleman, with Chuck Connors, between 1959 and 1962, and twice on ABC's Tombstone Territory. In 1958, he was cast as Deputy Sid Carver in the episode "The Great Stagecoach Robbery" of another syndicated Western series, Frontier Doctor, starring Rex Allen. In 1959, Van Cleef appeared as Luke Clagg in the episode "Strange Request" of the NBC Western series Riverboat starring Darren McGavin, as Jumbo Kane in the episode "The Hostage" on the CBS Western series "Wanted Dead or Alive" starring Steve McQueen, and in an episode of Maverick titled "Red Dog" in 1961 starring Roger Moore and John Carradine.

Fante and Mingo
Van Cleef (l.), Jean Wallace and Earl Holliman in The Big Combo (1955)

Van Cleef played a sentry on an episode of the ABC sitcom The Real McCoys, with Walter Brennan. Van Cleef was cast with Pippa Scott and again with Chuck Connors in the 1960 episode "Trial by Fear" of the CBS anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. A young Van Cleef also made an appearance on The Andy Griffith Show and as Frank Diamond in The Untouchables, in an episode entitled "The Unhired Assassin". He also appeared in an episode of the ABC/Warner Brothers Western series The Alaskans.

Van Cleef guest-starred on the CBS Western series Have Gun – Will Travel, on the ABC/Warner Bros. series Colt .45, on the NBC Western series Cimarron City and Laramie, and on Rod Cameron's syndicated crime dramas City Detective and State Trooper. He guest-starred in an episode of John Bromfield's syndicated crime drama Sheriff of Cochise. Van Cleef starred as minor villains and henchmen in various Westerns, including The Tin Star and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. His film characters died in many of his Westerns and gangster portrayals.

In 1960, he appeared as a villainous swindler in the Bonanza episode, "The Bloodline" (December 31, 1960) and also made an appearance on Gunsmoke. In 1961, he played a role on episode 7 ("The Grave") of the third season of The Twilight Zone starring Lee Marvin. He played a villainous henchman of Lee Marvin's titular character in the 1962 John Ford movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring John Wayne and James Stewart. In 1963, he appeared on Perry Mason (episode: "The Case of the Golden Oranges"). That same year, he appeared in "The Day of the Misfits" on The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.


Van Cleef in Death Rides a Horse (1968)

In 1965, Sergio Leone cast Van Cleef, whose career had yet to take off, as a main protagonist alongside Clint Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More. Leone then chose Van Cleef to appear again with Eastwood, this time as the primary antagonist, Angel Eyes, in the now seminal Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

With his roles in Leone's films, Van Cleef became a major star of Spaghetti Westerns, playing central, and often surprisingly heroic, roles in films such as The Big Gundown (1966), Death Rides a Horse (1967), Day of Anger (1967), and The Grand Duel (1972). He played the title role in Sabata (1969) and Return of Sabata (1971), and co-starred with Jim Brown in an Italian-American co-production, Take a Hard Ride (1975). In two of his final westerns he co-starred with Leif Garrett in God's Gun (1976) and Kid Vengeance (1977), both of which were filmed mainly in Israel.

Van Cleef later had a supporting role in John Carpenter's cult film Escape from New York (1981). He slipped out of the limelight in his later years. In 1984, he was cast as a ninja master in the NBC adventure series The Master, but it was canceled after thirteen episodes. In all, Van Cleef is credited with 90 movie roles and 109 television appearances over a 38-year span.

Personal life

Van Cleef was married three times. His first marriage was to Patsy Ruth Kahle, in 1943. They had three children, Alan, Deborah and David, and divorced in 1958. His second marriage was to Joan Marjorie Drane, from 1960 to 1974. His final marriage was to Barbara Havelone in 1976, who survived him.

He lost the last joint of the middle finger of his right hand while building a playhouse for his daughter.

In 1958, a severe car crash nearly cost Van Cleef his life and career. A resulting knee injury made his physicians think that he would never ride a horse again. This injury plagued Van Cleef for the rest of his life and caused him great pain. His recovery was long and difficult and halted his acting for a time. He then began a business in interior decoration with second wife Joan, as well as pursuing his talent for painting, primarily of sea and landscapes.


Lee Van Cleef Grave
Van Cleef's grave at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills

Despite suffering from heart disease from the late 1970s and having a pacemaker installed in the early 1980s, Van Cleef continued to work in films until his death on December 16, 1989, at age 64. He collapsed in his home in Oxnard, California, from a heart attack. Throat cancer was listed as a secondary cause of death. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, California, with an inscription on his grave marker referring to his many acting performances as a villain: "BEST OF THE BAD".



Year Title Role Director Notes
1952 High Noon Jack Colby Fred Zinnemann
Untamed Frontier Dave Chittun Hugo Fregonese
Kansas City Confidential Tony Romano Phil Karlson
1953 The Lawless Breed Dirk Hanley Raoul Walsh
The Bandits of Corsica Nerva Ray Nazarro
White Lightning Brutus Allen Edward Bernds
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Corporal Stone Eugène Lourié
Arena "Smitty" Smith Richard Fleischer
Vice Squad Pete Monte Arnold Laven
Jack Slade "Bolt" Mackay Harold D. Schuster
Tumbleweed Marvin "Marv" Nathan Juran
The Nebraskan Private Reno Benton Fred F. Sears
1954 Gypsy Colt Hank Andrew Marton
Rails Into Laramie "Ace" Winton Jesse Hibbs
Arrow in the Dust Tilotson Henchman Lesley Selander
The Yellow Tomahawk Fire Knife Lesley Selander
Princess of the Nile Hakar Harmon Jones Uncredited
The Desperado Paul Crayton / 'Buck' Crayton Thomas Carr
Dawn at Socorro Earl Ferris George Sherman
1955 Treasure of Ruby Hills Frank Emmett Frank McDonald
Ten Wanted Men Al Drucker H. Bruce Humberstone
The Big Combo Fante Joseph H. Lewis
I Cover the Underworld "Flash" Logan R. G. Springsteen
The Road to Denver Larry "Pecos Larry" Joseph Kane
The Naked Street Harry Goldish Maxwell Shane Uncredited
A Man Alone Clanton Ray Milland
The Vanishing American Jay Lord Joseph Kane
1956 The Conqueror Chepei Dick Powell
Tribute to a Bad Man "Fat" Jones Robert Wise
It Conquered the World Dr. Tom Anderson Roger Corman
Pardners Gus Norman Taurog
Accused of Murder Sergeant Emmett Lackey Joseph Kane
1957 The Quiet Gun Doug Sadler William F. Claxton
The Badge of Marshal Brennan "Shad" Donaphin Albert C. Gannaway
China Gate Major Cham Samuel Fuller
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Ed Bailey John Sturges
The Lonely Man Faro Henry Levin
The Last Stagecoach West Steve Margolies Joseph Kane
Joe Dakota Adam Grant Richard Bartlett
The Tin Star Ed McGaffey Anthony Mann
Gun Battle at Monterey Kirby Sidney Franklin Jr.
Carl K. Hittleman
Raiders of Old California Sergeant Damon Pardee Albert C. Gannaway
1958 Day of the Bad Man Jake Hayes Harry Keller
The Young Lions 1st Sergeant Rickett Edward Dmytryk
The Bravados Alfonso Parral Henry King
Guns, Girls, and Gangsters Mike Benett Edward L. Cahn
Machete Miguel Kurt Neumann
Ride Lonesome Frank Budd Boetticher
1961 Posse from Hell Leo Herbert Coleman
1962 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Reese John Ford
How the West Was Won River Pirate John Ford
Henry Hathaway
George Marshall
1965 For a Few Dollars More Colonel Douglas Mortimer Sergio Leone
1966 The Big Gundown Jonathan Corbett Sergio Sollima
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly "Angel Eyes" / "The Bad" Sergio Leone
1967 Death Rides a Horse Ryan Giulio Petroni
Day of Anger Frank Talby Tonino Valerii
1968 Beyond the Law Billy Joe Cudlip Giorgio Stegani
Commandos Master Sergeant Sullivan Armando Crispino
1969 Sabata Sabata Gianfranco Parolini
1970 Barquero Travis Gordon Douglas
El Condor Jaroo John Guillermin
1971 Captain Apache Captain Apache Alexander Singer
Return of Sabata Sabata Gianfranco Parolini
Bad Man's River Roy King Eugenio Martín
1972 The Magnificent Seven Ride! Chris Adams George McCowan
The Grand Duel Sheriff Clayton Giancarlo Santi
1973 Mean Frank and Crazy Tony Frankie Diomede Michele Lupo
1974 The Stranger and the Gunfighter Dakota Antonio Margheriti
1975 Take a Hard Ride Kiefer Antonio Margheriti
1976 God's Gun Father John / Lewis Gianfranco Parolini
1977 Kid Vengeance [it] McClain Joe Manduke
Quel pomeriggio maledetto [it] Harry Chapman Mario Siciliano
1978 The Rip-Off Chris Gretchko / Ray Sloan Antonio Margheriti
1980 The Octagon McCarn Eric Karson
1981 Escape from New York Police Commissioner Bob Hauk John Carpenter
1984 Goma-2 [it] Julot José Antonio de la Loma [es]
Code Name: Wild Geese "China" Antonio Margheriti
1985 Jungle Raiders Warren Antonio Margheriti
1986 Armed Response Burt Roth Fred Olen Ray
1987 The Commander [de] Colonel Mazzarini Antonio Margheriti
1989 Speed Zone Rock-Skipping Grandfather Jim Drake
1990 Thieves of Fortune Sergio Danielo Christophero Michael MacCarthy Posthumous release


Year Title Role(s) Episode(s) Network(s)
1952 Sky King Mark "Formula for Fear" NBC-TV, ABC-TC
Boston Blackie Lou / Captain Jansen Inside Crime; Deep Six
1952–53 The Range Rider 'El Latigo' / Joe 'Utah Joe' / Rocky Hatch "Treasure of Santa Dolores"; "Outlaw's Double"; "Greed Rides the Range"
The Lone Ranger Joe Singer / 'Bull' Harper / Henchman Jango "Desperado at Large"; "The Brown Pony"; "Stage to Estacado"
1954–62 Death Valley Days Unknown / Brogger "Snowshoe Thompson"; "The Hat That Won the West"
1954 The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin Ed McCleod "Rin Tin Tin and The Ranging River"
1955 The Man Behind the Badge Floyd "The Case of the Desperate Moment" CBS
Champion the Wonder Horse Frank "Crossroad Trail" CBS
1957 Tales of Wells Fargo Cherokee Bob Alder Gulch NBC
Trackdown Ben "The Town"
1958 Wagon Train 'Rufe' Beal "The Jesse Cowan Story"
Zorro Antonio Castillo "Welcome to Monterey"
Richard Diamond, Private Detective Ed Murdock "Rodeo"
1959 Mr. Lucky "Dangerous Lady"
Yancy Derringer Ike Milton / Frank James "Outlaw at Liberty"
Wanted: Dead or Alive 'Jumbo' Kane "The Hostage"
The Real McCoys 1st Sentry "Grandpa Fights the Air Force"
1959–62 The Rifleman Dan Maury / 'Stinger' / Wicks / Johnny Drako "The Deadly Wait"; "The Prodigal"; "The Clarence Bibs Story"; "Death Never Rides Alone" ABC-TV
1960 The Slowest Gun in the West Sam Bass TV movie
77 Sunset Strip Deek "Attic" Warner Bros.
Bonanza Appling "The Blood Line" NBC-TV
1960–63 Laramie Wes Torrey / Dawson / 'Mac' Morgan / Caleb ".45 Calibre"; "Killer Odds"; "Vengeance"; "The Stranger"
1960–66 Gunsmoke Rad Meadows / Johnny Hooker / Ike Jeffords "Old Flame"/"The Pariah"/"My Father, My Son"
1961 Maverick 'Wolf' McManus "Red Dog"
1961–62 Cheyenne Braden / Larry Jackson / Harry "Trouble Street"; "A Man Called Ragen"; "Man Alone"
1961 The Twilight Zone Steinhart "The Grave" CBS-TV
Stagecoach West Lin Hyatt "Never Walk Alone"
1963 The Joey Bishop Show Charlie "Double Exposure"
The Dakotas Slade Tucker "Thunder in Pleasant Valley" ABC-TV
Perry Mason Edward Doyle "The Case of the Golden Oranges"
1962–63 Have Gun – Will Travel Corbin / Golias "The Treasure"; "Face of a Shadow"
Ripcord Henry Kane / Jack Martin "Thoroughbred"; "The Money Mine"
1964 Rawhide Fred Grant / Deck Sommers "The Enormous Fist"; "Piney" CBS-TV
1965 The Andy Griffith Show Purse Thief "Banjo-Playing Deputy" CBS-TV
My Mother the Car Nick Fitch "Burned at the Steak"
1965–66 Branded "The Richest Man in Boot Hill", "Call to Glory" NBC-TV
1966 Laredo Mike 'Big Mike' Kelly "Quarter Past Eleven"
1980 The Hard Way McNeal ITV (UK)
1984 The Master John Peter McAllister All episodes; starring role NBC-TV

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Lee Van Cleef para niños

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