Lee Van Cleef


  1. Raymond Burr, His Kind of Woman, 1950.    Producer Howard Hughes could never leave a film alone… He swopped Van Cleef for Burr in the Robert Mitchum-Jane Russell close encounter, brought director Richard Fleischer in for re-shoots (after John Farow had finished shooting), rewrote the end and then – hell, why not ? – re-made the entire movie.

  2. Lloyd Bridges, High Noon, 1951.    “Being born with a beady-eyed sneer was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said  the New Jersey cowboy Clarence Leroy Van Cleef Jr.  Producer Stanley Kramer saw him on-stage in Mister  Roberts  and offered him Gary Cooper’s deputy if  he had his hooked nose fixed. He would not and wound upon  $500 a week among the heavies. In fact, the very first character to be seen in the classic Western: “the man with gunsight eyes.” Apparently his speech was hooked too –  he wasnlt  given any  dialogue.  While waiting for his movie debut  to start, Van Cleef (his folks had Dutch blood) polished his riding in two of Jock Mahoney’s Range Rider TV shows. 

  3. Woody Strode, C’era una volta il West  (US: Once Upon A Time in the West), 1968.       Van Cleef was willing, but Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach refused director Sergio Leone’s gimmick of uniting The Good, The Bad and The Ugly trio in the opening sequence. Enter: Woody as Stony, for another homage (after Henry Fonda) to John Ford… who signed a photo with “much admiration” to “Sergio Leoni.” “Bad guys have always been my bag,” Van Cleef explained, “I look mean without even trying. Audiences just naturally hate me on screen. I could play a role in a tuxedo and people would think I was rotten. You can do much more with a villain part. Movies are full of leading men – most of whom aren’t working. Much harder to find a good villain.”
  4. Massimo Girotto, Teorema (Theorem), Italy, 1968.  “A religious story,” said Italian auteur Pier Paolo Pasolini. “A God – handsome, young, fascinating, blue eyes –  moves into a bourgeois family. And he loves everyone from the father, who is Orson Welles to the servant who is Laura Betti…” Except  Welles wouldn’t play. Lee Van Cleef also passed on the PPP classic.
  5. Yul Brynner, Adios, Sabata, Italy,  1971.       Reborn under  spagheti Western  king Sergio  Leone, Van Clef got his revenge  for losing the second of three  Sabata  Westerns  by  taking  over Brynner’s  lead  in  The Magnificent Seven Ride, 1972.
  6. Paul Newman, The Sting, 1973.    The producers said Henry Gondorff was written as a fat slob. No way, said scenarist David S Ward. “I’d actually imagined Lee Van Cleef, a steely, hard-nosed type, but not a fat guy. When Newman decided to do it, I was more than happy. I knew Newman would just do his thing – and that was better than anything I could come up with. This did change the dynamic, though, because the Johnny Hooker character was initially meant to be about 19, which would have made for more of a father-son relationshi. With Redford on board, we had to make Hooker older, but I think there remains something adolescent about him: he grows up over the course of the movie.”
  7. Donald Moffat, The Thing, 1981.  The British Moffat plus Van Cleef, Powers Booth, Kevin Conway, Richard Mulligan and Jerry Orbach all read for Garry in John Carpenter’s unwanted re-hash of the (so-so) 1950 original produced (some say, directed) by Howard Hawks.  Van Cleef had been in Carpenter’s previous gig, Escape From New York, with Kurt Ruyssell, now headlining the horror flick. 
  8. Sean Connery, HIghlander, 1985.   Sean brushed aside ooffers to be either the clansman,Connor MacLeod or the  villainous Kurgan, “strongest of all the immortals,”  in their tussle for… The Prize! He did exacytly the same with them on-screen in his preferrred role of  the 2,000-year-old nobleman, Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez… knowing full well, he could knock him off in a single week for his $1m. fee.  Connery had more panache than the movie or his rivals… and they weren’t  exactly nobodies… but Michael Caine, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and Van Cleef.
  9. Joe Don Baker, The Living Daylights, 1986.



 Birth year: 1925Death year: 1989Other name: Casting Calls:  9