Henry Silva, who starred in Johnny Cool, fought Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate and was one of Sinatra’s fellow thieves in Ocean’s 11, among dozens of screen roles spanning a half-century, died Wednesday of natural causes at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA. He was 95.
An actor whose distinctive face often led to typecasting as the heavy, his 130-plus film and TV credits also include The Bravados, starring Gregory Peck (1958); Cinderfella, with Jerry Lewis (1960); the Rat Pack-led Western Sergeants 3 (1962); Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979); Love and Bullets with Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland and Rod Steiger (1979); the Burt Reynolds pics Sharky’s Machine (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1982); Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990); Steven Seagal’s first film Above the Law (1988); and Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai with Forest Whitaker (1999).
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Along with the title role opposite Elizabeth Montgomery in Johnny Cool (1963), Silva — who was fluent in Spanish and Italian — also starred in several European pics including The Return of Mr. Moto (1965), spaghetti Western The Hills Run Red (1966), Frame Up (1968) and the World War II thriller Probability Zero (1969), The Italian Connection (1972), The Boss (1973), Kidnap (1974) and Weapons of Death (1977).
He also was a familiar presence on TV, guesting on such classic series as Hawaii Five-O, Mission: Impossible, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, The F.B.I., Dr. Kildare, Wagon Train, The High Chaparral, It Takes a Thief and The Streets of San Francisco.
Among Silva’s biggest roles was as Johnny Cool, a Sicilian outlaw-turned-assassin who is sent on a vengeance mission to America to eliminate his mentor’s enemies. As the body count mounts, he pairs up with a wealthy divorcée (Montgomery) who ultimately betrays him. The film’s big-name ensemble also included Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford, along with Telly Savalas, Jim Backus and Mort Sahl.
The pic’s trailer featured Davis’ character at a craps table talking to the camera: “You wanna know about Johnny Cool?” he asks. “Well, I usually judge a guy by the way he gambles. What I can say is this cat gambles real cool and only for the highest stakes — like your life. Anybody who meets Cool has got to be elusive. He’s a murder machine. No matter what number you owe, it comes up kill.”
But Silva might be best known for his key role in John Frankenheimer’s classic political thriller The Manchurian Candidate. He played a houseboy who doubled as a communist spy. His character, Chunjin, was attacked by Sinatra’s Marco in a brutal, intense, 90-second fight scene.
Silva appeared opposite Sinatra again in the 1977 TV movie Contract on Cherry Street, and his final credit was a bit role in the star-packed 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven.
In the 1990s, Silva voiced Bane in episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures.
Born on September 15, 1926, in Brooklyn, Silva got his start in Tennessee Williams’ 1953 Broadway show Camino Real, with a brief run. He then joined the Actors Studio, where Silva and classmates including Ben Gazzara, Shelley Winters and Anthony Franciosa workshopped a show titled A Hatful of Rain. A grim tale about addiction in which Silva played a dealer named Mother, it became a 1955 Broadway play that ran for nearly a year. Silva and Franciosa reprised their roles for the 1957 film adaptation.
Silva was married three times and his survivors include his sons, Scott and Michael Silva.
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