January 9 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the birth of actor Lee Van Cleef ('The Grave')

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Jan 9, 2018

Today, January 9, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the birth of classic western actor Lee Van Cleef, who was born on this day in 1925.

Van Cleef co-starred as Steinhart the gambler, opposite Lee Marvin, Strother Martin, and James Best, in "The Grave." It is Steinhart who bets bounty hunter Conny Miller (Marvin) that he doesn't have the nerve to visit recently deceased outlaw Pinto Sykes' grave. And like the other men in a dingy western bar, he goads Miller into venturing out into the night.

If you were assembling an outlaw gang, actor Lee Van Cleef was always on your short list. In "The Grave," he's one of the few men who can convince tough Conny Miller (Lee Marvin) to visit a deadman's final resting place. 

Tall, beady-eyed, hawk-nosed Van Cleef (1925-1989) made a career of playing baddies in westerns, most notably in director Sergio Leone’s classic 'spaghetti westerns' produced in Italy and shot in Spain. Who can forget him in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? But Van Cleef's show business career goes back a lot farther than that.

It took an Italian director working in Spain to give actor Lee Van Cleef a career role as Angel Eyes in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

A native of Somerville, New Jersey and a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, Van Cleef made his film debut as Frank Miller's henchman Jack Colby in producer Stanley Kramer's classic western High Noon. Genre fans will also recall his small role as an Army sharpshooter in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. When asked if he knew how to fire a grenade rifle, Van Cleef replied confidently, "I pick my teeth with 'em."

So let's raise a glass of warm saloon beer to another classic face with the talent to match who entered the timeless wild west corner of The Twilight Zone.