Wild West Movie Icon, “Curly”, a Proud Ukrainian

You may remember the actor playing the role of Curly, the ornery and wizened cowboy in the film, “City Slickers” as Best Supporting Academy Award winning actor, Jack Palance, but this actor, once proudly laid claim to his Ukrainian heritage. Jack Palance, born Volodymir Ivanovich Palahnuik in Pennsylvania coal country was third of five children of Ukrainian immigrants.

Palance, now deceased, was by all accounts a proud Ukrainian. A mover and shaker behind the formation of the Hollywood Trident Foundation, an organization formed to “create and promote more films, television programs and music which contain Ukrainian content, or are written, produced, directed or acted in by people interested in Ukrainian affairs”, Palance also refused a prestigious film award in 2004 to celebrate Russian contributions to the world of art. Sponsored in part by the Russian Ministry of Culture and enjoying the political support of Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Palance raised his voice for Ukrainians around the world.

Scheduled to receive the “narodny artyst” awards (cleverly translated as “the Russian People’s Choice Award”) were two Oscar winning actors: Dustin Hoffman and Jack Palance – both of whom trace their roots to Ukraine. Hoffman accepted his award but Palance, proud of his Ukrainian heritage, said after being introduced, “I feel like I walked into the wrong room by mistake. I think that Russian film is interesting, but I have nothing to do with Russia or Russian film. My parents were born in Ukraine: I’m Ukrainian. I’m not Russian. So, excuse me, but I don’t belong here. It’s best if we leave.”

Palance accompanied by four other guests that included his wife Elaine, and the Hollywood Trident Foundation’s president, Peter Borisow. Palance refused to accept the award, even in private, or to view “72 Meters”, the movie being screened as the
festival finale. A drama ostensibly portraying events on the submarine “Slavianka”, the film depicted Ukrainians as bumbling fools and repeatedly refers to Ukrainians with the racist pejorative ‘kh’ word. As part of the film’s plot development, the Ukrainian submarine’s Russian officers refuse allegiance to newly independent Ukraine, steal the ship and sail it to Russia.

Considering the festival to be part of a “coordinated, worldwide campaign to promote Russia and Russian culture and, in so doing, to make Ukraine seem part and parcel of Russia, Borisow praised Palance for standing up for his heritage accurately, “I’m certain that in Russia, Jack’s acceptance of the mislabeled award would have been sold as his accepting being a ‘National Artist’ of Russia. “Jack is very proud to be Ukrainian and will not let anyone hijack his name or persona.” Ukrainians around the world as well as moviegoers of all backgrounds will surely miss this proud Kosak fighter.