When Jack Palance Stood Up For Ukraine Against Putin

Over at The Bulwark, culture editor Sonny Bunch reminded me of a tale of some relevance to current events, though like most pieces in The Bulwark, his account is missing crucial details.

It involves one of my mother’s favorite Hollywood villains, Jack Palance. Younger readers probably remember him only in his long, lucrative late-career self-parody period (Watch “Shane”: what’s the matter with you?), which got him one of those weird Best Actor Oscars for just doing what he had done naturally for decades, but hammier, in “City Slickers.” (He was also aided by lines like “I crap bigger than you.” (To Billy Crystal.)

The actor was born in Pennsylvania as Volodymyr Palahniuk, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. In 2004, after Palance’s final film and just two years before his death, a Hollywood celebration  of “Russian Nights” in Los Angeles ended with an awards ceremony. “Russian Nights” was a week-long film festival that celebrated “Russian contributions to the world of art,” and was sponsored in part by the Russian Ministry of Culture. Russian president Vladimir Putin endorsed the propaganda event. Scheduled to receive “narodny artyst” awards ( translated as “the Russian People’s Choice Award”) were Dustin Hoffman and Jack Palance. Hoffman, like Palance boasted of Ukrainian heritage.

“72 Meters” (“Syemdesyat-dva metra”) the Russian movie being screened as the festival finale, was a drama fictionalizing events on the submarine “Slavianka,” and “portrays Ukrainians as bumbling fools and repeatedly refers to Ukrainians with a racist pejorative.” At the time of the honor, Palance was chairman of the Hollywood Trident Foundation. The foundation’s president, Peter Borisow, later wrote that the festival was  part of Putin’s “coordinated, worldwide campaign to promote Russia and Russian culture and, in so doing, to make Ukraine seem part and parcel of Russia…This latest incident is just another part of a long history of genocide that killed 10 million Ukrainians in 1933 and continues in more subtle form to this day – all of it still actively promoted and financed by Russia,”

Dustin Hoffman accepted his award first, and expressed gratitude to the “Russian people” for helping defeat Germany. He thanked them for saving his grandmother who otherwise “may have ended up as a bar of soap.” Next to receive the Russian government’s highest artistic award was Palance. He took the stage and said to a shocked audience,

“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.”

And he left, taking four other guests with him. Hoffman wasn’t the only Hollywood royalty happy to advance Putin’s agenda: the festival’s website included letters of greeting from Leonardo Dicaprio, Liv Tyler and Francis Ford Coppola.

Jack Palance never did accept Putin’s award, or see “72 Meters.”

5 thoughts on “When Jack Palance Stood Up For Ukraine Against Putin

  1. That’s an amazing story. I shouldn’t be surprised that Palance had guts, but it’s so gratifying that someone in Hollywood stood up to the propagandists.

  2. A wonderful story. Thank you for finding it and writing about it. How many similar stories are out there?

    And good for Jack Palance. I always thought him to be a strange individualist, but to learn that he took a real political position in a public forum brings another dimension to his memory.

  3. “A wonderful story. Thank you for finding it and writing about it.”

    Palance craps bigger than Hoffman, Dicaprio, Tyler, and Coppola, all squatting together.

  4. “the festival’s website included letters of greeting from Leonardo Dicaprio, Liv Tyler and Francis Ford Coppola.”

    Funny, I don’t recall Steven Colbert calling those folks out as Putin’s penile accessories.

    As for Jack Palance, good on him! Taking a stand. That’s what true patriots do. Would that we saw more brave truth-telling and less weenie groveling from the Hollywood crowd.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.