Henry Silva, the rugged New York actor who portrayed heavies and heroes of various ethnicities in a career highlighted by turns in A Hatful of Rain, The Manchurian Candidate and Johnny Cool, has died. He was 95.
Silva died Wednesday of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, his son Scott Silva told The Hollywood Reporter.
Silva also played the Draconian commander “Killer” Kane in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), just one in a lineup of his bad guys seen in The Tall T (1957), The Bravados (1958), Il Boss (1973), Sharky’s Machine (1981), Above the Law (1988), Dick Tracy (1990) and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999).
“Henry Silva is one of those guys you most likely will recognize even if you don’t know his name,” onetime Crimespree magazine writer Dave Wahlman wrote in 2016. “His face is something straight out of central casting if you were looking for a villain. It alternates between the insipid glee of potential mayhem and looking emotionless and dead as a stone.”
After appearing on Broadway in 1955-56 as the drug pusher called Mother in A Hatful of Rain, Silva reprised the role for the 1957 Fred Zinnemann-directed film version at Fox. (He and Anthony Franciosa were the only actors from the stage to make the jump.)
He was menacing again as the evil Korean agent/manservant Chunjin in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962), one of the four movies he made with Frank Sinatra.
An honorary member of the Rat Pack, Silva also appeared with Sinatra in Ocean’s 11 (1960) as one of the Las Vegas casino thieves, in Sergeants 3 (1962) as a Native American named Mountain Hawk, in the 1977 NBC telefilm Contract on Cherry Street as a Puerto Rican cop and in Cannonball Run II (1984) as a henchman named Slim.
His Rat Pack connections were evident when he starred as a Sicilian-born hitman in United Artists’ Johnny Cool (1963), a neo-noir cult classic that was produced by Peter Lawford and included cameos by Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr.
After playing the titular Japanese secret agent in The Return of Mr. Moto (1965), taking over the part originated by Peter Lorre in a series of 1930s films, Silva headed to Italy and Spain to make The Hills Run Red (1966), a Spaghetti Western.
He went on to make dozens of movies in Europe, the majority of which were in the Italian “poliziotteschi” genre. “Funny thing,” he said in a 1971 interview, “over here they see me as a bad guy; in Europe, they see me as a hero.”
The only son to parents of Sicilian and Spanish descent — he refuted reports that he was of Puerto Rican heritage — Silva was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 15, 1926, and raised in Harlem.
He quit high school and worked as a dishwasher, a longshoreman and in several other jobs before auditioning for The Actors Studio. He was reportedly one of five applicants out of more than 2,500 to be accepted.
Silva landed a small role for Elia Kazan in Viva Zapata! (1952), then made his Broadway debut for the director in 1953 in Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real. That play originated in an Actors Studio workshop, as did A Hatful of Rain, written by future Godfather: Part II actor Michael V. Gazzo.
The rest of the ’50s saw him support such Westerns as The Tall T alongside Randolph Scott, The Bravados with Gregory Peck, The Law and Jake Wade (1958) with Robert Taylor, Ride a Crooked Trail (1958) with Audie Murphy and The Jayhawkers! (1959) opposite Jeff Chandler.
Amazingly, Silva landed on Ocean’s 11 when Sinatra spotted him in a convertible at a stop light on Doheny Drive and asked him to come to the studio the next day.
As the antihero Salvatore Giordano/Johnny Cool, he was paired with Elizabeth Montgomery, the soon-to-be wife of the director of the film, William Asher.
Silva was fluent in Italian and Spanish, which made him a natural for his European efforts, among them Il Boss, The Italian Connection (1972), Cry of a Prostitute (1974), Almost Human (1974), The Manhunt (1975), Poliziotti violenti (1976), Weapons of Death (1977) and Escape From the Bronx (1983).
Stateside, he kept busy in Green Mansions (1959), Cinderfella (1960), The Animals (1970), Love and Bullets (1979), Chained Heat (1983), Lust in the Dust (1984), Chuck Norris’ Code of Silence (1985), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) and The End of Violence (1997), and he was ruthless again as the voice of Bane in a pair of animated Batman series.
His last credit was as a boxing spectator in the 2001 Ocean’s 11 remake.
On Twitter, singer Deana Martin, daughter of the Rat Pack’s Dean Martin, called Silva “one of the nicest, kindest and most talented men I’ve had the pleasure of calling my friend.”
Silva was married to Ruth Earl — an actress-dancer who appeared with her identical twin sister, Jane, in a Vegas act and in such films as Irma la Douce and Damn Yankees! — from 1966-87, and they had two sons, Michael and Scott.
His sons wanted their dad’s social media accounts (henrysilvaofficial on Instagram and @MrHenrySilva on Twitter) “listed in his obituary” so fans could pay tribute.