Lee Van Cleef (January 9, 1925 – December 16, 1989) was an American film actor who appeared mostly in Western and action pictures. His sharp features and piercing eyes led to his casting as a villain in scores of films as in The Good The Bad and the Ugly, though in later years he was often a film's protagonist, such as with his co-lead role as a former colonel in For a Few Dollars More.
Van Cleef was born Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef, Jr. in Somerville, New Jersey, the son of Marion Levinia (née Van Fleet) and Clarence LeRoy Van Cleef, Sr. both of Dutch ancestry. Van Cleef served in the United States Navy aboard minesweepers and subchasers during World War II and became an actor after a brief career as an accountant.
His first acting experiences were on stage, including a small role in the original Broadway production of Mister Roberts. His first film was the classic Western High Noon, in which he played a villain. He also had a bit part as the sharpshooter in the climax of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms around the same time. In 1956 he co-starred with Peter Graves in the B-grade science fiction movie It Conquered the World.
In addition to Westerns and the science fiction films, two of his early major roles were in noir films, Kansas City Confidential of 1952 and The Big Combo of 1955. Both have attained a status as classic noir films of the 1950s and Van Cleef's roles, though as secondary characters and villains, were prominent and complex.
Van Cleef appeared six times between 1951 and 1955 as Burt Tanner on the children's western The Adventures of Kit Carson, starring Bill Williams. In 1954, he appeared as Jesse James in the Jim Davis's syndicated series Stories of the Century. He played different minor characters on four episodes of ABC's The Rifleman between 1959 and 1962 and twice on ABC's Tombstone Territory. He appeared with Chuck Connors and Pippa Scott in the 1960 episode "Trial by Fear" of CBS's The DuPont Show with June Allyson.
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