Henry Silva was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 15, 1928. Of Sicilian and Spanish descent he grew up in Harlem and quit school when he was 13 years-old to attend drama classes, supporting himself as a dishwasher and waiter in a Manhattan hotel. By 1955, Silva felt ready to audition for the Actors Studio. He was accepted, one of only five successful applicants. When the Studio staged Michael V. Gazzo's play, A Hatful of Rain as a classroom project, it proved so successful that it was presented on Broadway, with students Ben Gazzara, Shelley Winters, Harry Guardino, along with Anthony Franciosa, Paul Richards and Silva, in key roles. Silva would also appear in the play's film version.
Moving to Hollywood, he played a succession of villains in films including “The Tall T” (1957), “The Bravados” (1958), “Green Mansions” (1969), and the original “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962). He played Roger Corneal, one of the 11 casino robbers in the 1960 Rat Pack caper film “Ocean's 11” (1960).
Silva had gradually been typecast in the role of heavies. Although he did play a comic role as one of the stepbrothers in the 1960 Jerry Lewis film “Cinderfella”, and appeared in starring roles in two filmed episodes of ‘The Outer Limits’. He also played heavies on television, such as a hitman in the episode ‘Better Bargain’ on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Other television roles included episodes of ‘The Untouchables’ an episode of Rod Serling's ‘Night Gallery’ and the episode "The Enemies" from the first season of ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’
In 1965, an Italian film producer made Silva an offer to star as a hero for a change and he moved his family overseas. Silva's turning-point picture was the Spaghetti western, “The Hills Run Red” (1966), which made him a hot box-office commodity in Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. Between 1966 and 1977 he starred or co-starred in at least 25 movies, the majority of which were mafia tales, Euro-westerns or police tales of some sort, where he normally played the villain or hitman, or an anti-hero.
Returning to the United States in the mid-1970s, he co-starred with Frank Sinatra in TV’s ‘Contract on Cherry Street’ (1977), then signed on as Buck Rogers' evil adversary “Killer Kane” in the TV movie ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ (1979)
In the 1980s and 1990s, he appeared as a drug-addicted hitman in Burt Reynolds' “Sharky's Machine” (1981), the villainous CIA agent Kurt Zagon in Steven Seagal's debut, “Above the Law” (1988), as a sinister mob hitman in “Dick Tracy” (1990) and providing the voice of the super-villain Bane in “Batman: The Animated Series” (1994) and “The New Batman Adventures” (1998). He also played the 'heavy' in Chuck Norris' movie “Code of Silence” (1985). Silva also starred as himself in a spoof of Ripley's Believe It Or Not-type shows in the comedy “Amazon Women on the Moon” (1987) for a segment titled Henry Silva's "Bullshit, or Not!" and again played himself in The 2001 version of “Ocean’s Eleven”. Silva appeared in Mike Malloy’s recent documentary “Eurocrime!” (2012).
Today we celebrate Henry Silva’s 85th birthday.
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