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Honoring Legendary Chicago Actor Jack Wallace

 Jack Wallace was a born performer who fell into acting by chance. One hot summer day in 1969, Jack was walking past an open door at 2356 North Lincoln Avenue when he heard angry cursing and yelling inside the ramshackle storefront. He went in to see what was going on, thinking he might have to break up a fight. He found actors rehearsing a play. The woman in charge, June Pyskacek, asked Jack if he was there to audition. He was out looking for work, any kind of work, so he said Yes not knowing that he was obeying the classic Second City improv rule:  Say yes to everything on stage. Jack was hired on the spot. He never looked back and he never had to take another roofing job again.

June needed a hip, catchy name for her startup theater, destined to be a legendary performance space. Jack s father spent time in Southern Illinois working as a coal miner. Jack suggested Kingston Mines and the name stuck.
Jack Wallace s acting career jump-started early when he got the lead role of McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at the Eleventh Street Theater in Chicago in 1973, earning him rave reviews long before the movie with that other smiling Jack came out in 1975.  During the run of the play he was a guest on Kup s popular television talk show. A fellow guest, a big time Hollywood movie producer, was so impressed by Jack’s buoyant, larger-than-life personality that he cast Jack in a Charles Bronson movie on the air while they were chatting. The movie, Jack s first of many, was Death Wish and the producer was Dino De Laurentiis.
Soon after that, Jack Wallace was invited by artistic director Stuart Gordon to join the Organic Theater acting troupe. Talent spotting was among Stuart Gordon’s many skills. The Organic was a prodigiously gifted group that included Joe Mantegna, Dennis Franz, Tom Towles, William J. Norris, Meshach Taylor, Andre Robin De Shields, Bryan Hickey, Keith Szarabajka and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, all of whom were young and unknown at the time but went on to illustrious careers.  Jack played Pap, Huck s father, in the Organic play Huck Finn Parts I & II in 1976, a physically demanding role that had him swinging from a chandelier.
Jack has appeared in every movie David Mamet has directed, twelve so far, and in most of his plays. Jack was in the ensemble cast of Glengarry Glen Ross in New York. That 1984 production, which earned Joe Mantegna the Tony Award for Best Actor and David Mamet the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was the hottest ticket on Broadway that year. One memorable moment of many stands out for all of them:  Just as Joe was delivering the electrifying first act curtain speech, a bravura soliloquy filled with precisely timed pauses, a Mamet trademark, he glanced down for a split second and realized:  That dapper, older gentleman with the wry smile front row center is Cary Grant.
David Mamet is a resident of Los Angeles who remains fiercely loyal to the same group of Chicago actors he has worked with for decades like Jack Wallace. When Glengarry was about to open in NYC, he posted a private note backstage for the all-male ensemble cast to read on the night the critics were seeing it. It read in part:
Remember, gentlemen, we are guests in this town.
Jack was close friends with beloved Chicago-centric actors Ron Dean and Danny Goldring. He married his longtime soulmate and best friend, Margot Wallace. Jack Wallace has over one hundred acting credits in film and television but he got his start in the glory days of Chicago theater—A Golden Age when Chicagoans were making history by bending the rules and reinventing the art form.  Jack never lost his Chicago Mojo. I said about him often: You can take Jack out of Chicago but you can never take Chicago out of Jack.
Phillip Koch produced and Steve Elkins wrote and directed Medusa Challenger, a dramatic film starring Jack Wallace and Joe Mantegna about two flower sellers on Lake Shore Drive.  The film won two Chicago Emmy Awards after it was broadcast on PBS WTTW in 1984. The film streams on YouTube and is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the American Film Institute.



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Photographed at Second City in Chicago
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