Aristotelis "Telly" Savalas (January 21, 1924 – January 22, 1994) was an American actor and singer whose career spanned four decades of television, noted for his resonant voice and his bald head. He also released the one-hit wonder song, "If?," which he introduced in the UK in 1975.
Savalas's career began in films in 1961. His movie credits include The Young Savages (1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Battle of the Bulge (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Scalphunters (1968), supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), Lisa and the Devil (1973), Inside Out (1975), and Escape to Athena (1979). He then starred as television's Kojak (1973–78), co-starring his brother George Savalas. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).
Telly Savalas, 1973
January 21, 1924
Garden City, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 22, 1994 (aged 70)|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California|
|Alma mater||Columbia University|
(m. 1948; div. 1957)
(m. 1960; div. 1974)
(m. 1984; his death 1994)
|Partner(s)||Sally Adams (1969–78)|
|Children||6 including Ariana Savalas|
The second of five children, Telly Savalas was born Aristotelis Savalas on January 21, 1924, in Garden City, New York, to Greek American parents Christina (née Kapsalis; 1904–88), a New York City artist who was a native of Sparta, and Nick Savalas [Tsavalas] (1904–48), a Greek restaurant owner. One set of grandparents originated from Ierakas, Greece, in the Peloponnese. Savalas and his brother Gus sold newspapers and shined shoes to help support the family.
He initially spoke only Greek when he entered grade school, but learned English. He attended Cobbett Junior High School in Lynn, Massachusetts. He won a spelling bee there in 1934, though through an oversight he did not receive his prize until 1991, when the Boston Herald newspaper and local school principal decided to award it to him.
Savalas entered Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, New York, and graduated in 1940. After graduation from high school he worked as a lifeguard, but on one occasion was unsuccessful at rescuing a man from drowning, an event that would haunt Savalas for the remainder of his life. When he entered Columbia University School of General Studies, Savalas took courses including English language, radio, and psychology, graduating in 1948.
In 1950 Savalas hosted a radio show called The Coffeehouse in New York City.
Savalas began as an executive director and then senior director of the news special events at ABC. He then became an executive producer for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, where he gave Howard Cosell his first job in television.
Savalas did not consider acting as a career until asked if he could recommend an actor who could do a European accent. He did but the friend could not go. Savalas went to cover for his friend and ended up being cast on "And Bring Home a Baby," an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre in January 1958. He appeared on two more episodes of this same series in 1959 and 1960, one acting alongside a young Sydney Pollack. He was also in a version of The Iceman Cometh.
Savalas quickly became in much demand as a guest star on TV shows, appearing in Sunday Showcase, Diagnosis: Unknown, Dow Hour of Great Mysteries (an adaptation of The Cat and the Canary), Naked City (alongside Claude Rains), The Witness (playing Lucky Luciano in one episode and Al Capone in another), The United States Steel Hour, and The Aquanauts.
Savalas made his film debut in Mad Dog Coll (1961), playing a cop.
Savalas returned to guesting on TV series such as The New Breed, King of Diamonds, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Detectives, Ben Casey, The Untouchables, and Cain's Hundred. He appeared in a short film, The Sin of Jesus (1961).
Savalas was a private detective in Cape Fear (1962), directed by J. Lee Thompson. He was reunited with Frankenheimer and Lancaster for Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), one of his most acclaimed performances. He followed it playing a doctor in The Interns (1962).
Savalas guest starred on 77 Sunset Strip, The Twilight Zone (the episode "Living Doll" ), Channing, Arrest and Trial, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Breaking Point, Kraft Suspense Theatre (several times, once directed by Pollack), The Rogues, and Burke's Law.
He had a supporting role in box-office flop Battle of the Bulge (1965) and guest-starred on The Virginian, Combat!, The Fugitive, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (episodes released as The Karate Killers), The F.B.I., and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. He also played the villainous sergeant in Beau Geste (1966).
He guest-starred on the TV series Garrison's Gorillas and Cimarron Strip, then focused on features. He did an action film directed by Brian Hutton, Sol Madrid (1968), then did a Western with Lancaster and Pollack, The Scalphunters (1968).
Savalas was in two comedies, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968), one of his favorite roles, and The Assassination Bureau (1969) and did an all-star action film for Thompson, Mackenna's Gold (1969). He attributed his success to "his complete ability to be himself."
Savalas had his first lead role in a film in Crooks and Coronets (1969), a British crime comedy. More widely seen was the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), where Savalas played Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
He did a production of Man and Boy for British TV in 1971, and had lead roles in Clay Pigeon (1971), A Town Called Bastard (1971), Steel Wreath (1971), a TV film with Sally Field, and the Italian actioner Crime Boss(1972).
He had the lead in a series of European films: L'assassino . . . è al telefono (1972), an Italian giallo; Pancho Villa (1972), playing the title role in a Spanish spaghetti Western; A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (1972), another Western, this time with James Coburn; and Senza ragione (1973), an Italian thriller.
"I had worked my way up to star billing," he later said, "when the bottom dropped out of the movie business. I could have stayed in Europe and made Italian movies but I discovered the big difference between an Italian and American movie is that in the American movie you get paid."
Savalas first played Detective Kojak in the TV movie The Marcus–Nelson Murders (CBS, 1973), which was based on the real-life Career Girls Murder case. Savalas's character was named Theo Kojak in his first appearance.
Lt. Theodore "Theo" Kojak was a bald New York City detective with a fondness for lollipops and whose tagline was "Who loves ya, baby?" (He also liked to say, "Everybody should have a little Greek in them.") Although the lollipop gimmick was added in order to indulge his sweet tooth, Savalas also smoked heavily onscreen—cigarettes, cigarillos and cigars—throughout the first season's episodes. The lollipops, which Savalas later admitted had given him three cavities, were also part of an (unsuccessful) effort by Kojak (and Savalas himself) to curb his smoking. The critic Clive James explained the lead actor's appeal as Kojak: "Telly Savalas can make bad slang sound like good slang and good slang sound like lyric poetry. It isn't what he is, so much as the way he talks, that gets you tuning in."
David Shipman later wrote: "Kojak was sympathetic to outcasts and ruthless with social predators. The show maintained a high quality to the end, mixing tension with some laughs and always anxious to tackle civic issues, one of its raisons d’etre in the first place. It was required viewing in Britain every Saturday evening for eight years. To almost everyone everywhere Kojak means Savalas and vice versa, but to Savalas himself the series was merely an interval, albeit a long one, in a distinguished career."
Savalas was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series two years in succession, winning the Emmy in 1974. He was also nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Drama Series from 1975 to 1978, winning twice, in 1975 and 1976. His younger brother George played the regular role of Detective Stavros—a sensitive, wild-haired, quiet, comedic foil to Kojak's street-wise humor in an otherwise dark dramatic TV series.
During the series' run, Savalas also starred in the films Inside Out (1975) and The Diamond Mercenaries (1976) and had a support part in Capricorn One (1977) for Lew Grade. He wrote, directed, and appeared in a thriller Beyond Reason (1977 film) (1977, not released until 1985).
In 1978, after five seasons and 118 episodes, CBS canceled the show because of low ratings. Savalas was unhappy about the show's demise, but he got the chance to reprise the Kojak persona in several television films.
After the series' cancellation, Savalas did Escape to Athena (1978) and a cameo in The Muppet Movie (1979) for Grade. He had a support part in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) and The French Atlantic Affair (1980) and the lead in Border Cop (1980).
Savalas reprised his role of Kojak in a TV movie, Kojak: The Belarus File (1985).
Savalas was one of many names in Alice in Wonderland (1985), then did Kojak: The Price of Justice (1987). He did a Dirty Dozen sequel, The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987), playing an entirely new character.
Savalas guest-starred in The Equalizer and J.J. Starbuck and was in Faceless (1987), The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988), The Hollywood Detective (1989), Kojak: Fatal Flaw (1989), Kojak: Ariana (1989), Kojak: None So Blind (1990), Kojak: It's Always Something (1990), and Kojak: Flowers for Matty (1990).
He did an Australian miniseries, Rose Against the Odds (1991).
As a singer, Savalas had some chart success. His spoken word version of Bread's "If" produced by Snuff Garrett reached #1 in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland in March 1975, and his sung version of Don Williams's "Some Broken Hearts Never Mend" topped the charts in Switzerland in February 1981. He worked with composer and producer John Cacavas on many albums, including Telly (1974) and Who Loves Ya, Baby (1976).
In the late 1970s Savalas narrated three UK travelogues titled Telly Savalas Looks at Portsmouth, Telly Savalas Looks at Aberdeen, and Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham. These were produced by Harold Baim and were examples of quota quickies, which were then part of a requirement that cinemas in the United Kingdom show a set percentage of British produced films. He also hosted the 1989 video UFOs and Channeling. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Savalas appeared in commercials for the Players' Club Gold Card. In 1982 along with Bob Hope and Linda Evans, he participated in the "world premiere" television ad introducing Diet Coke to Americans. On October 28, 1987, Savalas hosted Return to the Titanic Live, a two-hour television special broadcast from Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris.
In the late 1980s Savalas guest-starred on an episode of The Equalizer, which was produced by James McAdams, who had produced Kojak. He played a terrorist turned monk in the episode titled "Blood and Wine." He has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1999 TV Guide ranked him number 18 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list.
Savalas was married three times. In 1948 after his father's death from bladder cancer, Savalas married his college sweetheart, Katherine Nicolaides. Daughter Christina, named after his mother, was born in 1950. In 1957 Katherine filed for divorce. She urged him to move back to his mother's house during that same year. While Savalas was going broke, he founded the Garden City Theater Center in his native Garden City. While working there he met Marilyn Gardner, a theater teacher. They married in 1960. Marilyn gave birth to daughter Penelope in 1961. A second daughter, Candace, was born in 1963. They divorced in 1974, after a long separation.
In January 1969, while working on the movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Savalas met actress Sally Adams (billed as Dani Sheridan, one of Blofeld's "Angels of Death"), a small-time actress 25 years his junior whose daughter from a previous relationship is Nicollette Sheridan. Savalas later moved in with Sally, who gave birth to their son Nicholas Savalas on February 24, 1973. Although Savalas and Sally Adams never legally married, she went by the name Sally Savalas. They stopped living together in December 1978; she filed a palimony lawsuit against him in 1980, demanding support not only for herself and their son, but also for Nicollette.
In 1977, during the last season of Kojak, he met Julie Hovland, a travel agent from Minnesota. They were married in 1984 and had two children together, Christian and Ariana. Julie and Telly remained married until his death. Christian Savalas is an entrepreneur, singer, and songwriter. Ariana Savalas is an actress and singer/songwriter. Julie Savalas is an inventor and artist.
Telly Savalas held a degree in psychology and was a world-class poker player who finished 21st at the main event in the 1992 World Series of Poker, as well as a motorcycle racer and lifeguard. His other hobbies and interests included golfing, swimming, reading romantic books, watching football, traveling, collecting luxury cars, and gambling. He loved horse racing and bought a racehorse with movie director and producer Howard W. Koch. Naming the horse Telly's Pop, it won several races in 1975 including the Norfolk Stakes and Del Mar Futurity.
In his capacity as producer for Kojak, he gave many stars their first break, as Burt Lancaster did for him. He was considered by those who knew him to be a generous, graceful, compassionate man. He was also a strong contributor to his Greek Orthodox roots through the Saint Sophia and Saint Nicholas cathedrals in Los Angeles and was the sponsor of bringing electricity in the 1970s to his ancestral home, Ierakas, Greece. Savalas was also Jennifer Aniston's godfather.
Savalas had a minor physical handicap in that his left index finger was deformed. This deformed digit was often indicated on screen; Kojak episode "Conspiracy of Fear" in which a close-up of Savalas holding his chin in his hand clearly shows the permanently bent finger. As a philanthropist and philhellene, Savalas supported many Hellenic causes and made friends in major cities around the world. In Chicago, Telly often met with Illinois state senators Steven G. Nash and Samuel Maragos, also Greeks, as well as Greek millionaire Simeon Frangos, who owned the Athens North nightclub and the Flying Carpet Hotel near O'Hare Airport.
After Savalas came back to reprise his role on Kojak in the 1980s, he began to lose close relatives. His brother George Savalas, who played Detective Stavros on the original Kojak series, died in 1985 of leukemia at age 60. His mother Christina, who had always been his best friend, supporter, and devoted parent, died in 1988. Later that year, Savalas was diagnosed with transitional cell cancer of the bladder. While undergoing treatment, he continued to act, including a recurring role on The Commish.
Savalas died on January 22, 1994, just one day after his 70th birthday, of complications of cancer of the bladder and prostate at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel in Universal City, California. He had lived at the Sheraton in Universal City for 20 years, becoming such a fixture at the hotel bar that it was renamed Telly's. Savalas was interred at the George Washington section of Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. The funeral, held in the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, was attended by his third wife, Julie, and his brother Gus. His first two wives, Katherine and Marilyn, also attended with their own children. The mourners included Angie Dickinson, Nicollette Sheridan, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Sorbo, Sally Adams, Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles, and several of Savalas' Kojak co-stars – Kevin Dobson, Dan Frazer, and Vince Conti.
His silver screen career usually had him cast as the villain in such films as:
Other movie roles where Savalas played the hero were:
In 1977, he directed, wrote, produced, and starred in Beyond Reason, playing a psychiatrist having an affair with a patient, but after sitting on the shelf for years, it ended up going directly to cable outlets and video shelves.
A Town Called Bastard (also known as A Town Called Hell on DVD and blu-ray) is a 1971 British/Spanish international co-production spaghetti Western. The story concerns a vengeful widow (Stella Stevens) who returns to a small town presided over by a priest (Robert Shaw) and a sadistic Mexican outlaw (Telly Savalas). Violence erupts when a brutal army Colonel (Martin Landau) arrives in search of an elusive rebel leader. The film was retitled A Town Called Hell for US release as the word "bastard" was thought offensive.Beyond Reason (1977 film)
Beyond Reason is an independent film directed, starring, and written by Telly Savalas that was produced in 1977. Originally titled Mati, after the title character Dr. Nicholas Mati, the film focused on a psychiatrist who struggles with his grip on reality. Diana Muldaur also starred in the film as Elaine Mati, the doctor's concerned wife. The film was not released theatrically, and became available on home media in 1985.Clay Pigeon (film)
Clay Pigeon is a 1971 American action film directed by Lane Slate and Tom Stern and written by Ronald Buck, Jack Gross Jr. and Buddy Ruskin. The film stars Tom Stern, Telly Savalas, Robert Vaughn, John Marley, Burgess Meredith and Ivan Dixon. The film was released on August 1971, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.Crooks and Coronets
Crooks and Coronets is a 1969 British crime comedy film and/or heist movie written and directed by Jim O'Connolly. It starred Telly Savalas, Edith Evans, Warren Oates, Cesar Romero and Harry H. Corbett. The film was renamed as Sophie's Place for the US market.Genghis Khan (1965 film)
Genghis Khan is a 1965 Technicolor film depicting the life and conquests of the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan in Panavision. It was released in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1965 by Columbia Pictures, it was directed by Henry Levin and featured Omar Sharif, who that same year starred in another epic, Doctor Zhivago. The film also included James Mason, Stephen Boyd, Eli Wallach, Françoise Dorléac and Telly Savalas.
A 70 mm version of the film was released by CCC Film in West Germany. It was filmed in Yugoslavia.Johnny Cool
Johnny Cool is a 1963 American neo noir crime film directed by William Asher based on the novel The Kingdom of Johnny Cool by John McPartland which stars Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery. Produced in part by Peter Lawford, Johnny Cool features a cast that also includes Mort Sahl, Telly Savalas, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, and Sammy Davis, Jr., who also sings the theme song.Killer Force
Killer Force, also known as The Diamond Mercenaries, is a 1976 thriller film directed by Val Guest and starring Telly Savalas, Peter Fonda and Christopher Lee. It was a co-production between the Republic of Ireland, Switzerland and the United States and was filmed primarily in South Africa. Its plot is about a gang of criminals who plan a major robbery of a diamond mine.Kojak
Kojak is an American action crime drama television series starring Telly Savalas as the title character, New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak. Taking the time slot of the popular Cannon series, it aired on CBS from 1973 to 1978.
In 1999 TV Guide ranked Theo Kojak number 18 on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list.Mind Twister
Mind Twister is a 1994 American erotic thriller film directed by Fred Olen Ray, written by Mark Thomas McGee, and produced by Luigi Cingolani and Smart Egg Pictures.
After the profitable release of his previous erotic thriller Inner Sanctum, Ray saw potential for the genre in the direct-to-video market and helmed the production of a number of these films during the early-to-mid 1990s. Mind Twister debuted theatrically for distributors at the 1993 American Film Market. It was eventually picked up and released by VCI Home Video in early 1994. Mind Twister is one of the final acting roles for Telly Savalas before his death the same year. The movie received an overall below-average response from critics.Mongo's Back in Town
Mongo's Back in Town is a 1971 crime television film, directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, with Telly Savalas, Joe Don Baker and Martin Sheen. It was released in some regions under the title Steel Wreath.Pancho Villa (film)
Pancho Villa is a 1972 American, British and Spanish spaghetti western film directed by Eugenio Martín. The film features Telly Savalas, Clint Walker, Chuck Connors and Anne Francis. Shot in Spain, this "brawling spectacle" has an often-overlooked light-comedy satirical facet, which to this day often confuses the viewers. The storyline was developed during the Vietnam War and reflected certain antiwar sentiments in an American society.Savalas
Savalas is a surname of Greek origin that may refer to:
Ariana Savalas (born 1987), American musician, daughter of Telly Savalas
George Savalas (1924–1985), American actor, brother of Telly Savalas
Telly Savalas (1922–1994), American actorSol Madrid
Sol Madrid is a 1968 film directed by Brian G. Hutton and filmed in Acapulco. It was released in the UK as The Heroin Gang. The MGM film starred *David McCallum, Stella Stevens, Telly Savalas and Ricardo Montalban with John Cassavetes being replaced by Rip Torn prior to filming. It was the final film of Paul Lukas.Some Broken Hearts Never Mend
"Some Broken Hearts Never Mend" is a song written by Wayland Holyfield, and recorded by American country music artist Don Williams. It was released in January 1977 as the first single from the album Visions. "Some Broken Hearts Never Mend" was Don Williams' sixth number one on the country chart. The single stayed at number one for a single week and spent a total of 12 weeks within the top 40.The song was also an international hit for Telly Savalas. It topped the Swiss charts for two weeks, and peaked at No. 2 in Austria and No. 4 in Netherlands.The Bellamy Brothers covered the song in 1999 in a reggae style for the album Reggae Cowboy. This version was also a single, but did not chart.Sonny and Jed
Sonny and Jed (Italian: La banda J. & S. - Cronaca criminale del Far-West, lit. "The Band of J. & S. - Criminal Chronicle of the Far West") is a 1972 Italian Spaghetti Western film about a sheriff's (Sheriff Franciscus, played by Telly Savalas) relentless effort to stop a robber (Jed, played by Tomas Milian) and his girlfriend (Sonny, played by Susan George). The film was directed by Sergio Corbucci and is noted for its music, scored by Ennio Morricone.The Assassination Bureau
The Assassination Bureau Limited (a.k.a. The Assassination Bureau in the United States) is a 1969 UK black comedy adventure film in Technicolor, produced by Michael Relph, directed by Basil Dearden, that stars Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, and Curd Jürgens. It is based on an unfinished novel, The Assassination Bureau, Ltd by Jack London. Unlike London's novel, which is set in the United States, the film is set in Europe. The film was released in the U.S. by Paramount Pictures.The Scalphunters
The Scalphunters is a 1968 American western film starring Burt Lancaster, Ossie Davis and Telly Savalas. The film was directed by Sydney Pollack, with the score written by Elmer Bernstein. Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film. Filming took place in Sierra de Órganos National Park in the town of Sombrerete, MexicoThe Slender Thread
The Slender Thread is a 1965 American drama film starring Anne Bancroft and Sidney Poitier. It was the first feature-length film directed by Academy Award-winning director, producer and actor Sydney Pollack.
Poitier portrays Alan, a college student who is volunteering at Seattle's then-new Crisis Clinic, a crisis call center. Shortly after beginning his night shift, Alan receives a call from a woman named Inga (Bancroft) who says she has just taken a lethal dose of pills and wants to talk to someone before she dies. The story line follows the efforts of Alan, a psychiatrist (Telly Savalas) and a detective (Ed Asner) to locate Inga and her husband (Steven Hill). Various flashback scenes depict the events that led Inga to make the attempt on her life.
The film was inspired by a Life magazine article by Shana Alexander about actual events and partially shot on location in Seattle, Washington. The film offers an opening tracking shot of aerial Seattle circa 1965.
This movie is noted for the physical tracing of the call to find Inga (Bancroft) before she dies. Throughout the movie, the call is traced by hand through several electro-mechanical telephone central office switches which leads to the hotel where Inga was staying (originally the Hyatt House, now demolished) near the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.Violent City
Violent City (Italian: Città violenta), also known as The Family, is a 1970 Italian-French film directed by Sergio Sollima and starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland and Telly Savalas. Set and shot in the city of New Orleans, the film is an urban crime thriller with a plot of hitman revenge.