Actor Henry Silva's name probably never was on the tips of many tongues, but his face is unforgettable. I met him briefly more than 40 years ago when he came to Providence, on his own dime, to promote a movie, that would not fare well at the box office. I remembered him mostly for three films that are mentioned in the interview below.

He continued to work until 1999, making a token appearance two years after that in the remake of one of his earlier movies, "Ocean's Eleven." (He died in 2022; he was 95.)

He made his presence felt in several movies and television programs from the 1970s through the '90s, though none of his performances had the impact of his early efforts, particularly as Chunjin, the Korean scout who led Frank Sinatra's Army unit into an ambush in the 1962 version of "The Manchurian Candidate," then later turned up in New York City as a houseboy for the brainwashed ex-GI played by Laurence Harvey.

It was one of three films he made with Sinatra, which qualified him as an honorary member of The Rat Pack. (In addition to the two films already mentioned, Silva was featured in Sinatra's "Sergeants 3."

Providence Evening Bulletin, October 29, 1971


There was a hush when he walked into the office. He was taller than I expected (about six-feet-one, or seven inches higher than most actors I’ve met), but was just as cool in a light brown suit (with subtle stripes) and a quietly colorful tie. (Or, as Rex Reed might put it – the suit was butterscotch parfait, the tie was a tropical fruit salad,)

He gave me a quick once over – “What a creampuff!” he probably thought – then squinted through his yellow-tinted glasses and grunted an “Okay” when I suggested we conduct the interview in another room.

For those who might have seen him in “A Hatful of Rain,” the sight could have been dramatic. Her was Mother coming to collect from one of his junkies. And if the junkie didn’t pay, well, it would be the last thing the junkie wouldn’t do.

But Henry Silva had another reason to visit Providence last week. He was promoting his new film, “The Animals.”

“Listen, newspaper punk, Mother wants some publicity, and what Mother wants, Mother gets. Got that?”

Now that’s what the usual Silva character would have said. But the real Silva was a polite guy who became friendlier and more talkative as our interview continued.

“The Animals” gives Silva a rare opportunity to be the good guy. Or as good as any guy is in the Westerns they make nowadays. He plays an Apache who helps Michele Carey track down the outlaws who robbed and raped her.

“One of the most interesting things about the role is I only speak a few words,” said Silva. “Michele and I communicate mostly with our hands and eyes.”

These days it’s unusual for a star to go solo on a publicity tour. In Silva’s case there’s a logical reason. “I own a piece of the movie,” he said, with a slight smile. If he doesn’t promote the film, no one will. Such is life in the new Hollywood.

Silva’s background is written all over his face. He’s the only son of Jesus and Angeline Silva, natives of Puerto Rico, and he grew up in Harlem. He quit high school to work in a thread factory and later became a longshoreman. After that he made the abrupt switch to soda jerk at a Schrafft’s drugstore, where he fell in with what his old pals might have considered evil companions – a bunch of young actors

He got the bug, did summer stock, studied at the Actors Studio, did live TV dramas, and then received his biggest break – the role of the dope-pushing Mother in “A Hatful of Rain,” first on Broadway, then in the movie version.

Since then he has done many movies and television shows, most memorable of which are “Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” and his personal favorite, “Johnny Cool” (the first film that listed him as the star).

Until now, the only times he wasn’t a villain were in the eight movies he made in Europe. “Funny thing,” he said, “over here they see me as a bad guy; in Europe they see me as a hero.”

He enjoys bouncing back and forth across the Atlantic to work.

“But you have to learn two sets of rules,” he said, grinning as he recalled some of his experiences. “In Italy, for instance, they believe in the 24-hour work day and they try to get out of paying you. When the film is just about finished, the producer will come to you, crying real tears.

“ ‘Guessa what?’ he’ll say. ‘The boxa office justa wuza robbed. I’ma got no money to giva you’

“And if you’re not careful, they’ll gyp you. What I usually do is give them a hard luck story in return, the one about my mortgage payment being due the next day. Then I tell them I can’t finish the film, that I have to fly home to California that night.

“It never fails. I’ll be in my hotel room packing when the producer will come knocking on my door. ‘Guessa what? We justa caughtada thief!”