Telly Savalas (January 21, 1924 – January 22, 1994) was a Greek-American actor. He was best known for his work on the Kojak television series, and for playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Savalas was born Aristotelis Savalas in Garden City, New York to Greek parents, Nicholas and Christina Savalas. When Savalas was only 8, though he was able to support the family, his very first job was delivering newspapers and constructed a shoeshine company out of wooden crates. After graduating from high school in 1942, he served in World War II after he dropped out of Columbia University, where he was studying psychology. He was honourably discharged with a Purple Heart disability. During the early 1950s, Savalas worked for ABC Radio and eventually became the executive producer of his own popular talk show, "Telly's Coffee House". It was not until he was in his thirties that he decided to turn to acting.
Telly was well known for being totally bald. Up until the mid-1960s, he had what his family termed a halo—a ring of curly hair along the back and sides of his head. He eventually decided to shave off the remaining hair when he began playing in movies. Telly maintained that style for the rest of his life.
Savalas has been married three times, he married his former college sweetheart Katherine Nicolaides in 1948, just before his father's passing that same year, that the couple produced a daughter Christina (b. 1950). As his first wife had discovered that he was thousands of dollars in debt, and fleeing from creditors at the same time, he moved back to his parents' house in 1957, thus breaking up the marriage with Katherine. While working at his own theater, The Garden City School of Acting Theater, in 1959, he met and fell in love with acting teacher, Marilyn Gardner, and the couple got married in 1960, the following year, where they produced 2 more daughters, Candice (b. 1961) & Penelope (b. 1963). After 9 years of marriage to Marilyn, he left his family in order for himself to travel to England to film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, in 1969, that he was about to make a choice between meeting Sally Adams or his family, and he wanted to meet Adams, which led to his divorce from Gardner in 1974. Savalas then became the stepfather to Adams' daughter Nicollette Sheridan, future actress of Knots Landing and Desperate Housewives fame (born November 21, 1963), and later he and Adams had a son, Nicholas (b. 1973). Finally, in 1977, Savalas met his third and final wife, Julie Hovland, a travel agent from Minnesota, who was visiting with Savalas on the set of Kojak, and began dating, during and after the series, for 7 years, and the couple got married in 1984, and for the last time, the couple had 2 more children, a son, Christian (b. 1985) and a daughter, Ariana (b. 1989), and she even took care of him just before his death, after he sought treatment too late from doctors.
In the early 1990s, Savalas contracted bladder cancer, ultimately succumbing to the disease on January 22, 1994, only a day after he turned 70, in Universal City, California. He was interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Prior to being a successful movie star on the big screen, Savalas became one of the most charismatic and beloved character actors of all time during the late 1950s and the 1960s, where he made his very first guest-starring role on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theater, in fact, he appeared on the show, twice. He also made 54 more guest-appearances between 1959-1967 in most of these shows, Naked City, King of Diamonds, The Aquanauts, The Untouchables, Burke's Law, The Fugitive, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The F.B.I., among many others. He also had a recurring role as Brother Hendrickson on the popular crime drama series, 77 Sunset Strip, as his career already launched.
Undoubtedly Savalas' most famous role was that of the tough detective Kojak on television. Lt. Theo Kojak was a bald New York City detective who had a fondness for lollipops and whose trademark line was, "Who loves ya, baby?" Reportedly the lollipop gimmick was added in lieu of having the character smoke, a habit that fell out of vogue among TV series in the 1970s. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama series, two years in a row, but won the Emmy in 1974. He was also nominated for Golden Globes, four times in a year, and won between 1975 and 1976. In 1974, prior to starring on Kojak, he also became a singer. In 1978, after a 5 season run on the air, CBS has decided to cancel the show due to low ratings.
Telly portrayed Kojak in the following shows;
- The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973) (TV) The pilot for the Kojak TV series.
- Kojak (1973–78) TV Series
- Kojak: The Belarus File (1985) (TV)
- Kojak: The Price of Justice (1987) (TV)
- Kojak: Ariana (1989) (TV)
- Kojak: Fatal Flaw (1989) (TV)
- Kojak: None So Blind (1990) (TV)
- Kojak: It's Always Something (1990) (TV)
- Kojak: Flowers for Matty (1990) (TV)
Telly's brother George played the recurring role of Detective Stavros. Newcomer from Queens, Kevin Dobson, played the role of Kojak's trusted partner, Det. Bobby Crocker, and would be capable of helping out bad guys in and on the scene with Savalas. Both Savalas & Dobson would later be reunited in the 1990 movie Kojak: It's Always Something where Kevin's character played a lawyer, instead of a police officer.
His silver screen career usually involved him being cast as the quintessential villain in such films as: Mad Dog Coll (1961), Cape Fear (1962), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Man from the Diner's Club (1963)The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Battle of the Bulge (1965), Genghis Khan (1965), Beau Geste (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Scalphunters (1968), The Assassination Bureau (1969), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Land Raiders (1969), Crooks and Coronets (1969), MacKenna's Gold (1969), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Violent City (1970), A Town Called Hell (1971), Pancho Villa (1972), Scenes from a Murder (1972), Horror Express (1973), Lisa and the Devil (1973), A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (1973), Inside Out (1975), Escape to Athena (1979), and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979).
Other movie roles that Savalas didn't play the quintessential villains were: Love is a Ball (1963), The New Interns (1964), The Slender Thread (1965), Sol Madrid (1968), Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968), and Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971).