A Tale of Three Vlads

By Gwyn Lurie   |   April 12, 2022

This is the story of three Vlads. Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Volodymyr Palahniuk, whom you knew by his stage name: Jack Palance. I did not know until recently that Jack Palance died here in Montecito at the home of his daughter Holly. Nor did I know until fairly recently how much Holly Palance has contributed to this community as a journalist. Turns out there’s a lot I didn’t know about the Palances, their strong ties to Montecito… and to Ukraine.

The story I’m about to tell regarding Jack is timely and poignant for two reasons. The first is – up until two weeks ago – probably the most famous Academy Award acceptance speech was done by Mr. Palance when he won his Oscar for City Slickers in 1992. He got on stage and showed his physical might (and sense of humor) by proceeding to do one-armed push-ups right there in front of the cameras at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The other reason I’m talking about Jack Palance is – he was a proud Ukrainian – but also his story underlines just how long Putin has wanted to absorb that country.

Jack Palance was 72 when he finally won his Oscar in 1992, though he’d been nominated two times before over 45 years of acting. Before that, Palance had worked in mines, been a boxer, was a student at Stanford, and had been an understudy for Marlon Brando in the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Apparently when they were sparring one day, Palance accidentally broke Brando’s nose. That was unfortunate for Brando, but fortuitous for Palance, as it gave him the opportunity to acquit himself well in the role of Stanley Kowalski and get noticed by Hollywood. The rest is showbiz history.

Oftentimes when actors are in the later stages of their lives and careers, they use their notoriety to collect accolades and lifetime achievement awards, give endorsements, and their lives become one long victory lap. Cher goes on a farewell tour just about every other year. But this was not exactly true for Palance, who worked a lot both before and after his Oscar, not just as an actor, but as a poet! And supporting various philanthropies, especially Ukrainian ones. He worked with orphans in Chernobyl and he led the Hollywood Trident Foundation, a group of Ukrainians working in Hollywood who petitioned for fair elections in Ukraine in 2004. 

Enter Vladimir Putin. That same year, 2004, Russia invited Palance to receive a People’s Choice Award of a sort to be bestowed in Hollywood by a vague Russian-Ukrainian Federation. In fact, Russia had lured Palance to their propaganda ceremony under a false pretext. The award was really a straight up Russian award with no Ukrainian bent whatsoever. This may not have been the best strategy to try and hoodwink the famously outspoken Palance known for winning the Oscar then announcing to the world, “Billy Crystal, I crap bigger than him.” 

The Montecito Journal unearthed the epic story of what happened next at the Russian People’s Choice Awards and reached out to Jack’s daughter, Holly, for corroboration. Holly said the person most expert on what happened that night was someone named Peter Borisow, a close friend of Jack’s and also a fierce defender of Ukrainian sovereignty who had been a personal advisor to multiple Ukrainian prime ministers. 

As Borisow tells it, “Dustin Hoffman had just received an award and now it was Jack’s turn. But it became clear the event was pure propaganda assembled by the Russian Ministry of Culture, which Palance deduced quickly. So when it was time for Palance to receive his statuette, Jack instead got up and announced, ‘I’m not Russian, I’m Ukrainian. So, excuse me, but I don’t belong here.’ The crowd was stunned, then me and Jack and his brother had to take the long walk to the exit in this very big theater. You could hear a pin drop… and then we went out for sushi.”

We asked Borisow what Russia’s point might have been in their failed attempt to bestow this honor upon Palance. Borisow said it would have been a nice feather in Putin’s fur hat to get Palance, a Hollywood and American legend, to go along with the narrative that his achievements were actually tied to Russia and not Ukraine. Said Borisow, “It’s part of the larger Russian strategy called ‘unrestricted warfare’ wherein everything is weaponized against Russia’s targets, not just military weapons but there’s industrial warfare, economic warfare, control of various energy pipelines, and of course Putin has always been partial to cultural erasure.”  

According to Borisow, the dismantling of Ukraine has always been important to Putin. “There can be no Russian empire without Ukraine’s agricultural and mineral wealth. Ukraine is known as the bread basket of Europe and is incredibly fertile. They say in Ukraine that if you put a broomstick in the ground in winter, it will flower in spring.”

And why is Ukraine important to the United States? “It’s a bellwether,” says Borisow. “As goes Ukraine, so goes Europe. And as goes Europe so goes the rest of the world. Putin’s ultimate goal is to defeat the United States because the 20th century was widely known as the ‘American Century.’ As Putin sees it, the Russians have been a disbursed people that he is trying to (re)unify, and at the same time he is trying to disburse us.”

How could Putin possibly disburse the United States? According to Borisow, Putin has already had much success. “Russian agents like Maria Butina were proactive in funding and organizing the KKK affiliates who started the racial hate riots in Charlottesville, to give just one example.”

The Montecito Journal’s own Katherine Stewart recounted well in The New York Times the easy access Russian operatives have to many of our most influential politicians (Katherine Stewart, “What Was Maria Butina Doing at the National Prayer Breakfast?” New York Times, 7-18-2018).

“In service of his goals, Putin may not be able to make Russia stronger, but making America weaker can serve Putin just as well,” says Borisow. “He’s weakening us not just through our media and social media, but also in our divided universities, think tanks, elections, and politics. The issues don’t matter. For Putin it’s all about the fighting. Creating and exacerbating divisions in our society.” Vax/anti-vax. Mask vs. anti-mask. Team Chris Rock vs. Team Will Smith.  

“The U.S. has a choice. It can fight Putin on U.S. soil or on Ukrainian soil,” says Borisow. “It’s the greatest existential threat to the United States in its history. In earlier wars the oceans on both sides protected us, but cyber warfare knows no borders. In Europe, Russian funding of rabid hate together with manipulation of media and social media has produced startling results including Brexit and the Dutch referendum blocking Ukraine’s entry into the EU. Marine Le Pen’s racist party in France is openly funded by loans from a Russian bank.” (Further research shows this bank has deep ties to a Russian aircraft company which in turn supplies planes to Syria.) Sometimes Putin plays five or six chess boards all at once.  

On the other hand, sometimes Putin miscalculates. Russia seems to have miscalculated with Zelenskyy and Ukraine as it did with an earlier proud Ukrainian named Jack Palance nearly two decades previous. Or as his close friends and countrymen knew him, Volodymyr Palahniuk.  


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