Ben Gazzara

Biagio Anthony Gazzarra (August 28, 1930 – February 3, 2012), known as Ben Gazzara, was an American film, stage, and television actor and director. His best known films include Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Voyage of the Damned (1976), Inchon (1981), Road House (1989), The Big Lebowski (1998), Buffalo '66 (1998), Happiness (1998), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Summer of Sam (1999), Dogville (2003) and Paris, je t'aime (2006). He was a recurring collaborator with John Cassavetes, working with him on Husbands (1970), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Opening Night (1977).

As the star of the television series Run for Your Life (1965–1968), Gazzarra was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards and two Emmy Awards. He won his first, and only, Emmy Award for his role in the television film Hysterical Blindness (2002).

Ben Gazzara
Ben Gazarra - still
Photo circa 1960s
Biagio Anthony Gazzarra

August 28, 1930
DiedFebruary 3, 2012 (aged 81)
New York City, U.S.
EducationCity College of New York
Alma materThe New School,
Actors Studio
Years active1953–2012
Louise Erickson
(m. 1951; div. 1957)

Janice Rule
(m. 1961; div. 1979)

Elke Krivat (m. 1982)

Early life

Gazzara was born in New York City, the son of Italian immigrants Angelina (née Cusumano) and Antonio Gazzarra, a laborer and carpenter, each of Sicilian origin – Angelina from Castrofilippo and Antonio from Canicattì in the province of Agrigento.[1] Gazzara grew up in New York's Kips Bay neighborhood; he lived on East 29th Street and participated in the drama program at Madison Square Boys and Girls Club located across the street.[2] He attended New York City's Stuyvesant High School, but finally graduated from Saint Simon Stock in the Bronx.[3] Years later, he said that the discovery of his love for acting saved him from a life of crime during his teen years.[4]

He went to City College of New York to study electrical engineering. After two years, he relented. He took classes in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with the influential German director Erwin Piscator and afterward joined the Actors Studio.


Early career

Gazzara guest starred on shows like Treasury Men in Action and Danger.

He received acclaim for his off-Broadway performance in End as a Man in 1953. The production was transferred to Broadway and ran until 1954.

In 1954, Gazzara (having modified his original surname from "Gazzarra") made several appearances on NBC's legal drama Justice, based on case studies from the Legal Aid Society of New York. He also guest starred on shows such as Medallion Theatre, The United States Steel Hour.

Broadway success

Gazzara became a Broadway sensation when he created the role of Brick in Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1955–56) opposite Barbara Bel Geddes, directed by Elia Kazan, although he lost out to Paul Newman when the film version was cast.

He followed it with another long run in A Hatful of Rain (1956)

Film work

He joined other Actors Studio members in the 1957 film The Strange One produced by Sam Spiegel.

He had a Broadway flop with The Night Circus (1958) and continued to guest star on shows like Playhouse 90, Kraft Theatre, Armchair Theatre and The DuPont Show of the Month.

His second film was a high-profile performance as a soldier on trial for avenging his wife's rape in Otto Preminger's courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder (1959).

Gazzara told Charlie Rose in 1998 that he went from being mainly a stage actor who often would turn up his nose at film roles in the mid-1950s to, much later, a ubiquitous character actor who turned very little down. "When I became hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers," he said. "I won't tell you the pictures I turned down because you'll say, 'You are a fool,' and I was a fool."

He went to Italy to make a comedy The Passionate Thief (1960) with Anna Magnani and Totò.

Back in the US he did a TV movie Cry Vengeance! ((1961) and was second billed in The Young Doctors (1961).

He starred in Convicts 4 (1962).

He returned to Italy to make The Captive City (1962) with David Niven.

Gazzara was in the 1963 Actors Studio production of Strange Interlude on Broadway.

Television star

Ben Gazzara - Oct 30 2009.jpeg
Gazzara at premiere of Looking for Palladin, New York City, October 30, 2009

Gazzara became well known in several television series, beginning with Arrest and Trial, which ran from 1963 to 1964 on ABC.

He also appeared in the TV special A Carol for Another Christmas (1964) and had a short Broadway run in A Traveller without Luggage in 1964. He also guest starred on Kraft Suspense Theatre.

Gazzara was the male lead in A Rage to Live (1965) with Suzanne Pleshette.

He gained fame in the TV series Run for Your Life which ran from 1965 to 1968 on NBC, in which he played a terminally ill man trying to get the most out of the last two years of his life. For his work in the series, Gazzara received two Emmy nominations for "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series" and three Golden Globe nominations for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama."[5][6]

When the series ended Gazzara had a cameo in If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) and a lead in the wartime action film The Bridge at Remagen (1969).

John Cassavetes

Some of the actor's most formidable characters were those he created with his friend John Cassavetes in the 1970s. They collaborated for the first time on Cassavetes's film Husbands (1970), in which he appeared alongside Peter Falk and Cassavetes himself.

Gazzara starred in a TV movie, Pursuit (1972), the directorial debut of Michael Crichton. He also made the TV movies When Michael Calls (1972), Fireball Forward (1972), and The Family Rico (1972).

He made The Sicilian Connection (1972) in Italy, and did a science fiction film The Neptune Factor (1973). There were more TV films You'll Never See Me Again (1973) and Maneater (1973).

He starred in the television miniseries QB VII (1974), which won six primetime Emmy Awards. The six-and-a-half hour series was based on a book by Leon Uris and co-starred Anthony Hopkins, then played gangster Al Capone in the biographical film Capone (1975). Cassevetes was in the support cast.

Gazzara appeared on Broadway in Hughie (1975) then worked again for Cassavetes as director in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), in which Gazzara took the leading role of the hapless strip-joint owner, Cosmo Vitelli. He starred in an action movie, High Velocity (1976) and was one of many stars in Voyage of the Damned (1976).

Gazzarra returned to Broadway for a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Colleen Dewhurst in 1976.

A year later, he starred in yet another Cassavetes-directed movie, Opening Night, as stage director Manny Victor, who struggles with the mentally unstable star of his show, played by Cassavetes's wife Gena Rowlands. He made an acclaimed TV movie The Death of Richie (1977).

Peter Bogdanovich

Gazzara's career received a boost when Peter Bogdanovich cast him in the title role of Saint Jack (1979). His increased profile helped him be cast in the male lead of Bloodline (1979) and the Korean War epic Inchon (1980) co-starring Laurence Olivier and Richard Roundtree.

He made another for Bogdanovich, They All Laughed (1981).


Gazzara made some films in Europe: Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981), The Girl from Trieste (1982), A Proper Scandal (1984), My Dearest Son. He starred with Rowlands in the critically acclaimed AIDS-themed TV movie An Early Frost (1985), for which he received his third Emmy nomination.

He had a villainous role in the oft-televised Patrick Swayze film Road House, which the actor jokingly said is probably his most-watched performance.

Gazzara appeared in 38 films, many for television, in the 1990s. He worked with a number of renowned directors, such as the Coen brothers (The Big Lebowski), Spike Lee (Summer of Sam), David Mamet (The Spanish Prisoner), Walter Hugo Khouri (Forever), Vincent Gallo (Buffalo '66), Todd Solondz (Happiness), John Turturro (Illuminata), and John McTiernan (The Thomas Crown Affair).

He was on Broadway in Shimada (1992).

In his seventies, Gazzara continued to be active. In 2003, he appeared in Nobody Don't Like Yogi, an off Broadway show about Yogi Berra which had a solid run and was in a revival of Awake and Sing! (2006).

He was in the ensemble cast of the experimental film Dogville, directed by Lars von Trier of Denmark and starring Nicole Kidman, as well as the television film Hysterical Blindness (he received an Emmy Award for his role). In 2005, he played Agostino Casaroli in the television miniseries, Pope John Paul II. He completed filming his scenes in the film The Wait in early 2012, shortly before his death.[7]

In addition to acting, Gazzara worked as an occasional television director; his credits include the Columbo episodes A Friend in Deed (1974) and Troubled Waters (1975). Gazzara was nominated three times for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play—in 1956 for A Hatful of Rain, in 1975 for the paired short plays Hughie and Duet, and in 1977 for a revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opposite Colleen Dewhurst.

Personal life

Gazzara was married three times; First to actress Louise Erickson (1951–57). He married actress Janice Rule on November 25, 1961 in San Francisco.[8] They had a daughter named Elizabeth.[9] He married model Elke Krivat in 1982 and remained married to her until his death. Gazzara adopted his wife's daughter Danja from her prior relationship. Following his separation from his first wife, Gazzara was engaged to stage actress Elaine Stritch and later disclosed a love affair with actress Audrey Hepburn.[10] He and Hepburn co-starred in two of her final films, Bloodline (1979) and They All Laughed (1981).

In 1968, during filming of the war movie The Bridge at Remagen, co-starring Gazzara and friend Robert Vaughn, the Soviet Union and its allies invaded Czechoslovakia. The cast and crew were detained for a time; filming was later completed in West Germany.[11][12][13] During their departure from Czechoslovakia, Gazzara and Vaughn assisted with the escape of a Czech waitress whom they had befriended. They smuggled her to Austria in a car waved through a border crossing that had not yet been taken over by the Soviet army in its crackdown on the Prague Spring.[14]


Gazzara was the honorary starter of the 1979 Daytona 500, the first flag-to-flag Daytona 500 broadcast live on CBS. He was also featured in a 1994 article in Cigar Aficionado, in which he admitted smoking four packs of cigarettes a day until taking up cigar smoking in the mid-1960s.[3]


Gazzara was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1999. He suffered a stroke in 2005.[15] On February 3, 2012, he died of pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York.[16] He was later cremated.[17]



  1. ^ "Ben Gazzara Biography". filmreference. 2008. Archived from the original on 29 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-04.
  2. ^ Sutton 2008; Harris (2009).
  3. ^ a b Rothstein, Mervyn. "Running Cool - Ben Gazzara's Long Stage and Screen Career has Included a Love Affair with a Good Smoke". Cigar Aficionado. Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
  4. ^ "Broadway: the Golden Age...", 2006
  5. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (3 February 2012). "Ben Gazzara, Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 81" – via
  6. ^ "Ben Gazzara TV Guide profile". 1930-08-28. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  7. ^ "The Wait". Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  8. ^ California, Marriage Index, 1960-1985
  9. ^ "Ben Gazzara, Risk Taking Actor, Dead at 81". NY Times.
  10. ^ Gazzara, Ben In the Moment: My Life as an Actor, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, pp. 187–93
  11. ^ "Czechoslovakia Admits US Film Crew". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. Google Books. June 18, 1968. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
  12. ^ "Film Stars Trapped in Czechoslovakia", The Hartford Courant, August 22, 1968
  13. ^ Newspaper article, Invasion Halted Film in Czechoslovakia, by Bob Thomas, Associated Press, printed in The Nevada Daily Mail, October 31, 1968.
  14. ^ In the Moment: My Life as an Actor by Ben Gazzara, 2004, pp. 141–42
  15. ^ "Ben Gazzara Dies at 81".
  16. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (2012-02-03). "Ben Gazzara, a Risk-Taking Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  17. ^ [1]

Further reading

  • Broadway: The Golden Age: By the Legends Who Were There, a film by Rick McKay Films, etc. Broadcast on KCET, Ch.28 PBS in Los Angeles, December 16, 2006. Gazzara speaks openly about getting off of 29th St.
  • Harris, Irving (2009), Madison Square Memoir: The Magic and History of Madison Square Boys and Girls Club (visit; Gazzara wrote the introduction.
  • Sutton, Imre, 2008. Back to E. 29th Street: Where Fact and Fiction Revisit Kips Bay, N.Y. (Fullerton, CA: Americo Publications) See

External links

An Early Frost

An Early Frost is a 1985 American made-for-television drama film and the first major film, made for television or feature films, to deal with the topic of AIDS. It was first broadcast on the NBC television network on November 11, 1985. It was directed by John Erman, from the Emmy Award-winning teleplay written by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, (story by Sherman Yellen). Aidan Quinn stars as Michael Pierson, a Chicago attorney who goes home to break the news – that he is gay and has AIDS – to his parents, played by Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a play by Tennessee Williams. One of Williams's more famous works and his personal favorite, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955. Set in the "plantation home in the Mississippi Delta" of Big Daddy Pollitt, a wealthy cotton tycoon, the play examines the relationships among members of Big Daddy's family, primarily between his son Brick and Maggie the "Cat", Brick's wife.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof features motifs such as social mores, greed, superficiality, mendacity, decay, sexual desire, repression and death. Dialogue throughout is often rendered phonetically to represent accents of the Southern United States. The original production starred Barbara Bel Geddes, Burl Ives and Ben Gazzara. The play was adapted as a motion picture of the same name in 1958, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman as Maggie and Brick, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood recreating their stage roles. Williams made substantial excisions and alterations to the play for a revival in 1974. This has been the version used for most subsequent revivals, which have been numerous.

Control (1987 film)

Il giorno prima (internationally released as Control and Mind Control) is a 1987 Italian drama film directed by Giuliano Montaldo and starring Burt Lancaster and Ben Gazzara. The story was written by Piero Angela and the screenplay was by Piero Angela, Jeremy Hole, Giuliano Montaldo and Brian Moore.

Convicts 4

Convicts 4 is a 1962 prison film drama starring Ben Gazzara and directed by Millard Kaufman. The film is a fictionalized version of the life of death row convict John Resko, who wrote his autobiography: Reprieve.

Danger (TV series)

Danger is a television series which first aired on September 19, 1950, and ended in May 1955. The first episode, entitled "The Black Door", was directed by Yul Brynner, based on a story by Henry Norton and a teleplay by Irving Elman, and starring Dane Clark and Olive Deering.

The show featured many actors including Leslie Nielsen, E.G. Marshall, Joseph Anthony, Edward Binns, John Cassavetes, Míriam Colón, Ben Gazzara, Grace Kelly, Richard Kiley, Walter Slezak, Hildy Parks, James Gregory, Paul Langton, Cloris Leachman, Jayne Meadows, Martin Ritt, Maria Riva, Lee Grant, Kim Stanley, Rod Steiger, Steve Allen, Anne Bancroft, Jacqueline Susann, Walter Matthau, and Leo Penn.

The final episode, on May 31, 1955, was an adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier story "The Birds" with Michael Strong and Betty Lou Holland.

Eve (2008 film)

Eve is a 2008 American short film written and directed by Natalie Portman, starring Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara and Olivia Thirlby. The film, Portman's directorial debut, was produced by her production company Handsomecharlie Films and distributed by Relativity Media.

Husbands (film)

Husbands is a 1970 film written and directed by John Cassavetes. This ensemble film, which depicts three middle class men in the throes of a midlife crisis following the death of a close friend, stars Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and Cassavetes.

The film, in cinéma vérité style, was described by Time magazine as Cassavetes' finest work while condemned by other prominent critics. One recent critic described it as a "devastatingly bleak view of the emptiness of suburban life."

Hysterical Blindness (film)

Hysterical Blindness is a TV movie made for HBO, directed by Mira Nair and starring Gena Rowlands, Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis and Ben Gazzara. The movie premiered on HBO on August 21, 2002 to good reviews. In 2003, Uma Thurman won a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of Debby Miller. Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands also won Best Supporting Actor/Actress awards for their performances as Virginia Miller and Nick Piccolo at the 2003 Emmy Awards.

The opening titles by Trollbäck + Company won a Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Main Title Design in 2003.

In the film Thurman plays an excitable New Jersey woman in the 1980s searching for romance. The San Francisco Chronicle review wrote, “Thurman so commits herself to the role, eyes blazing and body akimbo, that you start to believe that such a creature could exist — an exquisite looking woman so spastic and needy that she repulses regular Joes. Thurman has bent the role to her will”.

John Cassavetes

John Nicholas Cassavetes (; December 9, 1929 – February 3, 1989) was a Greek-American actor, film director, and screenwriter. Cassavetes was a pioneer of American independent film, writing and directing over a dozen movies, which he partially self-financed, and pioneered the use of improvisation and a cinéma vérité style. He also acted in many Hollywood films, notably Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). He studied acting with Don Richardson, utilizing an alternative technique to method acting which privileged character over traditional narrative. His income from acting made it possible for him to direct his own films independently.Cassavetes was nominated for three separate Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for The Dirty Dozen (1967), Best Original Screenplay for Faces (1968) and Best Director for A Woman Under the Influence (1974). He collaborated frequently with various actors, including his wife Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, and Seymour Cassell.

His children Nick Cassavetes, Zoe Cassavetes, and Xan Cassavetes are also filmmakers.

Lies Before Kisses

Lies Before Kisses is a 1991 American made-for-television thriller film directed by Lou Antonio. The film, starring Jaclyn Smith and Ben Gazzara, focuses on the trial against a successful businessman, who has allegedly murdered a call girl as a consequence for a blackmailing incident.

Opening Night (1977 film)

Opening Night is a 1977 American drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes, and starring Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart, Zohra Lampert, and Cassavetes.

Road House (1989 film)

Road House is a 1989 American action film directed by Rowdy Herrington and starring Patrick Swayze as a bouncer at a newly refurbished roadside bar who protects a small town in Missouri from a corrupt businessman. Sam Elliott co-stars as a bouncer, the mentor, friend, and foil of Swayze's character. The cast also includes Kelly Lynch as Swayze's love interest and Ben Gazzara as the main antagonist.

Run for Your Life (TV series)

Run for Your Life is an American television drama series starring Ben Gazzara as a man with only a short time to live. It ran on NBC from 1965 to 1968. The series was created by Roy Huggins, who had previously explored the "man on the move" concept with The Fugitive.

Saint Jack (film)

Saint Jack is a 1979 film directed by Peter Bogdanovich based on the 1973 novel Saint Jack. Ben Gazzara stars as Flowers in the film. The film also features Denholm Elliott and George Lazenby.

The Captive City (1962 film)

The Captive City (Italian: La città prigioniera) is a 1962 Italian English-language war film directed by Joseph Anthony and starring David Niven, Lea Massari and Ben Gazzara. It is based on the 1955 novel The Captive City by John Appleby. The film was released in the US as Conquered City by American International Pictures as a double feature with The Day the Earth Froze.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a 1976 American crime film directed and written by John Cassavetes and starring Ben Gazzara.

A rough and gritty film, this is the second of their three collaborations, following Husbands and preceding Opening Night.

Gazzara's character of the formidable strip club owner Cosmo Vittelli was in part based on an impersonation he did for his friend Cassavetes in the 1970s. But in an interview for the Criterion Collection in the mid 2000s, Gazzara stated that he believed Vittelli, who cares deeply about the rather peculiar "art" aspect of the routines put on at his nightclub but can't get his patrons (who are only there for naked girls) to, was a double of sorts of Cassavetes himself. Gazzara described his friend as a writer and director that totally believed in the importance and value of his work, because the work represented his heart and soul.

The Young Doctors (film)

The Young Doctors is a 1961 film directed by Phil Karlson and starring Ben Gazzara, Fredric March, Dick Clark, Ina Balin, Eddie Albert, Phyllis Love, Aline MacMahon, George Segal (in his first movie) and Dolph Sweet.

The film is based on the 1959 novel The Final Diagnosis by Arthur Hailey. Ronald Reagan was the narrator in the film.

Very Mean Men

Very Mean Men is a 2000 American crime-comedy film directed by Tony Vitale and starring Matthew Modine, Ben Gazzara, Martin Landau, Scott Baio, Burt Young, and Paul Ben-Victor.

When Michael Calls

When Michael Calls is a 1972 American made-for-television horror-thriller film directed by Philip Leacock and starring Elizabeth Ashley, Ben Gazzara and Michael Douglas. It was adapted from John Farris' 1967 novel of the same name.

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