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Ben Gazzara Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (3) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (17) | Personal Quotes (14) | Salary (1)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 28 August 1930New York City, New York, USA
Date of Death 3 February 2012New York City, New York, USA  (pancreatic cancer)
Birth NameBiagio Anthony Gazzara
Nickname Benny
Height 5' 10½" (1.79 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Ben Gazzara's screen career began with two critically acclaimed roles as heavies in the late 1950s. He turned to television in the 1960s but made a big screen comeback with roles in three John Cassavetes films in the 1970s. The 1980s and 1990s saw Gazzara work more frequently than ever before in character parts. If he never became the leading man his early films and stage work promised, he had a career notable for its longevity. He was born Biagio Anthony Gazzara on August 28, 1930, in New York City. The son of a Sicilian immigrant laborer, he grew up on New York's tough Lower East Side. After seeing Laurette Taylor in "The Glass Menagerie," Gazzara decided he wanted to become an actor. He studied engineering (unhappily) but quit after receiving an acting scholarship (he worked under well-known coach Erwin Piscator).

Gazarra then joined the Actors Studio, where a group of students improvised a play from Calder Willingham's novel End as a Man. The tale of a brutal southern military academy reached Broadway slightly changed in 1953 but with Gazzara still in the principal role. It was a star making part (he won a Theatre World award) and he then played leads in the original productions of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1955) and "A Hatful of Rain" (1955) (he was nominated for a Tony). Bigger names Paul Newman and Don Murray played those last two roles on the big screen but Gazzara made his movie debut in The Strange One (1957) the film version of "End as a Man." The film was a critical but not commercial success. His next role was as the defendant in Anatomy of a Murder (1959) which was a big hit.

Gazarra followed this with an Italian venture co-starring Anna Magnani, The Passionate Thief (1960), two Hollywood films The Young Doctors (1961) and Convicts 4 (1962) and then another Italian film Conquered City (1962). None of these did much for his career, and he turned to television. He appeared in the successful series Arrest and Trial (1963) and Run for Your Life (1965). In between, he made A Rage to Live (1965), a film version of John O'Hara's novel. He returned to films in The Bridge at Remagen (1969) and with a cameo appearance in If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969). His buddy in the cameo was John Cassavetes, who directed and co-starred with him in Husbands (1970), a critical success. Gazzara made two more well-received films with his good friend Cassavetes: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Opening Night (1977).

Gazzara's other films in the 1970s were undistinguished apart from the sprawling Voyage of the Damned (1976) and a rare leading role in director Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack (1979). Bloodline (1979) and They All Laughed (1981) (also directed by Bogdanovich) were only notable because of Gazzara's off-screen relationship with co-star Audrey Hepburn (ironically, Gazzara had declined to make his screen debut in War and Peace (1956) starring Hepburn). Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981) was another lead for Gazzara, but it received a mixed critical reception. Other big-screen roles in the 1980s were scarce apart from Road House (1989), a Patrick Swayze vehicle that Gazzara believed out of all his films had been the most repeated on television. He worked much on the small screen, including the groundbreaking television movie An Early Frost (1985), playing the father of an AIDS victim.

The 1990s saw Gazzarra working like never before, appearing in 38 films. Most were for free-to-air television or cable but he also worked on the big screen in The Spanish Prisoner (1997), The Big Lebowski (1998), Happiness (1998) and Summer of Sam (1999). His television work included a guest appearance as an executive assistant attorney in a 2001 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999)

  • a nice touch since


Arrest and Trial (1963) was the predecessor of Law & Order (1990) and its spinoff series.

Gazzara has often returned to the stage throughout his career-in "The Night Circus" (1958) (where he met second wife Janice Rule), "Strange Interlude" (1963), "Traveller Without Luggage" (1964), Hughie/Duet (1975) (nominated for a Tony), "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1976) (again Tony nominated), and "Shimada" (1992). He has also worked as a director on episodes his series Run for Your Life (1965) and The Name of the Game (1968) and the television movies Columbo: A Friend in Deed (1974) and Columbo: Troubled Waters (1975) featuring his friend Peter Falk. The unreleased Beyond the Ocean (1990) (which he also wrote) was his final film as a director.

In 2003 Gazarra appeared in the independent Dogville (2003) adding Lars von Trier to the list of interesting and acclaimed directors with whom he has worked. There can't be many actors who can boast that they have acted in films by Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder (1959)), John Cassavetes, Joel Coen (The Big Lebowski (1998)), Spike Lee (Summer of Sam (1999)), and Lars von Trier, among others. Ben Gazarra died at age 81 of pancreatic cancer on February 3, 2012.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Francoise Purdue

Spouse (3)

Elke Stuckmann (27 February 1982 - 3 February 2012) (his death) (1 child)
Janice Rule (25 November 1961 - 28 January 1982) (divorced) (1 child)
Louise Erickson (1951 - 1957) (divorced)

Trade Mark (2)

Often played characters whose charming veneer masked inner turmoil or even anguish
Smooth demeanor

Trivia (17)

Father, with Janice Rule, of Elizabeth Gazzara.
Claimed that of all of the movies in which he has ever appeared in, Road House (1989) is the most frequently repeated on television.
Lived with Elaine Stritch for two years.
He and his good friend John Cassavetes made 5 movies together: Husbands (1970), Capone (1975), If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), Opening Night (1977) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
Attended NYC's famed Stuyvesant High School.
Shared a "purist's" approach to acting and choosing roles with Road House (1989) co-star Sam Elliott.
Diagnosed with throat cancer in 1999. He lost more than 40 pounds during treatment.
Died on the anniversary of the death of his close friend John Cassavetes, on February 3, 2012.
He studied drama at the Dramatic Workshop in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. He studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York City in 1951.
In the 1980s, he had a village in Umbria, Italy, where he spent time in Italian films.
He is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Gazzara, from his second marriage to Janice Rule; his third wife, Elke Stuckmann (married since 1982); his adopted daughter, Danja Gazzara, from Elke's previous marriage; and brother, Anthony Gazzara.
He met radio actress, Louise Erickson, who would be his first wife. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1957. In 1961, he married actress Janice Rule and had a daughter, Elizabeth Gazzara. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1982. He met Elke Stuckmann in 1979 and married her in 1982.
He was born on the East Side of Manhattan in New York City to Antonio Gazzara and Angela Cusumano Gazzara, both Italian immigrants. They often spoke Italian at home. He grew up in a building at 29th Street and 1st Avenue, where he slept on the fire escape in summer and occasionally heard screams from the patients at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York City.
He caught the acting bug when he was 11 years old and watched one of his friends act in a play at the Madison Square Boys Club.
He and his Road House costar Patrick Swayze both died from pancreatic cancer. Swayze in 2009, and Gazzara in 2012.
Appearing on Broadway in a revival of Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing". [April 2006]
Release of his autobiography, "In the Moment: My Life as an Actor".

Personal Quotes (14)

I turned down so many movies because I was idealistic. I was so pure. I didn't really take advantage of the opportunities. If I had the same chances today I would take them all because you never know where it will lead.
[on Audrey Hepburn] She was unhappy in her marriage and hurting; I was unhappy in my marriage and hurting and we came together and we gave solace to each other and we fell in love but it was impossible. She had a life in Europe and Switzerland and where you will. I'm in L.A. with another life. Life got in the way of romance. We were having a drink in Munich, where we were shooting a picture called Bloodline (1979) and she told me, "Do you know, Ben, I never thought I was a good actress". She was so self-effacing and that's why, on the screen, she was so genuine because what you saw on the screen you saw in life--that smile and the way she lit up a room. She just had it.
[In 2009, on Road House (1989)] I had fun making that picture. Patrick Swayze was very nice, a very sweet boy. He was a boy then, actually. Well, a young man. And just tasting the fruits of newly-found stardom. And I remember he was very nervous about it, very apprehensive. He cared a lot, and he was very tense about doing a good job. And so we'd talk and walk, and walk and talk. I liked him, and we liked each other.
[In 2009, on filming Dogville (2003)] I was told before I went there, "Hey, Lars von Trier, he's tough with actors". Not at all. I really got along with him famously, and had a great time, a great time. Nicole Kidman was there at her best; she was terrific. The whole cast was terrific. And it was an interesting experiment, because he shot it in digital, and was able to load the camera with an hour's worth of film, so you weren't reloading every 10 minutes. And he was running . . . well, we shot it all indoors in a studio, you know, and the whole set was in one, without walls around anything, so he was able to run back and forth, up and down, shooting. You gotta be on your guard with his camera. It was very, very interesting to work on it. Much like theater, because you were not interrupted. You can go on and on and on, and of course it was on a stage; it took place in one space. In that regard, it was very much like theater.
{in 2009, on The Big Lebowski (1998)] "The Big Lebowski" was the oddest thing. They called me, and there was really no part. I mean, it's a little part, but they go and say "Look, Sam Elliot is doing this, and this guy's doing that, and that guy's doing this". I said, "Well, let me read it". And I read it, and I couldn't stop laughing. I said, "I gotta be a part of it. This is too funny". So I had a lot of fun doing it. It took me a couple of days. I flew there and I was back in New York in three days.
[2009, on filming Buffalo '66 (1998)] I think Vincent Gallo did a wonderful job, and it was a personal story for him. It was about him, actually; him and his mother and father. And the work was enjoyable. I enjoyed Anjelica Huston, and I had never been to Buffalo before, so I was able to see a part of America that I probably never would have gotten to if I weren't an actor.
[on filming Looking for Palladin (2008) in Antigua, Guatemala] The city of Antigua is so beautiful and charming, filled with history, and I had a wonderful time down there. I played a character I liked to play, and lived a life I liked. One of the pleasures of being an actor is that it takes you places you wouldn't ordinarily go, and you don't enter as a tourist, you really enter the life of the place and get to know it.
[In 2009, on making Anatomy of a Murder (1959)] There, I had a wonderful time. I got to work with my first movie star, James Stewart, a star that I grew up trying to imitate as a kid. And there I was acting with him in the same scene. I was so really overjoyed to be doing that, and proud. And then he liked me, which made me even prouder. He invited me to dinner, mano-a-mano, more than once, and I really appreciated that. He took an interest in me, and I watched him work. I watched how hard he worked, how he never schmoozed. He was never around between takes; he was in a room working with his assistant on the scene that was going to be shot next. Never wasting a moment's time. A real lesson in discipline . . . But I must say, though, he had a great deal of dialogue in the picture, playing a lawyer, and I think that was probably part of the reason he took to another room to go over his lines.
[In 2009] Run for Your Life (1965), that came at a period where things were very slow in the movie world for me. So I had to pay the rent, and the offer was good, but it was before the big, big money in television, 1965. And that was hard work, I gotta tell you. You know we made 30 one-hour shows a year? I was in every scene, morning, noon and night. It was really tiresome, I gotta tell you. Hard, hard. Ran for three years, and we made 80, 85 shows.
[In 2009] I would say Husbands (1970) and Saint Jack (1979) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) are my three favorite films, of my work.
(on making movies in Italy) You go where they love you.
[on battling depression while filming "They All Laughed"] I was in a depression during the whole shooting, and I was terrific in that film and I don't remember doing it.
[1988] When I became hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers. I won't tell you the pictures I turned down because they would say, 'You are a fool.' And I was a fool."
[on John Cassavetes as a director] He set the climate for an actor to feel free to give whatever, and if it didn't work, it didn't work.

Salary (1)

Arrest and Trial (1963) $7,500 /week

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