Biagio Anthony Gazzara
August 28, 1930
New York City, U.S.
|Died||February 3, 2012 (aged 81)|
New York City, U.S.
|Education||The New School|
Biagio Anthony "Ben" Gazzara (August 28, 1930 – February 3, 2012) was an American actor and director of film, stage, and television. He received numerous accolades, including a Primetime Emmy Award and a Drama Desk Award, in addition to nominations for three Golden Globe Awards and three Tony Awards.
Born to Italian immigrants in New York City, Gazzara studied at The New School and began his professional career with the Actors Studio, of which he was a lifelong member. His breakthrough role was in the Broadway play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955–56), which earned him widespread acclaim. A memorable performance as a soldier on trial for murder in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959) transitioned him to an equally successful screen career. As the star of the television series Run for Your Life (1965–1968), Gazzara was nominated for three Golden Globes and two Emmy Awards. He won his only Emmy Award for the television film Hysterical Blindness (2002).
He was a recurring collaborator of John Cassavetes, working with him on Husbands (1970), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Opening Night (1977). His other best-known films include The Bridge at Remagen (1969), Capone (1975) Voyage of the Damned (1976), Saint Jack (1979), Road House (1989), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), 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 also had a successful and prolific film career in Europe, particularly Italy, where he worked with preeminent directors like Giuseppe Tornatore, Giuliano Montaldo, Marco Ferreri, and Lars von Trier.
Gazzara was known for his gritty, naturalistic portrayals of intense, often amoral characters. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Gazzara positioned himself for 'creative elbow room,' seeking edgy characters in non-mainstream productions or infusing mainstream productions with idiosyncratic supporting turns."
Early life and education
Gazzara was born in New York City, the son of Italian immigrants Angelina (née Cusumano) and Antonio Gazzara, a laborer and carpenter, each of Sicilian origin—Angelina from Castrofilippo and Antonio from Canicattì in the province of Agrigento. He was raised in a monolingual, Italian-speaking household, and did not learn English until he went to school.
Gazzara grew up in New York's Kips Bay neighborhood; he lived on East 29th Street. He participated in the drama program at Madison Square Boys & Girls Club located across the street. He attended New York City's Stuyvesant High School, but finally graduated from Saint Simon Stock in the Bronx. Years later, he said that the discovery of his love for acting saved him from a life of crime during his teen years.
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.
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 and The United States Steel Hour.
Gazzara became a Broadway sensation when he portrayed the role of Brick in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955–56) opposite Barbara Bel Geddes, directed by Elia Kazan. Gazzara turned down the role in the film version. The studio planned to offer the role to James Dean, but the part was given to Paul Newman after Dean's death.
He followed it with another long run in A Hatful of Rain (1956).
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 Television Theatre, Armchair Theatre and 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 was also the mystery guest on "What's My Line" (6 September 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.
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."
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).
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.
Gazzara starred in a television movie, Pursuit (1972), the directorial debut of Michael Crichton. He also made the television 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 television 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. He 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).
Gazzara 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).
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 (1985). 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.
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.
Gazzara was married three times, first to actress Louise Erickson (1951–1957). He married actress Janice Rule on November 25, 1961 in San Francisco. They had a daughter named Elizabeth. They divorced in 1979. 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. 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. 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.
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.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Gazzara held permanent residence status in Italy. He maintained a second home in Umbria, where he lived while working in Europe.
Gazzara was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1999. He suffered a stroke in 2005. On February 3, 2012, he died of pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. He was cremated.
|1957||The Strange One||Jocko De Paris|
|1959||Anatomy of a Murder||Lieutenant Frederick Manion|
|1960||The Passionate Thief||Lello|
|1961||The Young Doctors||Dr. David Coleman|
|1962||Convicts 4||John Resko|
|1962||The Captive City||Captain George Stubbs|
|1965||A Rage to Live||Roger Bannon|
|1969||If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium||Card Player|
|1969||The Bridge at Remagen||Sergeant Angelo|
|1970||King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis||Himself|
|1972||The Sicilian Connection||Giuseppe "Joe" Coppola|
|1973||The Neptune Factor||Commander Adrian Blake|
|1976||The Killing of a Chinese Bookie||Cosmo Vittelli|
|1976||High Velocity||Cliff Baumgartner|
|1976||Voyage of the Damned||Morris Troper|
|1977||Opening Night||Manny Victor|
|1979||Saint Jack||Jack Flowers|
|1981||Inchon||Major Frank Hallsworth|
|1981||They All Laughed||John Russo|
|1981||Tales of Ordinary Madness||Charles Serking|
|1982||The Girl from Trieste||Dino Romani|
|1984||A Proper Scandal||The Man with No Memory|
|1985||Woman of Wonders||Alberto|
|1985||My Dearest Son||Avv. Antonio Morelli|
|1988||Quicker Than the Eye||Ben Norrell|
|1988||Don Bosco||John Bosco|
|1989||Champagne amer||Paul Rivière|
|1989||Road House||Brad Wesley|
|1990||Beyond the Ocean||John Tana||Also co-writer and director|
|1994||Sherwood's Travels||Raphael de Pietro|
|1994||Swallows Never Die in Jerusalem||Moshe|
|1995||Nefertiti, figlia del sole||Amenhotep III|
|1995||The Zone||Dick Althorp|
|1996||Scene of the Crime||Lieutenant Jack "Jigsaw" Lasky|
|1997||Farmer & Chase||Farmer|
|1997||Shadow Conspiracy||Vice President Saxon|
|1997||The Spanish Prisoner||Klein|
|1998||The Big Lebowski||Jackie Treehorn|
|1998||Too Tired to Die||John Sage|
|1998||Buffalo '66||Jimmy Brown|
|1999||Summer of Sam||Luigi|
|1999||The Thomas Crown Affair||Andrew Wallace|
|1999||Shark in a Bottle||The Arranger|
|1999||Jack of Hearts||Bartossa|
|1999||Paradise Cove||Duke Mantee|
|2000||Blue Moon||Frank Cavallo|
|2000||Poor Liza||The Narrator|
|2000||Home Sweet Hoboken||—|
|2000||Very Mean Men||Gino Minetti|
|2000||The List||D.A. Bernard Salman|
|2000||Nella terra di nessuno||L'avvocato Scalzi|
|2005||Bonjour Michel||Michele Terranova|
|2006||Paris, je t'aime||Ben||Segment: "Quartier Latin"|
|2006||The Shore||Mr. Bob Harris|
|2008||Looking for Palladin||Jack Palladin|
|2009||Holy Money||Vatican's Banker|
|2010||Christopher Roth||Paul Andersen|
|2011||Chez Gino||Oncle Giovanni|
|1951–1954||Danger||Various roles||4 episodes|
|1952–1953||Treasury Men in Action||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1952–1958||Kraft Television Theatre||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1954||Medallion Theatre||Dick||Episode: "The Alibi Kid"|
|1954||The United States Steel Hour||Richard Elgin Jr.||Episode: "The Notebook Warrior"|
|1954||Justice||Various roles||3 episodes|
|1957–1958||Playhouse 90||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1959||Armchair Theatre||Jim Mason||Episode: "You'll Never See Me Again"|
|1959||DuPont Show of the Month||Carlos Perez||Episode: "Body and Soul"|
|1961||Cry Vengeance!||Davidde||Television film|
|1963–1964||Arrest and Trial||Detective Sgt. Nick Anderson||Main role, 30 episodes|
|1964||A Carol for Another Christmas||Fred||Television film|
|1965||Kraft Suspense Theatre||Paul Bryan||Episode: "Rapture at Two-Forty"|
|1965–1968||Run for Your Life||Paul Bryan||Main role, 85 episodes|
Also director, 5 episodes
|1967||Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre||Sidney||Episode: "Free of Charge"|
|1971||The Name of the Game||—||Director|
Episode: "Appointment in Palermo"
|1972||When Michael Calls||Doremus Connelly||Television film|
|1972||Fireball Forward||Major General Joe Barrett|
|1972||The Family Rico||Eddie Rico|
|1973||You'll Never See Me Again||—|
|1974||QB VII||Abe Cady||Main role, 2 episodes|
|1974–1975||Columbo||—||Director, 2 episodes|
|1977||The Death of Richie||George Werner||Television film|
|1977||The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald||Anson "Kip" Roberts|
|1982||A Question of Honor||Detective Joe DeFalco|
|1984||Hollywood's Most Sensational Mysteries||Narrator|
|1985||An Early Frost||Nick Pierson|
|1985||A Letter to Three Wives||Porter Holloway|
|1987||Police Story: The Freeway Killings||Captain Tom Wright|
|1987||Downpayment on Murder||Harry Cardell|
|1990||People Like Us||Gus Bailey|
|1991||Lies Before Kisses||Grant Sanders|
|1993||Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage||Joseph Bonanno|
|1993||Cycle Simenon||John||Episode: "Les gens d'en face"|
|1994||Parallel Lives||Charlie Duke||Television film|
|1994||Fatal Vows: The Alexandra O'Hara Story||Papa|
|1996||Una donna in fuga||Don Peppe|
|1996||Strangers||Doctor||Episode: "A New Life"|
|1997||The Notorious 7||Dom Diablo||Television film|
|1998||Valentine's Day||Joe Buddha|
|1998||Angelo nero||Padre Guelfi|
|1998||Il tesoro di Damasco||Gregorio Kos|
|1999||Tre stelle||Colonel Marshall||Miniseries|
|2000||Un bacio nel buio||—||Television film|
|2000||Piovuto dal cielo||Cesare Palmieri|
|2001||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||E.A.D.A.||Episode: "Wrath"|
|2001||Brian's Song||Coach Halas||Television film|
|2005||Pope John Paul II||Agostino Casaroli||Main role, 2 episodes|
|2006||And Quiet Flows the Don||General Secretov||Miniseries|
|2007||Donne sbagliate||Franco Maresco||Television film|
|2008||Empire State Building Murders||Paulie Genovese|
|2009||L'onore e il rispetto||Fred||6 episodes|
|2013||Pupetta: Il coraggio e la passione||Otello Di Bella||Main role, 4 episodes|
- Gazzara, Ben (September 13, 2004). In the Moment: My Life as an Actor. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7867-1399-8.
Awards and nominations
- ^ Baxter, Brian (February 4, 2012). "Ben Gazzara obituary". The Guardian.
- ^ "Ben Gazzara". Playbill. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
- ^ Byrge, Duane (February 3, 2012). "Actor Ben Gazzara Dies at 81". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
- ^ "Ben Gazzara Biography". filmreference. 2008. Archived from the original on March 29, 2008. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
- ^ Sutton 2008; Harris (2009).
- ^ 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 June 8, 2007. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
- ^ "Broadway: the Golden Age ...", 2006
- ^ Genzlinger, Neil (February 3, 2012). "Ben Gazzara, Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 81". The New York Times – via NYTimes.com.
- ^ "Ben Gazzara TV Guide profile". Tvguide.com. August 28, 1930. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- ^ "The Wait". www.babelefilm.com. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- ^ California, Marriage Index, 1960-1985
- ^ Genzlinger, Neil (February 3, 2012). "Ben Gazzara, Risk Taking Actor, Dead at 81". The New York Times.
- ^ Gazzara, Ben In the Moment: My Life as an Actor, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, pp. 187–93
- ^ "Czechoslovakia Admits US Film Crew". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. June 18, 1968. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- ^ "Film Stars Trapped in Czechoslovakia", The Hartford Courant, August 22, 1968
- ^ Newspaper article, Invasion Halted Film in Czechoslovakia, by Bob Thomas, Associated Press, printed in The Nevada Daily Mail, October 31, 1968.
- ^ In the Moment: My Life as an Actor by Ben Gazzara, 2004, pp. 141–42
- ^ "Ben Gazzara Dies at 81".
- ^ Genzlinger, Neil (February 3, 2012). "Ben Gazzara, a Risk-Taking Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
- ^ Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed., p. 273 (Google Books)
- 1930 births
- 2012 deaths
- 20th-century American male actors
- 21st-century American male actors
- American male film actors
- American male stage actors
- American male television actors
- American people of Italian descent
- American television directors
- Deaths from cancer in New York (state)
- Deaths from pancreatic cancer
- Drama Desk Award winners
- Male actors from New York City
- Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Primetime Emmy Award winners
- People from the Lower East Side
- Stuyvesant High School alumni
- Theatre World Award winners