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Gena Rowlands

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Gena Rowlands
Rowlands in 1961
Virginia Cathryn Rowlands

(1930-06-19) June 19, 1930 (age 94)
Alma materAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts
Years active1949–2014
(m. 1954; died 1989)
Robert Forrest
(m. 2012)
Parent(s)Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands
Lady Rowlands

Virginia Cathryn "Gena" Rowlands (/ˈɛnə/;[1] born June 19, 1930) is an American retired actress, whose career in film, stage, and television has spanned nearly seven decades. A four-time Emmy and two-time Golden Globe winner, she is known for her collaborations with her actor-director husband John Cassavetes in ten films, including A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980), both of which earned her nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Opening Night (1977). She is also known for her performances in Woody Allen's Another Woman (1988), and her son Nick Cassavetes's film, The Notebook (2004). In 2021, Richard Brody of The New Yorker said, “The most important and original movie actor of the past half century-plus is Gena Rowlands.”[2] In November 2015, Rowlands received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of her unique screen performances.[3]

Early years[edit]

Rowlands was born on June 19, 1930, in Cambria, Wisconsin.[4][5] Her mother, Mary Allen (née Neal), was a housewife who later worked as an actress under the stage name Lady Rowlands.[6] Her father, Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands, was a banker and state legislator.[7] He was a member of the Wisconsin Progressive Party, and was of Welsh descent.[8] She had an elder brother, David Rowlands.[9][10]

Her family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1939, when Edwin was appointed to a position in the United States Department of Agriculture; moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1942, when he was appointed as branch manager of the Office of Price Administration;[11] and later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 1947–50, she attended the University of Wisconsin,[12] where she was a popular student already renowned for her beauty.[13] While in college, she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.[14] She left for New York City to study drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.[15]


Early roles (1952–1967)[edit]

Publicity photo, 1955
Rowlands on Laramie in 1959

In the early 1950s, Rowlands performed with repertory theatre companies and at the Provincetown Playhouse. She made her Broadway debut in The Seven Year Itch and toured in a national production of the play. In 1956, she starred in the Broadway play Middle of the Night opposite Edward G. Robinson.

Rowlands costarred with Paul Stewart in the 26-episode syndicated TV series Top Secret (1954–55). She guest-starred on such anthology television series as Robert Montgomery Presents, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Studio One, Appointment with Adventure, The United States Steel Hour and Goodyear Television Playhouse, all in 1955. In 1959, Rowlands appeared in the Western series Laramie, alongside her husband John Cassavetes in the detective series Johnny Staccato, and in the Western series Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. In 1961, she appeared in the adventure series The Islanders, set in the South Pacific, and in Target: The Corruptors!, starring Stephen McNally. She guest-starred in The Lloyd Bridges Show, the detective series 77 Sunset Strip, Kraft Suspense Theatre, the Westerns Bonanza and The Virginian, and Breaking Point, all in 1963. In 1964, she guest-starred in the medical drama Dr. Kildare and in two episodes of Burke's Law. She appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, three of which were after the series had been renamed The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1967, she was cast as socialite Adrienne Van Leyden in the prime-time ABC soap opera Peyton Place.

Rowlands made her film debut in The High Cost of Loving in 1958. In 1962, she starred in director David Miller's Lonely Are the Brave, with Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau. She played the former lover of the Kirk Douglas character, now the wife of the Douglas character's best friend.

Cassavetes era (1963–1984)[edit]

Rowlands with husband John Cassavetes in TV series Johnny Staccato, 1959

Rowlands and Cassavetes made ten films together: A Child Is Waiting (1963), Faces (1968), Machine Gun McCain (1969), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (1974; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Two-Minute Warning (1976), Opening Night (1977), Gloria (1980; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Tempest (1982), and Love Streams (1984).[16]

According to Boston University film scholar Ray Carney, Rowlands sought to suppress an early version of Cassavetes's first film, Shadows, that Carney says he rediscovered after decades of searching.[17] Rowlands also became involved in the screenings of Husbands and Love Streams, according to Carney. The UCLA Film and Television Archive mounted a restoration of Husbands, as it was pruned down (without Cassavetes's consent, and in violation of his contract) by Columbia Pictures several months after its release, in an attempt to restore as much of the removed content as possible. At Rowlands's request, UCLA created an alternative print with almost ten minutes of content edited out, as Rowlands felt that these scenes were in poor taste. The alternative print is the only one that has been made available for rental.[18]

Late career (1985–2015)[edit]

Rowlands at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival

In 1985, Rowlands played the mother in the critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie An Early Frost. She won an Emmy for her portrayal of former First Lady of the United States Betty Ford in the 1987 made-for-TV movie The Betty Ford Story.

In 1988, Rowlands starred in Woody Allen's dramatic film Another Woman. She played Marion Post, a middle-aged professor who is prompted to a journey of self-discovery when she overhears the therapy sessions of another woman (Mia Farrow). The review in Time Out described the character's trajectory: "Marion gets to thinking, and is appalled to realise that so many assumptions about her own life and marriage are largely unfounded: in her desire for a controlled existence, she has evaded the emotional truth about relationships with her best friend (Sandy Dennis), brother (Harris Yulin) and husband (Ian Holm)." Time Out praised the "marvellous" performances in the film, adding, "Rowlands' perfectly pitched approach to a demanding role is particularly stunning."[19] Film4 called her performance "sublime",[20] while Roger Ebert noted that it marked a considerable change in tone from her work with Cassavetes, thus showing "how good an actress Rowlands has been all along."[21]

In 2002, Rowlands appeared in Mira Nair's HBO movie Hysterical Blindness, for which she won her third Emmy. Next year she appeared as Mrs. Hellman in an episode from the third season of Numb3rs. She played a Nazi survivor whose whole family was killed. The family owned a painting that the Nazis confiscated. Later on the painting reappeared. The new owner lent the painting to an art gallery in Los Angeles but while on display it was stolen. F.B.I. agent Don Eppes, played by Rob Morrow, tries to figure out what really happened. Rowlands received positive reviews for this role. She has been a spokesperson for people who were persecuted by the Nazis.

She was later seen in The Notebook (2004), which was directed by her son Nick Cassavetes. The same year, she won her first Daytime Emmy for her role as Mrs. Evelyn Ritchie in The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie. In 2005, she appeared opposite Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Hurt in the gothic thriller The Skeleton Key.

In 2007, she played a supporting role opposite Parker Posey and Melvil Poupaud in Broken English, an independent American feature written and directed by her daughter Zoe Cassavetes. In 2009, she appeared on an episode of Monk ("Mr. Monk and the Lady Next Door"). On March 2, 2010, she appeared on an episode of NCIS as lead character Leroy Jethro Gibbs's former mother-in-law, who is embroiled in a murder investigation.[22] In 2014, she starred in the film adaptation of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.[23] In 2015, she described herself as generally retired from acting.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Rowlands was married to John Cassavetes from April 9, 1954, until his death on February 3, 1989. They met at the American Academy at Carnegie Hall, where they were both students. They had three children, all actor-directors: Nick, Alexandra, and Zoe. Rowlands married retired businessman Robert Forrest in 2012.

Rowlands has stated that she was a fan of actress Bette Davis while growing up. She played Davis's daughter in the 1979 made-for-TV film Strangers.[25]

On June 24, 2024, her son Nick Cassavetes revealed that she has been living with Alzheimer's disease for the past five years.[26]



Year Title Role Notes
1958 The High Cost of Loving Jenny Fry
1959 Shadows Woman in Nightclub Uncredited
1962 Lonely Are the Brave Jerry Bondi
1962 The Spiral Road Els
1963 A Child Is Waiting Sophie Widdicombe
1967 Tony Rome Rita Kosterman
1968 Faces Jeannie Rapp
1969 Machine Gun McCain Rosemary Scott
1971 Minnie and Moskowitz Minnie Moore
1974 A Woman Under the Influence Mabel Longhetti
1976 Two-Minute Warning Janet
1977 Opening Night Myrtle Gordon
1978 The Brink's Job Mary Pino
1980 Gloria Gloria Swenson
1982 Tempest Antonia Dimitrius
1984 Love Streams Sarah Lawson
1984 I'm Almost Not Crazy:
John Cassavetes, the Man & His Work
Herself Documentary Short
1987 Light of Day Jeanette Rasnick
1988 Another Woman Marion Post
1990 Hollywood Mavericks Herself Documentary
1991 Once Around Marilyn Bella
1991 Night on Earth Victoria Snelling
1991 Ted & Venus Mrs. Turner
1993 Slient Cries Peggy Sutherland
1995 Something to Talk About Georgia King
1995 The Neon Bible Mae Morgan
1996 Unhook the Stars Mildred "Millie" Hawks
1997 She's So Lovely Miss Jane Green
1998 Paulie Ivy
1998 Hope Floats Ramona Calvert
1998 The Mighty Gram
1998 Playing by Heart Hannah
1999 The Weekend Laura Ponti
2000 Light Keeps Me Company Herself – interviewee Documentary
2004 Taking Lives Mrs. Asher
2004 The Notebook Older Allie Calhoun
2005 The Skeleton Key Violet Devereaux
2006 Paris, je t'aime Gena Segment: Quartier Latin
2007 Broken English Vivien Wilder-Mann
2007 Persepolis Grandmother Voice; English dubbed version
2011 Olive
2012 Yellow Mimi
2013 Parts Per Billion Esther
2014 Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks Lily Harrison


Year Title Role Notes
1954 Top Secret Powell Episode: "This Man is Death"
1955 The Way of the World Paula Graves
1955 Robert Montgomery Presents Myrtle Wilson Season 6 Episode 33: "The Great Gatsby"
1955 Ponds Theater Janet Season 2 Episode 34: "The Ways of Courage"
1955 Armstrong Circle Theatre Lugene Season 5 Episode 40: "Time for Love"
1955 Studio One on Hollywood Betty Season 7 Episode 50: "A Chance of Love"
1955 Appointment with Adventure Sally Mason Season 1 Episode: "Caribbean Cruise"
1955 Appointment with Adventure Sally Mason Season 1 Episode 23: "The Pirate's House"
1955 The United States Steel Hour Lily Season 3 Episode 7: "Ashton Buys a Horse"
1955 Goodyear Television Playhouse Eve Season 4 Episode 15: "Do It Yourself" as Eve
1955 Goodyear Television Playhouse Betty Season 5 Episode 3: "The Expendable House" as Betty
1958 General Electric Theater Dorothy Dickenson Season 7 Episode 12: "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair"
1959 Laramie Laurel DeWalt Season 1 Episode 9: "The Run to Tumavaca"
1959 Johnny Staccato Nina Van Ness Season 1 Episode 9: "Fly Baby, Fly"
1959 Markham Rita Evans Season 1 Episode 28: "The Altar"
1959 Riverboat Rose Traynor Season 1 Episode 14: "Guns for Empire"
1960 Adventures in Paradise Dr. Abigail Brent Season 1 Episode 28: "The Death-Divers"
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lucille Jones Season 6 Episode 2: "The Doubtful Doctor"
1960 The Tab Hunter Show Barbara / Penelope Season 1 Episode 8: "Double Trouble"
1961 The Islanders Pepper Mint Season 1 Episode 20: "Island Witness"
1961 Target: The Corruptors! Marian Praisewater Season 1 Episode 5: "The Poppy Vendor"
1961 87th Precinct Teddy Carella Season 1 Episode 1: "The Floater"
1961 87th Precinct Teddy Carella Season 1 Episode 2: "Lady in Waiting"
1961 87th Precinct Teddy Carella Season 1 Episode 6: "Occupation, Citizen"
1962 87th Precinct Teddy Carella Season 1 Episode 25: "Step Forward"
1962 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Helen Martin Season 1 Episode 11: "Ride the Nightmare"
1963 The Dick Powell Theatre Mrs. Canfield Season 2 Episode 15: "Project X"
1963 The Lloyd Bridges Show Leslie Kaufman Season 1 Episode 20: "A Personal Matter"
1963 77 Sunset Strip Barbara Adams Season 5 Episode 25: "Flight 307"
1963 Bonanza Ragan Miller Season 5 Episode 1: "She Walks in Beauty"
1963 The Virginian Savannah Season 2 Episode 3: "No Tears for Savannah"
1963 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre June Season 1 Episode 9: "It's Mental Work"
1963 Breaking Point Shelley Osborne Peters Season 1 Episode 14: "Heart of Marble, Body of Shame"
1963 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Louise Henderson Season 1 Episode 23: "The Lonely Hours"
1963 Kraft Suspense Theatre Janet Cord Season 1 Episode 6: "One Step Down"
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Diana Justin Season 2 Episode 19: "Murder Case"
1964 Dr. Kildare Helen Scott Season 3 Episode 20: "To Walk in Grace"
1964 Burke's Law Paulette Shane Season 1 Episode 17: "Who Killed What's His Name?"
1964 Burke's Law Mitzi Carlisle Season 1 Episode 28: "Who Killed Annie Foran?"
1965 Kraft Suspense Theatre Lois Baxter Season 2 Episode 18: "Won't It Ever Be Morning?
1966 Run for Your Life Charlotte Hyde Season 1 Episode 17: "The Rediscovery of Charlotte Hyde"
1966 The Long, Hot Summer Karen Roberts Season 1 Episode 20: "From This Day Forward"
1967 The Road West Karen Collier Season 1 Episode 16: "Beyond the Hill"
1967 The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Baroness Ingrid Season 1 Episode 20: "The Fountain of Youth Affair"
1967 Peyton Place Adrienne Van Leyden 39 episodes
1968 Garrison's Gorillas Duchess Season 1 Episode 24: "The Frame-Up"
1971 Medical Center Frances Delaney Season 2 Episode 23: "The Man in Hiding"
1972 Circle of Fear Kate Lucas Season 1 Episode 2: "The Concrete Captain"
1973 Medical Center Karen Coberly Season 5 Episode 8: "Child of Violence"
1974 Marcus Welby, M.D. Lorrain Denby Season 6 Episode 13: "The 266 Days"
1975 Columbo Elizabeth Van Wyck Season 4 Episode 5: "Playback"
1978 A Question of Love Linda Ray Guettner Television Movie
1979 Strangers:
The Story of a Mother and Daughter
Abigail Mason Television Movie
1983 Thursday's Child Victoria Alden Television Movie
1983 Faerie Tale Theatre Witch Season 2 Episode 1: "Rapunzel"
1985 An Early Frost Katherine Pierson Television Movie
1987 The Betty Ford Story Betty Ford Television Movie
1990 Montana Bess Guthrie Television Movie
1991 Face of a Stranger Pat Foster Television Movie
1992 Crazy in Love Honora Swift Television Movie
1993 Anything for John Herself Television Documentary
1994 Parallel Lives Francie Pomerantz Television Movie
1998 Grace and Glorie Grace Stiles Television Movie
1998 Best Friends for Life Mrs. Harriet Cahill Television Movie
2000 The Color of Love: Jacey's Story Georgia Porter Television Movie
2001 Wild Iris Minnie Brinn Television Movie
2002 Charms for the Easy Life Ms. Charlie Kate Television Movie
2003 Broadway: The Golden Age Herself Documentary series
2003 Hysterical Blindness Virginia Miller Television Movie
2004 The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie Evelyn Ritchie Television Movie
2006 Numb3rs Mrs. Hellman Season 3 Episode 3: "Provenance"
2007 What If God Were the Sun? Melissa Eisenbloom Television Movie
2009 Monk Marge Johnson Season 7 Episode 12: "Mr. Monk & the Lady Next Door"
2010 NCIS Joann Fielding Season 7 Episode 16: "Mother's Day"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Rowlands has been nominated for two Academy Awards, eight Primetime Emmy Awards, one Daytime Emmy Award, eight Golden Globe Awards, three Satellite Awards, and two SAG Awards. Some of her notable wins are a Silver Bear for Best Actress, three Primetime Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, two National Board of Review Awards, and two Satellite Awards.

In January 2015, Rowlands was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.[27] She was also chosen by the Academy Awards board of governors to receive an Honorary Academy Award that same year. At the Governors Awards ceremony, she was honored by Laura Linney and Cate Blanchett who offered up tributes, and Rowland's son Nick Cassavetes presented the award to her. The press release described Rowlands as "an original talent" whose "devotion to her craft has earned her worldwide recognition as an independent film icon".[28]

Academy Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result
1974 Best Actress A Woman Under the Influence Nominated
1980 Gloria Nominated
2015 Honorary Academy Award Won

Primetime Emmy Award

Year Category Nominated work Result
1986 Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie An Early Frost Nominated
1987 The Betty Ford Story Won
1992 Face of a Stranger Won
2000 The Color of Love: Jacey's Story Nominated
2002 Wild Iris Nominated
2003 Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie Hysterical Blindness Won
2007 Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or Movie What If God Were the Sun? Nominated
2009 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Monk Nominated

Golden Globe Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result
1974 Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama A Woman Under the Influence Won
1977 Opening Night Nominated
1980 Gloria Nominated
1983 Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Thursday's Child Nominated
1985 An Early Frost Nominated
1987 The Betty Ford Story Won
1992 Best Supporting Actress - Television Crazy in Love Nominated
2002 Hysterical Blindness Nominated

Other Awards

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1971 New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress Minnie and Moskowitz Nominated
1974 National Board of Review Best Actress A Woman Under the Influence Won
1974 New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress Nominated
1974 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Best Actress Won
1974 San Sebastián International Film Festival Best Actress Won
1977 Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear for Best Actress Opening Night Won
1980 Boston Society of Film Critics Best Actress Gloria Won
1994 Sundance Film Festival Tribute to Independent Vision Award Won
1996 National Board of Review Career Achievement Award Won
1996 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Actress - Film Unhook the Stars Nominated
1999 Seattle International Film Festival Excellence for Ensemble Cast The Weekend Won
2000 Satellite Award Best Actress – Mini-Series or Television Film The Color of Love: Jacey's Story Nominated
2004 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie Won
2004 Satellite Award Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture The Notebook Nominated
2005 Saturn Award Best Supporting Actress The Skeleton Key Nominated
2008 Screen Actors Guild Award Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie What If God Were the Sun Nominated
2014 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Career Achievement Award Won


  1. ^ "Say How: R". National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. Retrieved October 12, 2023.
  2. ^ Brody, Richard (March 6, 2021). "The Best Movie Performances of the Century So Far". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on March 6, 2021. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  3. ^ Tim Gray (August 27, 2015). "Gena Rowlands, Spike Lee, Debbie Reynolds to Receive Governors Awards Oscars". Variety. Archived from the original on January 19, 2018. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  4. ^ Gilpatrick, Kristin (2002). Famous Wisconsin film stars (illustrated ed.). Badger Books. p. 158. ISBN 1-878569-86-4. Archived from the original on April 13, 2023. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  5. ^ Aaker, Everett (2011). Encyclopedia of Early Television Crime Fighters: All Regular Cast Members in American Crime and Mystery Series, 1948-1959. McFarland & Co. p. 486. ISBN 978-0-7864-6409-8.
  6. ^ U.S. Census, April 1, 1930, state of Wisconsin, county of Columbia, village of Cambria, enumeration district 3, page 4-B, family 130
  7. ^ Assembly, 1927–1935; Senate, 1935–1939. Members of the Wisconsin Legislature 1848–1999, Informational Bulletin 99-1, Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, 1999.
  8. ^ Lane, Lydia (November 21, 1980). "Beauty". Archived from the original on August 13, 2017. Retrieved July 6, 2017.
  9. ^ Murphy, J. J. (April 16, 2019). Rewriting Indie Cinema: Improvisation, Psychodrama, and the Screenplay. Columbia University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-231-54959-2.
  10. ^ Charity, Tom (June 26, 2012). John Cassavetes: Lifeworks. Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-841-6.
  11. ^ "OPA Directed by Merwyn [sic] Rowlands," The Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, April 2, 1942, p. 4
  12. ^ Registrar's Office, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  13. ^ "Six U.W. Co-eds 'Badger Beauties", The Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, November 14, 1949, p. 2
  14. ^ University of Wisconsin Badger, 1950
  15. ^ Gilpatrick, Kristin (2002). Famous Wisconsin Film Stars. Badger Books Inc. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-878569-86-8.
  16. ^ "Gena Rowlands, a miraculous actress Archived July 24, 2020, at the Wayback Machine"
  17. ^ "Who Owns an Improvised Work?". The John Cassavetes Pages. Archived from the original on October 12, 2017. Retrieved December 17, 2006.
  18. ^ Carney, Ray "On Your Relationship with Criterion" Archived August 12, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, The John Cassavetes Pages; accessed December 17, 2006
  19. ^ "Another Woman". Time Out. Archived from the original on August 13, 2017. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  20. ^ "Another Woman". Film4. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  21. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 18, 1988). "Another Woman". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on October 20, 2018. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  22. ^ Ausiello, Michael (January 16, 2010). "'NCIS' exclusive: Gena Rowlands unlocks Gibbs' past". ew.com. The Meredith Corporation. Archived from the original on October 13, 2019. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  23. ^ Chang, Justin (December 16, 2014). "Film Review: 'Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks'". Variety. Archived from the original on November 28, 2017. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
  24. ^ "Gena Rowlands on Pioneering the Indie Film Movement with Late Husband John Cassavetes". The Hollywood Reporter. November 13, 2015. Archived from the original on January 13, 2023. Retrieved January 13, 2023.
  25. ^ "The Hollywood Reporter Interview with Gena Rowlands". March 29, 2015. Archived from the original on August 13, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  26. ^ Huff, Lauren (June 25, 2024). "'The Notebook' star Gena Rowlands has Alzheimer's, according to her son Nick Cassavetes". EW.com. Retrieved June 25, 2024.
  27. ^ "LAFCA Lifetime Achievement Award". March 29, 2015. Archived from the original on December 30, 2014. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  28. ^ "Spike Lee, Debbie Reynolds And Gena Rowlands To Receive Academy's 2015 Governors Awards". AMPAS. Archived from the original on August 31, 2015. Retrieved November 5, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]