Ben Gazzara

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Ben Gazzara
Ben Gazarra - still.jpg
Gazzara in the 1960s
Biagio Anthony Gazzara

(1930-08-28)August 28, 1930
New York City, U.S.
DiedFebruary 3, 2012(2012-02-03) (aged 81)
New York City, U.S.
Education The New School
Actors Studio
  • Actor
  • director
Years active1953–2012

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. [2] 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." [3]

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. [4] He was raised in a monolingual, Italian-speaking household, and did not learn English until he went to school.[ citation needed ]

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. [5] He attended New York City's Stuyvesant High School, but finally graduated from Saint Simon Stock in the Bronx. [6] Years later, he said that the discovery of his love for acting saved him from a life of crime during his teen years. [7]

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.[ citation needed ]


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 and The United States Steel Hour .

Broadway success

Gazzara, photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1955 Bengazarra.jpg
Gazzara, photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1955

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.[ citation needed ] 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).

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 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.

Television star

Gazzara at premiere of Looking for Palladin in New York City on October 30, 2009 Ben Gazzara - Oct 30 2009.jpeg
Gazzara at premiere of Looking for Palladin in New York City on 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." [8] [9]

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.

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).

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 (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. [10]

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 (1951–1957). He married actress Janice Rule on November 25, 1961 in San Francisco. [11] They had a daughter named Elizabeth. [12] 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. [13] 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. [14] [15] [16] 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. [17]

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. [6]

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. [18] On February 3, 2012, he died of pancreatic cancer at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. [19] He was cremated. [20]



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
1970 Husbands Harry
1972 The Sicilian Connection Giuseppe "Joe" Coppola
1973 The Neptune Factor Commander Adrian Blake
1975 Capone Al Capone
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
1979 Bloodline Rhys Williams
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
1986 The Professor Franco
1987 Control Mike Zella
1988Quicker Than the EyeBen Norrell
1988 Don Bosco John Bosco
1989Champagne amerPaul Rivière
1989 Road House Brad Wesley
1990Beyond the OceanJohn TanaAlso co-writer and director
1991ForeverMarcello Rondi
1994Sherwood's TravelsRaphael de Pietro
1994Swallows Never Die in JerusalemMoshe
1995 Nefertiti, figlia del sole Amenhotep III
1995The ZoneDick Althorp
1996 Scene of the Crime Lieutenant Jack "Jigsaw" Lasky
1997Farmer & ChaseFarmer
1997 Shadow Conspiracy Vice President Saxon
1997 Stag Frank Grieco
1997 The Spanish Prisoner Klein
1997Vicious CirclesMarch
1998 The Big Lebowski Jackie Treehorn
1998 Too Tired to Die John Sage
1998 Buffalo '66 Jimmy Brown
1998 Happiness Lenny Jordan
1998 Illuminata Old Flavio
1999 Summer of Sam Luigi
1999 The Thomas Crown Affair Andrew Wallace
1999Shark in a BottleThe Arranger
1999Jack of HeartsBartossa
1999Paradise CoveDuke Mantee
2000 Blue Moon Frank Cavallo
2000Poor LizaThe Narrator
2000BelieveEllicott Winslowe
2000Home Sweet Hoboken
2000 Very Mean Men Gino Minetti
2000Undertaker's ParadiseJim
2000The ListD.A. Bernard Salman
2000Nella terra di nessunoL'avvocato Scalzi
2003L'ospite segretoSolomos
2003 Dogville Jack McKay
2005Bonjour MichelMichele Terranova
2005SchubertDon José
2006 Paris, je t'aime BenSegment: "Quartier Latin"
2006The ShoreMr. Bob Harris
2008Looking for PalladinJack Palladin
2008EveJoeShort film
2009Holy MoneyVatican's Banker
2009 13 Schlondorff
2010Christopher RothPaul Andersen
2011Chez GinoOncle Giovanni


1951–1954 Danger Various roles4 episodes
1952–1953 Treasury Men in Action Various roles2 episodes
1952–1958 Kraft Television Theatre Various roles2 episodes
1954 Medallion Theatre DickEpisode: "The Alibi Kid"
1954 The United States Steel Hour Richard Elgin Jr.Episode: "The Notebook Warrior"
1954JusticeVarious roles3 episodes
1957–1958 Playhouse 90 Various roles2 episodes
1959 Armchair Theatre Jim MasonEpisode: "You'll Never See Me Again"
1959 DuPont Show of the Month Carlos PerezEpisode: "Body and Soul"
1961 Cry Vengeance! DaviddeTelevision film
1963–1964 Arrest and Trial Detective Sgt. Nick AndersonMain role, 30 episodes
1964 A Carol for Another Christmas FredTelevision film
1965 Kraft Suspense Theatre Paul BryanEpisode: "Rapture at Two-Forty"
1965–1968 Run for Your Life Paul BryanMain role, 85 episodes
Also director, 5 episodes
1967 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre SidneyEpisode: "Free of Charge"
1971 The Name of the Game Director
Episode: "Appointment in Palermo"
1972 When Michael Calls Doremus ConnellyTelevision film
1972 Fireball Forward Major General Joe Barrett
1972 The Family Rico Eddie Rico
1972 Pursuit Steven Graves
1973 You'll Never See Me Again
1973 Maneater Nick Baron
1974 QB VII Abe CadyMain role, 2 episodes
1974–1975 Columbo Director, 2 episodes
1977 The Death of Richie George WernerTelevision film
1977 The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald Anson "Kip" Roberts
1982A Question of HonorDetective Joe DeFalco
1984Hollywood's Most Sensational MysteriesNarrator
1985 An Early Frost Nick Pierson
1985A Letter to Three WivesPorter Holloway
1987Police Story: The Freeway KillingsCaptain Tom Wright
1987Downpayment on MurderHarry Cardell
1990People Like UsGus Bailey
1991 Lies Before Kisses Grant Sanders
1993BlindsidedIra Gold
1993Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia MarriageJoseph Bonanno
1993Cycle SimenonJohnEpisode: "Les gens d'en face"
1994Parallel LivesCharlie DukeTelevision film
1994Fatal Vows: The Alexandra O'Hara StoryPapa
1995Convict CowboyWarden
1996Una donna in fugaDon Peppe
1996StrangersDoctorEpisode: "A New Life"
1997The Notorious 7Dom DiabloTelevision film
1998Valentine's DayJoe Buddha
1998Angelo neroPadre Guelfi
1998Il tesoro di DamascoGregorio Kos
1999Tre stelleColonel MarshallMiniseries
2000Un bacio nel buioTelevision film
2000Piovuto dal cieloCesare Palmieri
2001 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit E.A.D.A.Episode: "Wrath"
2001 Brian's Song Coach HalasTelevision film
2002 Hysterical Blindness Nick
2005 Pope John Paul II Agostino Casaroli Main role, 2 episodes
2006And Quiet Flows the DonGeneral SecretovMiniseries
2007Donne sbagliateFranco MarescoTelevision film
2008 Empire State Building Murders Paulie Genovese
2009L'onore e il rispettoFred6 episodes
2013Pupetta: Il coraggio e la passioneOtello Di BellaMain role, 4 episodes


Awards and nominations

David di Donatello Awards Best Actor 1985 A Proper Scandal Nominated
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actor in a Play 1976 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Nominated
Outstanding Solo Performance 2004Nobody Don't Like YogiNominated
Outstanding Ensemble Performance2006 Awake and Sing! Won
Flaiano Prize Career Award1993Won
Golden Globe Awards Best TV Star – Male 1966 Run for Your Life Nominated
1967 Nominated
1968 Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Supporting Actor 1983 Inchon Nominated
1989 Road House Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series 1967 Run for Your LifeNominated
1968 Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie 1986 An Early Frost Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie 2003 Hysterical Blindness Won
Marco Island Film FestivalGolden Eagle Award2000Won
National Board of Review Best Acting by an Ensemble 1998 Happiness Won
Oldenburg Film FestivalGerman Independence Honorary Award2001Won
San Sebastián International Film Festival Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award2005Won
Theatre World Awards 1954End as a ManWon
Tony Awards Best Actor in a Play 1956 A Hatful of RainNominated
1975 Hughie / DuetNominated
1977 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?Nominated

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