Ben Gazzara


28 Aug 1930


Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA


Biagio Anthony Gazzara


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.

Actor ( 133 credits )

Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age (2017) Himself
Love, Marilyn (2012) Himself (archive footage)
Gazzara (2012) Himself
Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s (2012) Himself (archive footage)
Ristabbànna (2011)
Chez Gino (2011) Oncle Giovanni
Christopher Roth (2010) Paul Andersen
13 (2010) Schlondorff
Holy Money (2009) Vatican's Banker
Looking for Palladin (2008) Jack Palladin
Eve (2008) Joe
Beyond Wiseguys: Italian Americans & the Movies (2008) Himself
Paris, je t'aime (2006) Ben (segment "Quartier Latin")
Quiet Flows the Don (2006) Gen. Secretov
Tikhiy Don (2006)
Schubert (2005) Don José
Bonjour Michel (2005) Michele Terranova
The Shore (2005) Mr. Bob Harris
Buenafuente (2005)  Himself (1 episode, 2005)
Pope John Paul II (2005)  Cardinal Agostino Casaroli
The Tony Danza Show (2004)  Himself (1 episode, 2005)
Dogville (2003) Jack McKay
Dogville Confessions (2003) Himself
L'ospite segreto (2003) Solomos
Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003) Himself
Who Is Alejandro Chomski? (2002) Himself
Home Sweet Hoboken (2001)
A Constant Forge (2000) Himself
Nobody's Heart (2000) L'avvocato Scalzi
Undertaker's Paradise (2000) Jim
The List (2000) D.A. Bernard Salman
Very Mean Men (2000) Gino Minetti
Believe (2000) Ellicott Winslowe
Blue Moon (2000) Frank Cavallo
Poor Liza (2000) The Narrator
Jack of Hearts (1999) Bartossa
Shark in a Bottle (1999) The Arranger
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) Andrew Wallace
Summer of Sam (1999) Luigi
Paradise Cove (1999) Duke Mantee
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999)  Executive Assistant Attorney (1 episode, 2001)
Illuminata (1998) Old Flavio
The Big Lebowski (1998) Jackie Treehorn
Happiness (1998) Lenny Jordan
Buffalo '66 (1998) Jimmy Brown
Too Tired to Die (1998) John Sage
Vicious Circles (1997) March
The Spanish Prisoner (1997) Mr. Klein
Stag (1997) Frank Grieco
Shadow Conspiracy (1997) Vice President Saxon
Farmer & Chase (1997) Farmer
Ladykiller (1996) Lt. Jack 'Jigsaw' Lasky
John Cassavetes: To Risk Everything to Express It All (1996) Himself
Strangers (1996)  Stasi (1 episode, 1996)
Magacine (1996)  Himself (1 episode, 2005)
Mundo VIP (1996)  Himself (1 episode, 1996)
Bandits (1995) Amos
The Zone (1995) Dick Althorp
Nefertiti, figlia del sole (1995) Amanophis III
Cycle Simenon (1995)  John (1 episode, 1993)
Howard Stern (1994)  Himself (1 episode, 1996)
Paleoworld (1994)  Narrator (2 episodes)
Les hirondelles ne meurent pas à Jerusalem (1994) Moshe
Sherwood's Travels (1994) Raphael de Pietro
Bon dia, Catalunya (1992)  Himself (1 episode, 1993)
Per sempre (1991) Marcelo Rondi
Días de cine (1991)  Himself (1 episode, 2012)
Charlie Rose (1991)  Himself - Guest (2 episodes, 1998-2004)
Hollywood Mavericks (1990) John Russo (archive footage)
Beyond the Ocean (1990)
Road House (1989) Brad Wesley
La parada (1989)  Himself (1 episode, 1990)
Quicker Than the Eye (1988) Ben Norrell
Don Bosco (1988) Don Bosco
Du côté de chez Fred (1988)  Himself (1 episode, 1988)
Control (1987) Mike Zella
Champagne amer (1986) Paul Rivière
The Professor (1986) Il Professore
My Dearest Son (1985) Avv. Antonio Morelli
Woman of Wonders (1985) Alberto
A Proper Scandal (1984) The man with no memory
The Girl from Trieste (1982) Dino Romani
Cinéma cinémas (1982)  Himself (1 episode, 1985)
Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981) Charles Serking
They All Laughed (1981) John Russo
Inchon (1981) Maj. Frank Hallsworth
Droit de réponse: l'esprit de contradiction (1981)  Himself (1 episode, 1982)
Bloodline (1979) Rhys Williams
Saint Jack (1979) Jack Flowers
Opening Night (1977) Manny Victor
Voyage of the Damned (1976) Morris Troper
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) Cosmo Vittelli
High Velocity (1976) Clifford Baumgartner
Capone (1975) Al Capone
Dinah! (1974)  Himself (3 episodes, 1975-1977)
The Neptune Factor (1973) Cmdr. Adrian Blake
Afyon oppio (1972) Joseph Coppola
King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis (1970) Himself
Husbands (1970) Harry
The Bridge at Remagen (1969) Sgt. Angelo
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) Card Player
The David Frost Show (1969)  Himself (1 episode, 1969)
The Joe Namath Show (1969)  Himself (1 episode, 1969)
The Dick Cavett Show (1968)  Himself (1 episode, 1970)
The Joey Bishop Show (1967)  Himself (4 episodes, 1967-1969)
The Jerry Lewis Show (1967)  Singer (1 episode, 1967)
A Rage to Live (1965) Roger Bannon
Run for Your Life (1965)  Paul Bryan (86 episodes, 1965-1968)
Kraft Suspense Theatre (1963)  Paul Bryan (1 episode, 1965)
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (1963)  Sidney (1 episode, 1967)
Arrest and Trial (1963)  Det. Sgt. Nick Anderson (30 episodes, 1963-1964)
Convicts 4 (1962) John Resko
Conquered City (1962) Capt. George Stubbs
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962)  Himself (5 episodes, 1970-1973)
The Merv Griffin Show (1962)  Himself (1 episode, 1967)
The Young Doctors (1961) Dr. David Coleman
The Mike Douglas Show (1961)  Himself (2 episodes, 1974-1976)
The Passionate Thief (1960) Lello
Here's Hollywood (1960)  Himself (1 episode, 1962)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Lt. Frederick Manion
The Strange One (1957) Cadet Sgt. Jocko DeParis
The Jack Paar Tonight Show (1957)  Himself (2 episodes, 1962)
The DuPont Show of the Month (1957) (1 episode, 1959)
Playhouse 90 (1956)  M. Paul / ... (2 episodes, 1957-1958)
Armchair Theatre (1956)  Jim Mason (1 episode, 1959)
Justice (1954) (3 episodes, 1954)
The United States Steel Hour (1953)  Richard Elgin Jr. (1 episode, 1954)
Medallion Theatre (1953) (1 episode, 1954)
Today (1952)  Himself (1 episode, 1966)
What's My Line? (1950)  Himself - Guest Panelist / ... (4 episodes, 1959-1961)
Danger (1950) (3 episodes, 1952-1954)
Treasury Men in Action (1950)  Bowman (2 episodes, 1952-1953)
Kraft Theatre (1947)  Moony - Story #3 (2 episodes, 1952-1958)

Director ( 4 credits )

Beyond the Ocean (1990)
Columbo (1971) (2 episodes, 1974-1975)
The Name of the Game (1968) (1 episode, 1971)
Run for Your Life (1965) (3 episodes, 1967-1968)