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Ben Gazzara

Photograph by Carl van Vechten, 1955
Born Biagio Anthony Gazzara
August 28, 1930 (1930-08-28) (age 79)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Spouse(s) Louise Erickson (m. 1951–1957) «start: (1951)–end+1: (1958)»"Marriage: Louise Erickson to Ben Gazzara" Location: (linkback:
Janice Rule (m. 1961–1979) «start: (1961)–end+1: (1980)»"Marriage: Janice Rule to Ben Gazzara" Location: (linkback:
Elke Krivat (m. 1982–present) «start: (1982)»"Marriage: Elke Krivat to Ben Gazzara" Location: (linkback:

Ben Gazzara (born August 28, 1930) is an American actor.


Early life

Gazzara was born Biagio Anthony Gazzara in New York City, the son of Italian immigrants Angelina (née Cusumano) and Antonio Gazzara, who was a laborer and carpenter.[1] Gazzara grew up on New York's tough Lower East Side. He actually lived on E. 29th Street and participated in the drama program at Madison Square Boys and Girls Club located across the street.[2] He Later, attended New York City's famed Stuyvesant High School.[3] He found relief from his bleak surroundings by joining a theater company at a very young age. Years later, he said that the discovery of his love for acting saved him from a life of crime during his teen years.[4] Despite his obvious talent, 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 afterwards joined the Actors Studio.


In the 1950s, Gazzara starred in various Broadway productions, most notably Tennessee Williams' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, directed by Elia Kazan. However, he lost out on the film role to Paul Newman. He 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 has had a long and varied acting career, with spells as an accomplished director, mostly in television. He joined other Actors Studio members in the 1957 film The Strange One. Then came a high-profile performance as a soldier on trial for avenging his wife's rape in Otto Preminger's 1959 classic courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder.

Subsequent screen credits included The Young Doctors (1961), A Rage to Live (1965), The Bridge at Remagen (1969), Capone (1975), Voyage of the Damned (1976), and High Velocity (1976).

Gazzara became well-known in a couple of television series, beginning with Arrest and Trial, which ran from 1963 to 1964 on ABC, and the more-successful series Run for Your Life 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".

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 himself. In The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Gazzara took the leading role of the hapless strip-joint owner, Cosmo Vitelli. A year later, Gazzara 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. In 1974, he co-starred with Anthony Hopkins in the acclaimed TV mini-series QB VII.

In the 1980s, Gazzara could be seen in a variety of movies, such as Saint Jack and They All Laughed (both directed by Peter Bogdanovich), and in a villainous role in the oft-televised Patrick Swayze film Road House, which the actor jokingly says is probably his most-watched performance. He starred with Rowlands in a controversial and critically acclaimed AIDS-themed TV movie An Early Frost (1985), for which he received his third Emmy nomination.

Very much in demand for supporting parts, Gazzara appeared in thirty-eight films—many for TV—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), Todd Solondz (Happiness), John Turturro (Illuminata), and John McTiernan (The Thomas Crown Affair).

In his seventies, Gazzara continues to be active. In 2003, 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 his first Emmy Award for his role). Several other projects have recently been completed or are currently in production. In 2005, he played Agostino Casaroli in the TV miniseries Pope John Paul II.

Personal life

Gazzara was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1999. He lost more than 40 pounds during treatment.

He has been married three times, first to Louise Erickson (1951–1957), then actress Janice Rule (1961–1979), and finally, German model Elke Krivat (sometimes known as Elke Stuckmann) since 1982.

In his 2004 autobiography the actor recounts his love affair with actress Audrey Hepburn. They co-starred in two of her final films, "Bloodline" (1979) and "They All Laughed" (1981).[5]

He is a friend of Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. During filming in Czechoslovakia of the big-budget war movie The Bridge at Remagen with co-stars Robert Vaughn, Bradford Dillman and George Segal, Gazzara was placed under house arrest during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. He and friend Robert Vaughn planned a daring escape with the help of a Czechoslovakian translator who wanted to defect to the West and ultimately the U.S.

Further reading

  • "Broadway: The Golden Age - by the Legends Who Were there," a film by Rick McKay Films, etc. Broadcast on KCET, Ch.28 (PBS in Los Angeles, December16,2006. Gazzara speaks openly about getting off of 29th St.
  • Harris, Irving (2009), Madison Square Memoir: The Magic and History of Madison Square Boys and Girls Club (visit; Gazzara wrote the introduction.
  • Sutton, Imre, 2008. Back to E.29th Street: Where Fact and Fiction Revisit Kips Bay, N. Y. (Fullerton, CA: Americo Publications)


  1. ^ "Ben Gazzara Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-04.  
  2. ^ Sutton 2008; Harris (2009).
  3. ^ Rothstein, Mervyn. "Running Cool - Ben Gazzara's Long Stage and Screen Career has Included a Love Affair with a Good Smoke". Cigar Aficionado.,2540,54,00.html. Retrieved 2007-11-01.  
  4. ^ "Broadway: the Golden Age..." 2006
  5. ^ Gazzara, Ben,2004. In the Moment: My Life as an Actor (N. Y.: Carroll & Graf Publishers): ch.16, pp.187–193.

External links



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