So long BEN GAZZARA February 4, 2012
He was one of John Cassavetes’ favorite actors. He just died in New-York at age 81.
It was in “Husbands” (1970), directed by Cassavetes, that along with Peter Falk, he really made an impression as an unhappily married man out for a drunken night on the town.
As Ben Gazzara wrote in his autobiography, “In the Moment” (2004), the on-camera camaraderie was so convincing that people assumed the three men had been lifelong friends; in fact they had barely known one another when the filming began, though they became friends during it.
For the maverick director, Gazzara played a collection of bitter spouses and down-on-their heels gamblers and theater directors, in films such as “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” and “Opening Night.”
Among his other notable film roles were an accused rapist in “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959), the smooth-talking pornographer Jackie Treehorn in the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (1998), and a grandfather separating from his wife of 40 years in Todd Solondz’s “Happiness”(1998).
Less successful was his starring role opposite his then-lover Audrey Hepburn in Peter Bogdanovich’s “They All Laughed” (1981). The romantic comedy was a box office and critical disaster.
On stage, Gazzara originated the role of the alcoholic, sexually confused Brick in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” It helped make his name, but he saw the role go to Paul Newman in the 1958 film adaptation.
He also starred as an alcoholic Italian writer in Marco Ferreri’s Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981).
While linked aesthetically with Cassavetes and independent-minded films, Gazzara played in mainstream movie roles such as Road House (1989), starring Patrick Swayze. He more recently co-starred in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.
“I turned down so many movies because I was idealistic,” he once said. “If I had the same chances today, I would take them all because you never know where it will lead.”
A native of New York’s Lower East Side, Gazarra won an Emmy in 2003 for his supporting role in HBO’s Hysterical Blindness and was nominated for NBC’s An Early Frost (1985).
He was nominated for three Tony awards for playing a drug addict in “A Hatful of Rain,” for doing double duty in two short plays Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie” and David Scott Milton’s “Duet,” and for playing the alcoholic George in a revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”