- NAME: Ben Gazzara
- OCCUPATION: Actor
- BIRTH DATE: August 28, 1930
- DEATH DATE: February 03, 2012
- EDUCATION: Stuyvesant High School, City College of New York, The Dramatic Workshop, The Actor's Studio
- PLACE OF BIRTH: New York, New York
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Originally: Biagio Anthony Gazzara
Best Known For
Actor Ben Gazzara starred in the Broadway debut of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and in films such as 1998's The Big Lebowski.
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Actor Ben Gazzara was born Biagio Anthony Gazzara on August 28, 1930, in New York City. At 12, he joined a local theater group, and returned to acting after college. He starred in the Broadway debut of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1956, and in the film Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Gazzara also appeared on the TV show Run for Your Life (1965–1968) and in the 1998 film The Big Lebowski. He died on February 3, 2012, in New York.
"I turned down a lot of movies because I was so idealistic. I was so pure. I didn't really take advantage of the opportunities. These days, I turn nothing down."
"I told my mother I wanted to be an engineer. What I did was dabble in courses I wanted to take: history, literature and especially drama.''
On attending Stuyvesant High: "The other kids in the class! My God, what came out of their mouths! They were Einsteins. I'm sure one or two of them have won the Nobel Prize.''
Actor Biagio Anthony Gazzara was born on August 28, 1930, in New York City's Lower East Side. Gazzara's parents, Angela and Antonio Gazzara, were both Sicilian immigrants, and his father worked as a bricklayer and carpenter. Gazzara grew up very poor. "I wouldn't call it poverty,'' he said, "but it was a constant struggle. There was no steam heat & Once in a while my mother would say she wasn't hungry, because there wasn't enough food for everybody." Despite these hardships, Gazzara looks back fondly on his childhood. "I remember my childhood with great warmth," he said, "because our block was a real community. It was like a small town, half Irish and half Italian. There was animosity between the two groups, but there was also respect."
The Gazzaras lived in a tenement flat across the street from the Madison Square Boys' Club, where a man named Howard Sinclair ran a youth drama program. One day, when Gazzara was 12 years old, he went to see a friend perform in one of the club's plays. Gazzara recalls, "I listened to all the applause he got and I was jealous, so I told him to get me an audition. I had a deep voice even then, and Howard Sinclair gave me a role as a 72-year-old, bearded Arab in a play by Lord Dunsany. And that did it for me. The smells of the theater. The glue. The pancake makeup. And I got applause. So I knew I had to be an actor. I was in play after play. He gave me leading roles. I sat at his feet as he read Shakespeare. He became like a second father.''
After graduating from eighth grade, Gazzara enrolled in Stuyvesant High School, an elite New York City public high school specializing in math and science. Although Gazzara considered himself a bright kid, he found himself overwhelmed by the other students at Stuyvesant. He remembers, "The other kids in the class! My God, what came out of their mouths! They were Einsteins. I'm sure one or two of them have won the Nobel Prize.''
Gazzara left Stuyvesant after two years and transferred to St. Simon Stock High School in the Bronx. Although he never lost his passion for acting, upon graduating from high school in 1948 Gazzara decided to study engineering at the City College of New York. But his heart was never really in it. "I told my mother I wanted to be an engineer," he recalls. "What I did was dabble in courses I wanted to take: history, literature and especially drama.''
Gazzara dropped out of City College after two years to study acting with German director Erwin Piscator at the Dramatic Workshop—the alma mater of such acting legends as Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters.
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