JOHN CASSAVETES Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: John Nicholas Cassavetes                                                             
Born: 9 December 1929 New York, New York                                                   
Died: 3 February 1989 Los Angeles, California                                               
John Nicholas Cassavetes (December 9, 1929 – February 3, 1989) was an American           
actor, screenwriter, and director. He is considered a pioneer of American                   
independent film.                                                                           
Cassavetes was born in New York City, the son of Katherine Demetri (who was to             
feature in some of his films) and Nicholas John Cassavetes, Greek immigrants to             
the U.S. His early years were spent with his family in Greece; when he returned,           
at the age of seven, he spoke no English. He grew up in Long Island, New York               
and attended high school at Blair Academy in New Jersey before moving to the               
American Academy of Dramatic Arts. On graduation in 1950, he continued acting in           
the theater, took small parts in films, and began working on television in                 
anthology series such as Alcoa Theatre.                                                     
During this time he met and married actress Gena Rowlands. By 1956, Cassavetes             
had begun teaching method acting in workshops in New York City. An improvisation           
exercise in one workshop inspired the idea for his writing and directorial debut,           
Shadows (1959). Cassavetes raised the funds for production from friends and                 
family, as well as listeners to Jean Shepherd's late-night radio talk show "Night           
Cassavetes was unable to get American distributors to carry Shadows, so he took             
it to Europe, where it won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival.                   
European distributors later released the movie in the United States as an import.           
Although the viewership of Shadows in the United States was slight, it did gain             
attention from the Hollywood studios. Cassavetes directed two movies for                   
Hollywood in the early 1960s — Too Late Blues and A Child Is Waiting.                     
He also played Johnny Staccato in a late 50s television series about a jazz                 
pianist who also worked as a detective. It was broadcast on NBC between                     
September 1959 and March 1960, when it was acquired by ABC. Although critically             
acclaimed, the series was finally cancelled in September 1960. He performed as             
an actor in films such as The Dirty Dozen (1967), for which he was nominated for           
an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as an impudent, insubordinate                   
condemned soldier, and in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) as a two-faced           
actor. Other notable appearances include the role of the victim in Don Siegel's             
The Killers, and as a vicious government nemesis to Kirk Douglas in The Fury (1978).       
His next film as a director (and his second independent film) was Faces,                   
starring his wife Rowlands as well as John Marley, Seymour Cassel and Val Avery.           
It depicts a contemporary marriage in slow disintegration. Faces was nominated             
for three Academy Awards (Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and               
Best Supporting Actress). Around this time, Cassavetes formed "Faces                       
International" as a distribution company to handle all of his films.                       
Husbands (1970) stars Cassavetes himself with Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. They             
play a trio of married men on a spree in New York and London after the funeral             
of one of their best friends. Minnie and Moskowitz, about two unlikely lovers,             
has Rowlands with Seymour Cassel. He would play opposite Peter Falk again in               
1972, in the Columbo film "Etude in Black," playing the pianist and murderer               
Alex Benedict.                                                                             
His three masterpieces of the 1970s were produced independently. A Woman Under             
the Influence (1974) stars Rowlands as an increasingly troubled housewife in an             
uncomprehending world. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress,           
while Cassavetes was nominated for Best Director.                                           
In The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, a               
small-time strip-club owner with an out-of-control gambling habit, pressured by             
mobsters to commit a murder to pay off his debt. Opening Night (1977) has Gena             
Rowlands as lead actress with Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, and Joan Blondell.                   
Rowlands portrays an aging film star named Myrtle Gordon working in the theater             
and suffering a personal crisis. Alone and unloved by her colleagues, in fear of           
age and always at a remove from others on account of her stardom, she succumbs             
to alcohol and hallucinations after witnessing the accidental death of a young             
fan. Ultimately she fights through this, delivering the performance of her life             
in a play. According to Laurence Gavron, Cassavetes worked on the screenplay for           
several years, refining and altering it. The production cost more than 1.5                 
million dollars and took more than one year to complete. The first cut was over             
five hours long, and only one copy of the final version was released in the                 
United States.                                                                             
Cassavetes directed the film Gloria (1980) starring Rowlands as a mob moll who             
tries to protect a young orphan boy chased by the mob. This film gained another             
Best Actress Oscar nomination for Rowlands. Love Streams (1984) featured                   
Cassavetes as an aging swain who suffers the overbearing affection of his                   
recently divorced sister. His last film, Big Trouble (1986), was taken over                 
during filming from Andrew Bergman, who wrote the original screenplay.                     
Cassavetes died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1989 at the age of 59. He was               
survived by Rowlands and three children (Nick, Alexandra and Zoe).                         
His son, Nick Cassavetes, followed in his father's footsteps as an actor (Face/Off,         
Life) and director, and made the 1997 film She's So Lovely from a screenplay               
written by his father. He also directed 2002's John Q and 2004's The Notebook,             
which also starred Rowlands. Alexandra Cassavetes directed the documentary, Z               
Channel: A Magnificent Obsession in 2004 and served as 2nd Unit Director on her             
brother's film Alpha Dog in 2006. Lastly, his youngest daughter, Zoe Cassavetes             
both wrote and directed the 2007 film, Broken English featuring Rowlands and               
Parker Posey.