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Overview for John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes

John Cassavetes

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Also Known As: Died: February 3, 1989
Born: December 9, 1929 Cause of Death: cirrhosis of the liver
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... director actor playwright producer screenwriter sports announcer assistant stage manager acting teacher
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BIOGRAPHY

sic "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), as well as his convincing performance as Mia Farrow¿s narcissistic actor-husband in director Roman Polanski¿s horror masterpiece, "Rosemary's Baby" (1968). All of the acting paychecks ultimately led to Cassavetes¿ second independently-produced film, "Faces" (1968). Cut from the same cloth as "Shadows," the film featured many of Cassavetes¿ de facto stock company ¿ Rowlands and character actor Seymour Cassel among them ¿ and was filmed in a similarly collaborative manner that allowed the actors to shape both their characters and the ultimate direction of the film. An examination of the disintegration of an unsatisfying marriage and an indictment of the shallowness of modern America, "Faces" earned Oscar nominations for both Cassel and actress Lynn Carlin, in addition to one for Cassavetes for original screenplay. It also cemented Cassavetes¿ growing reputation as one of the more unique voices in American cinema.

Cassavetes¿ next directorial effort was "Husbands" (1970), a story about three married men (Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara) who embark on a wild jaunt to London while struggling to cope with the sudden death of a close friend. "Husbands" proved deeply divisive among critics, some of whom declared it one of the very best films of the year, while others dismissed it as a tedious failure. Cassavetes, however, was not interested in critical consensus, but in provoking discussion in his pursuit of artistic truth. In that endeavor, he succeeded. Having established momentum with his work as a director, he quickly followed with "Minnie and Moskowitz" (1971), a romantic duet starring Rowlands as a disillusioned museum curator pursued by Cassel¿s smitten parking lot attendant character. Financed with his own money, in addition to funds borrowed from Peter Falk, "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974) was a devastating portrait of a loving wife (Rowlands) whose increasingly erratic behavior forces her concerned husband (Falk) to contemplate having her committed. Unable to find a major distributor for the finished film, Cassavetes formed Faces International, which helped book the movie in any art house or film festival he could. Word of mouth built and soon "A Woman Under the Influence" was garnering near universal acclaim, eventually going on to earn Rowlands and director Cassavetes Oscar nominations. In the years that followed, many would see the film as the creative and critical peak of the filmmaker¿s career.

Taking inspiration from friend and supporter Martin Scorsese, Cassavetes wrote and directed the crime drama "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" (1976). Ben Gazzara starred as Cosmo Vittelli, a strip club owner and chronic gambler coerced into performing a mob hit. Gritty and gripping, the film performed poorly upon its initial release, only to be regarded as one of the filmmaker¿s best efforts years later. In a rare acting gig that was neither done for money nor as an appearance in one of his own films, Cassavetes co-starred with Falk in first-time director Elaine May's "Mikey and Nicky" (1976). A buddy movie in which ne¿er-do-well Nicky (Cassavetes) enlists the help of his pal Mikey (Falk) in escaping the wrath of the mob, it became infamous for a battle between May and Paramount that ended with the over-budget film being pulled from theaters and shelved for a decade. Cassavetes went behind the camera once more to helm the psychological drama "Opening Night" (1977), in which Rowlands essayed the emotional collapse of a Broadway actress battling loneliness, alcoholism and the fear of growing old. For her emotionally raw performance, Rowlands won the Best Actress Award at the 28th Berlin International Film Festival.

One of Cassavetes¿ more accessible films was, without a doubt, the crime-drama "Gloria" (1980). The closest Cassavetes would ever come to directing a traditional action movie, the film again starred Rowlands as the eponymous, tough-as-nails heroine, who becomes the unexpected protector of a young boy targeted by the mob. A rare commercial hit for Cassavetes, it earned Rowlands another Oscar nomination, served as the inspiration for several similarly themed films, and spawned a literal remake starring Sharon Stone nearly two decades later. Although most of his acting jobs during this period were strictly as a hired gun, Cassavetes appeared to enjoy himself in writer-director Paul Mazursky's updating of Shakespeare¿s "Tempest" (1982), playing the Prospero role with manic relish. His 11th film as a director was the drama "Love Streams" (1984), an intimate examination of the enduring love between middle-aged siblings (Cassavetes and Rowlands) whose bond endures, even as their lives crumble around them. "Love Streams" would also be considered Cassavetes¿ last truly personal film by many admirers in the years that followed. Taken over by Cassavetes from the film¿s writer and original director, the lackluster comedy "Big Trouble" (1986) was a film Cassavetes essentially washed his hands of after the studio began making changes he disagreed with.

Tempestuous, combative and unpredictable, Cassavetes¿ multitude of public shenanigans on and off the set had for years led to speculation about his drinking. Those that knew him best knew he had been a severe alcoholic for some time, a fact seemingly contradicted by his voluminous creative output. Just prior to starting production on "Love Streams," Cassavetes had been diagnosed with severe cirrhosis of the liver and given six months to life. In true Cassavetes form, he defied expectations and lived years past his predicted demise. Nonetheless, the disease was taking its toll on him and by the late-1980s, Cassavetes¿ condition had grown extremely fragile. Refusing to give in, he managed to write and produce a play in Los Angeles and was working on a film project with actor Sean Penn, tentatively titled "DeLovely," just prior to his death on Feb. 3, 1989. John Cassavetes was 59 years old. In addition to his remarkable body of work as a filmmaker and his better known acting roles, Cassavetes¿ legacy was furthered by his wife, Rowlands, and the three children he left behind. Nick Cassavetes would become an established filmmaker in his own right, bringing his father¿s unfinished final project to light as he had intended in the form of the film "She¿s So Lovely" (1997), starring Sean Penn. Daughter Alexandra "Xan" Cassavetes directed the acclaimed documentary "Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession" (2004), while youngest daughter Zoe wrote and directed the romantic drama "Broken English" (2007), which featured a supporting turn by Rowlands.

by Bryce Colemanmpatible. Savaged by most critics, "Too Late Blues" proved a valuable early lesson for Cassavetes in his future dealings with the establishment. He gave it another try after being convinced by director-producer Stanley Kramer to take the helm of a project at United Artists. A social-drama about conflicting ideologies at an institution for the mentally disabled, "A Child Is Waiting" (1962) starred Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland. From the beginning, it was clear that Cassavetes and Kramer ¿ much like the conflict between Lancaster¿s and Garland¿s characters ¿ had differing opinions on the material. As soon as shooting was completed, Kramer dismissed his young director and edited the picture to fit his vision. The frustrating experience and resulting film were bitter disappointments for Cassavetes, who vowed never to direct under studio constraints again.

Having relocated with Rowlands to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Cassavetes took on work in several mainstream film and television projects, primarily for financial reasons, although the efforts did yield several of his more memorable acting roles. He played the intended target of "The Killers" (1964), based on the story by Ernest Hemingway. Later, Cassavetes gained considerable attention for his Academy Award-nominated turn in the man-on-a-mission clas

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