Ben Gazzara

  1. Hugh O’Brien, Broken Lance, 1953.     Gazzara and Montgomery Clift were up for Spencer Tracy’s sons insisted The  Hollywood Reporter on December 7, 1953.  
  2. James Dean, Giant, 1955.
  3. Mel Ferrer, War and Peace, 1956.      Playing Prince Andrei Bolkonskywould have led to his rich Italiancareer two decades earlier.
  4. Eli Wallach, Baby Doll, 1956.     When Hollywood finally called – in the person of ex-Broadway director Elia Kazan – Ben was in another Broadway smash.
  5. Elvis Presley, King Creole, 1957.  Imagine Presley’s rapture at winning a role once aimed at his idols: Brando and Dean! (“My acting school!”).   Both Dean and Paul Newman passed as the tale (when still about a boxer) was much the same as the biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano, Somebody Up There Likes Me, that Newman inherited after Dean’s shock death.  In his fourth and favourite movie, Presley never  let his idols down. “Good comic timing,” noted the  LA Times, “considerable intelligence and even flashes of sensitivity.” Sadly never again. Next stop, the US Army. And a comeback  in non-stop bilge. (Bobby Darin was once set for a re-make).  Sadly, never again. After this, the US Army cut his hair and, apparently, his balls.
  6. Geoffrey Horne, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1956.   When Montgomery Clift proved impossible for William Holden’s ally Lieutenant Joyce (Clift kept answering questions with non-sequiturs like “the sky is blue”), producer Sam Spiegel called up the star of his previous film, The Strange One, 1956. He was unavailable and Betty Spiegel suggested “little Geoffrey.” Also from The Stranger. “So,” said Horne, “I got the part that Cliff Robertson was dying to do. I know this because we were both represented by the same agent.” Horne was an excellent choice. On location in Sri Lanka, he saved director David Lean’s life when nearly swept way by a fast river.
  7. Paul Newman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1957.  Gazzara stole Broadway’s Cat with “dead calm and a kind of eruptive quietude.” said one of his future directors, Peter Bogdanovich. But Hollywood never called… Instead, MGM saw Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Anthony Franciosa, Don Murray, William Shatner. Even the too old Robert Mitchum – and Elvis Presley, whose manager, Colonel Parker, was furious. “Mahboy ain’t no fruit!”
  8. Christopher Plummer, Winds Across The Everglades, 1957.     Director Nicholas Ray, his star, Burl Ives, and their producersargued over Plummer. Gazzara, Charlton Heston, even Paul Newman were discussed as substitutes. Ray, however,kept the faith. More than scenarist-producer Budd Schulberg did, taking over the final days of shooting and subsequent editing from the (equally) alcoholic helmer. Warners released film in 1958, despite it being incomplete.
  9. Warren Beatty, The Roman Spring  of Mrs Stone, 1961.      On the scratch list for Vivien Leigh’s Rome gigolo, Paolo di Leo, in Tennessee Williams’ favourite movie of his work (his sole novel, in fact) were… the Roman looking Gazzara, Frankie Avalon (!), John Cassavetes, James Darren, Fabian, Ben Gazzara, George Hamilton, Jeffrey Hunter, and John  Saxon. Oh and Anthony Newley – more talented than any of them but hardly Italiano. 
  10. Chuck Connors, Arrest & Trial, TV, 1963-1964.     After five years in The Rifleman’s saddle, Connors was a bigger star and insisted on the role given to Gazzara, fresh in from Broadway.  And so Ben became Sergeant and Connors was (completely wrong) as  slick defense lawyer John Egan. They were never shot standing together: Ben was 5ft 10 ins to Chuck’s  6ft 6ins.  “There we were,” said Gazzara. “The giant and me.”

  11. Martin Balsam, Confessione di un commissario polizia al procuratore della repubblica (US: Confessions of a Police Captain), Italy, 1971.   Announced for Commissario Bonavia but changed his mind – presumably recalling his ill-fated Roman comedy, Risati di Gioia/The Passionate Thief, with Anna Magnani in 1961. Gazzara later made a string of Italian films and Rome backed his directing debut…
  12. Vittorio Gassman, A Wedding, 1977.      The father of the groom was Italian because it had been created for Ben – constantly visiting his wife, Janice Rule, during  Robert Altman’s previous shoot, 3 Women, 1977.
  13. Ian Holm, Another Woman, 1988.      Ben was an obvious choice to replace the disinterested George C Scott as Dr Ken Pister, the cardiologue husband of…Gena Rowlands (part of the John Cassavetes-Peter Falk films).   Woody found Ben lacking.    Enter: Holm sweet Holm.. As he explained the story to his wife, Ian was a cardiologist a with all passion having left his marriage to Gena Rowlands, he’s now seeing one of her friends.  “Behind her back,” said Penelope Wilton. “Mmm. Sounds a little familiar.”  She was third of his four wives.  
  14. David Soul, Salem’s Lot, TV, 1979.   Stephen King put his first book, Carrie, in a drawer and got on with this one…  with Gazzara in mind for Ben Mears (played by a more recent TV star).  The two works really launched  his career as the world’s most famous writer author, resulting in some 313  screen credits. Including the 112-minute movie cut of this two-parter. Some fans hate it, others, like King himself, love it.




 Birth year: 1930Death year: 2012Other name: Casting Calls:  14