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John Cassavetes Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trade Mark (2)  | Trivia (33)  | Personal Quotes (16)

Overview (4)

Born in New York City, New York, USA
Died in Los Angeles, California, USA  (cirrhosis of the liver)
Birth NameJohn Nicholas Cassavetes
Height 5' 9" (1.75 m)

Mini Bio (1)

John Cassavetes was a Greek-American actor, film director, and screenwriter. He is considered a pioneer of American independent film, as he often financed his own films.

Cassavetes was born in New York City in 1929 to Nicholas John Cassavetes (1893-1979) and his wife, Katherine Demetre (1906-1983). Nicholas was an immigrant from Greece, while Katherine was Greek-American and had been born in New York City. The Cassavetes family moved back to Greece in the early 1930s, and John learned Greek as his primary language. The family moved back to the United States around 1936, possibly to evade Greece's new dictatorship, the 4th of August Regime (1936-1941). Young John had to learn to speak English. He spent his late childhood and most of his teenage years in Long Island, New York. From 1945-47, he attended the Port Washington High School. He wrote for the school newspaper and the school yearbook. The 18-year-old Cassavetes was then transferred to the Blair Academy, a boarding school located in Blairstown, New Jersey.. When the time came for him to start college, Cassavetes enrolled at Champlain College (in Burlington, Vermont) but was expelled owing to poor grades.

After a brief vacation to Florida, Cassavetes enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA), in New York City. Several of his old friends were already students there and had recommended it to Cassavetes, who would be mentored by Don Richardson (1918-1996). After graduating, he began to regularly perform on stage while also appearing in small roles in films and television shows.

Cassavetes's first notable film role was that of Robert Batsford, one of the three villains (along with Vince Edwards and David Cross) in The Night Holds Terror (1955). His next major role was juvenile delinquent Frankie Dane in the crime film "Crime in the Streets" (1956). He won a lead role in Edge of the City (1957) as drifter Axel Nordmann. His co-star for the film was Sidney Poitier, who played stevedore Tommy Tyler. The film helped break new ground, portraying a working-class interracial friendship. Cassavetes gained critical acclaim for his role, and film critics compared him to Marlon Brando. Cassavetes's success as an actor led to his becoming a contract player for MGM. In 1959, he directed his first film, Shadows (1958). It depicted the lives of three African-American siblings in New York City. It won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival.

His next directing effort, Too Late Blues (1961), was about the professional and romantic problems of a struggling jazz musician. The film was poorly received at the time, though its autobiographical elements are considered remarkable. Cassavetes then directed A Child Is Waiting (1963), which depicted life in a state institution for mentally handicapped and emotionally disturbed children. The film was a documentary-style portrayal of problems in the social services. It was praised by critics but failed at the box office.

In 1968, Cassavetes had a comeback as a director with Faces (1968), which depicts a single night in the life of a middle-aged married couple. After 14 years of marriage, the two feel rather miserable and seek happiness in the company of friends and the beds of younger lovers, but neither manages to cure their sense of misery. The film gained critical acclaim, and, in 2011, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Cassavetes returned to the theme of a midlife crisis in his next film, Husbands (1970). The film depicts three middle-aged men, professionally successful and seemingly happily married. The death of a close childhood friend reminds them of their own mortality, and of their fading memories of youth. They flee their ordinary lives with a shared vacation to London, but their attempts to rejuvenate themselves fail. This film attracted mixed reviews, with some critics praising its "moments of piercing honesty" and others finding fault with its rambling dialogue.

Cassavetes's next film was Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), about the romantic relationship between a seemingly incompatible couple, jaded museum curator Minnie Moore and the temperamental drifter Seymour Moskowitz. It was well received and garnered Cassavetes a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen. His next film was A Woman Under the Influence (1974), concerning the effects of mental illness on a working-class family. In the film, ordinary housewife Mabel Longhetti starts displaying signs of a mental disorder. She undergoes psychiatric treatment for six months while her husband, Nick Longhetti, attempts to play the role of a single father. But Nick seems to be a social misfit in his own right, and neither parent seems to be "normal". Cassavetes was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for this film, but the award was won by Francis Ford Coppola.

Cassavetes next directed the gritty crime film, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). In the film, Korean War veteran and cabaret owner Cosmo Vittelli owes a large debt to a criminal organization and is coerced to serve as their hit-man in an assassination scheme. He has been told that the target is an insignificant bookie, but after the assassination Vittelli learns that he just killed a high-ranking crime boss of the Chinese mafia and that he himself is now a target for assassination. The film gained good reviews and a cult following.

His next film, Opening Night (1977), was more enigmatic, mixing drama with horror elements. Protagonist Myrtle Gordon (played by Cassavetes's wife, Gena Rowlands) is a famous actress, but aging and dissatisfied with the only theatrical role available to her. After seeing teenager Nancy Stein, one of her obsessive fans , get killed in a car accident, Myrtle starts having visions of Nancy's ghost. As she keeps fighting the ghost, drinking heavily and chain-smoking, the film ends without explaining what seems to be going wrong with Myrtle's perception of reality. The film was a hit in Europe but flopped in the United States.

Cassavetes had another directing comeback with "Gloria" (1980). In the film, Gloria Swenson (formerly a gangster's girlfriend) is asked to protect Phil Dawn, the young son of an FBI informant within a New York crime family. After the apparent assassination of Phil's parents, Gloria finds herself targeted by gangsters and wanted by the police as a kidnapping suspect. The film won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, and protagonist Gena Rowlands was nominated for several acting awards.

Cassavetes's 11th directing effort was the rather unconventional drama Love Streams (1984), about the relationship between two middle-aged siblings. In the film, Sarah Lawson suffers from depression following a messy divorce and moves in with her brother, Robert Harmon, an alcoholic writer with self-destructive tendencies. Though estranged from his ex-wife and his only son and unable to protect himself from violent foes, in the end Robert finally has someone for whom to care. The film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Cassavetes' swan song as a director was the comedy Big Trouble (1986), replacing the much younger Andrew Bergman. The film concerns an insurance agent who needs $40,000 for college tuition for his three daughters. He agrees to cooperate in an insurance scam with the wife of one of his clients, though the plan may require them to murder her husband. Several elements of the film were recycled from the plot of the iconic film noir Double Indemnity (1944), and "Big Trouble" served as its unofficial remake. The film was unsuccessful, and Cassavetes himself reportedly disliked the script.

In the late 1980s, Cassavetes suffered from health problems and his career was in decline. He died in 1989 from cirrhosis of the liver caused by many years of heavy drinking. He was only 59 years old. He is buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, having left more than 40 unproduced screenplays and an unpublished novel. His son, Nick Cassavetes, eventually used one of the unproduced screenplays to direct a new film, the romantic drama, She's So Lovely (1997). It was released eight years after the death of John Cassavetes, and was well received by critics.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Dimos I

Spouse (1)

Gena Rowlands (19 March 1954 - 3 February 1989) ( his death) ( 3 children)

Trade Mark (2)

Extreme close-ups, with the image going in and out of focus
Realistic, documentary-like films

Trivia (33)

Father of Nick Cassavetes, Xan Cassavetes and Zoe R. Cassavetes. Son of Nicholas John Cassavetes and Katherine Cassavetes.
Friend/actor Peter Falk said: "Cassavetes was the most fervent man I ever met, and he didn't have a copy-cat bone in his body."
A photograph of Cassavetes, taken during the production of his film Husbands (1970), appears on one stamp of a sheet of 10 USA 37¢ commemorative postage stamps, issued 25 February 2003, celebrating American Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes. The stamp honors directing.
Educated at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume Two, 1945-1985". Pages 189-194. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988.
Friend/actor Peter Falk said: 'Every Cassavetes film is always about the same thing. Somebody said 'Man is God in ruins,' and John saw the ruins with a clarity that you and I could not tolerate.'.
In Ray Carney's "Cassavetes on Cassavetes" book, Cassavetes confessed to his parents that he wanted to be an actor. His father wasn't initially thrilled at the idea of his son being an actor, but told him that he had to work hard because he would be portraying human emotions truthfully.
Auditioned for The Actors Studio when he was starting out as an actor, but was rejected.
Despite many claiming that his films are improvised, they are from completed scripts that came from improvised work by the actors. Another trademark of his films is that they're shot in documentary style.
He and Gena Rowlands made ten movies together: A Child Is Waiting (1963), Faces (1968), Machine Gun McCain (1969), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Two-Minute Warning (1976), Opening Night (1977), Gloria (1980), Tempest (1982) and Love Streams (1984).
Directed 3 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Seymour Cassel, Lynn Carlin and Gena Rowlands.
He and his good friend Ben Gazzara made 5 movies together: Husbands (1970), Capone (1975), If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), Opening Night (1977) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
He and close friend Peter Falk made six movies together: Machine Gun McCain (1969), Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Mikey and Nicky (1976), Opening Night (1977), Big Trouble (1986), and one movie made for TV: Columbo: Étude in Black (1972).
As of 2007, he is one of only eight filmmakers to be nominated for best directing, writing, and acting Oscars over the course of their lifetime. The other seven are Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, George Clooney, Roberto Benigni, John Huston and Kenneth Branagh.
Son-in-law of Lady Rowlands.
Brother-in-law of David Rowlands.
As of 2013, he is one of six men who has directed his wife to a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and is the only one to have directed her to two such nominations (Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980)). The other five are Paul Czinner directing Elisabeth Bergner in Escape Me Never (1935), Paul Newman directing Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel (1968), Richard Brooks directing Jean Simmons in The Happy Ending (1969), Blake Edwards directing Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria (1982), and Joel Coen directing Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996). Jules Dassin also directed his future wife Melina Mercouri in a Best Actress Oscar-nominated performance (Never on Sunday (1960)), though they were not yet married at the time of the nomination.
One of the screening rooms at the Thessaloniki Film Festival is named after him.
Adhered to the Stanislavsky School of Method Acting and taught acting classes in 1956 (in his own workshop that he started) prior to making the film Shadows (1958) .
Acted in films by other directors in order to finance his own projects.
While some of his Hollywood films (such as Too Late Blues (1961)) lost money, his own movies were often hugely successful. Shadows (1958), filmed with non-professional actors on the streets of New York with a hand-held camera on 16mm black & white film, cost a mere $40,000 and recouped its cost many times over, winning the 1960 Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival. Another of his films, Faces (1968), cost $1 million and made ten times as much in profits, as well as taking out another five prizes in Venice in 1970.
Actor and film director who was regarded as a pioneer of American cinema verité.
The New Yorker magazine said in 2013 that Cassavetes "may be the most influential American director of the last half century" --this on the eve of the screening of all of the films he directed, at the BAM Theater in Brooklyn, NY throughout July 2013.
He was considered for the role of Tom Hagen in The Godfather (1972) before Robert Duvall was cast.
Retrospective: Screening of all the films Cassavetes directed, plus some he acted in, at Brooklyn Academy of Music, July 6-31. [July 2013]
He played the brother of his real life wife Gena Rowlands in Love Streams (1984).
Retrospective at the 1st American Film Festival (2010) in Wroclaw, Poland.
He directed Val Avery in five films: Too Late Blues (1961), Faces (1968), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Gloria (1980).
He directed Fred Draper in five films: A Child Is Waiting (1963), Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Opening Night (1977).
Wrote a scathing "Letter to the Editor", published in the January 23, 1970, issue of Life Magazine, which strongly criticized the magazine for publishing a now notorious photo of Charles Manson on the cover of its December 19, 1969, issue. Cassavetes had costarred in the horror movie Rosemary's Baby" (1968), directed by Roman Polanski, whose pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, had been among the unfortunate victims of the grisly cult killings.
He never appeared in a film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Directed three films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: Shadows (1958), Faces (1968) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974). He appeared in one film that is in the registry: Rosemary's Baby (1968).
Alumnus of the AADA (American Academy of Dramatic Arts), Class of 1950.

Personal Quotes (16)

I'm sort of my own Mafia, you know, breaking my own knees.
There's a difference between ad-libbing and improvising. And there's a difference between not knowing what to do and just saying something. Or making choices as an actor. As a writer also, as a person who's making a film, as a cameraman, everything is a choice. And it seems to me I don't really have to direct anyone or write down that somebody's getting drunk; all I have to do is say that there's a bottle there and put a bottle there and then they're going to get drunk. I don't want to tell them how they're going to get drunk. I don't want to tell them how they're going to get drunk, or what they would do, and I don't want to restrict them in being able to carry out a beat, to fulfill an action. You can't say somebody's drunk, or in love.
Ricardo Montalban is to improvisational acting what Mount Rushmore is to animation.
As an artist, I feel that we must try many things - but above all we must dare to fail.
People have forgotten how to relate or respond; what I'm trying to do with my movies is build something audiences can respond to.
When I started making films, I wanted to make Frank Capra pictures. But I've never been able to make anything but these crazy, tough pictures. You are what you are.
Say what you are. Not what you would like to be. Not what you have to be. Just say what you are. And what you are is good enough.
Everyone has made a love, religion, god. Time magazine had the audacity to kill God and those people are floundering and walking around the world with nothing in their lives, simply because they are not led by anybody with responsibility.
In the last couple of decades or so, something has happened to the American dream. I don't quite know what it is, and it's still not very clear in my mind. Confusion has replaced patriotism. The intellect has replaced love. If something doesn't make money, no one is interested. Everything is for sale. Emotions are sold. Sex is sold. Everything is sex. Cars, women, clothes, your face, your hands, your shoes! Look at the ads, at television. My emotions aren't for sale. My thoughts can't be bought. They're mine. I don't want movies that sell me something. I don't want to be told how to feel.
[on Gena Rowlands] She and I have friction in terms of lifestyle and taste. We agree in taste on nothing. She thinks so totally opposite to anything I would ever conceive!
I'm not really a director. I'm a man who believes in the validity of a person's inner desires. And I think those inner desires, whether they're ugly or beautiful, are pertinent to each of us and are probably the only things worth a damn. I want to put those inner dreams on the screen so we can all look and think and feel and marvel at them.
I'm not part of anything. I never joined anything. I could work anywhere.
[on Love Streams (1984)] This picture, this picture; I don't give a fuck what anybody says. If you don't have time to see it, don't. If you don't like it, don't. If it doesn't give you an answer, fuck you. I didn't make it for you anyway.
[on the ending of Love Streams (1984)] I'm crazy, but I love this fucking movie. They hate it, but I love their faces. This is when we should begin the movie. This is the beginning. Now she goes home and the movie begins. Fuck 'em if they want answers. Fuck 'em!
I'm a professional actor out of defense. I'd prefer to be an amateur actor. But I've got to have money to make films. Unfortunately, it's an extremely expensive hobby.
[on who is independent filmmakers] Martin Scorsese, Elaine May, Shirley Clarke. It's hard to explain what "independence" means -- but to those who have it, film is still a mystery, not a way out. There are other independents, of course, but they haven't really hit the limelight yet, so not enough is at stake. To still do what you want after ten years, twenty years, is something. I've known a lot of filmmakers who started out with enormous talents and lost momentum. That is basically the point. (3 March 1975)

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