Lazarus Gazzarus

Very much alive.

Ben Gazzara has a birthday today. I won’t say how old he is because that would jinx it. I commemorated Jules Dassin and Richard Widmark and they promptly croaked. Gazzara’s had enough of that sort of thing.

Remember when Ben Gazzara was dead? It lasted years.

I visited my old friend Lawrie one time and offered to screen THE BIG LEBOWSKI for him — he had an on-off affection for the Coens. I told him who was in it.

“Ben Gazzara? But Ben Gazzara’s dead!”

“Perhaps you’re thinking of John Cassavetes. John Cassavetes is dead.”

“John Cassavetes IS dead. But Ben Gazzara’s definitely dead.”

And as he spoke, a strange thing happened. I remembered that Ben Gazzara was dead. In spite of the fact that I knew he was alive, and I held a recent film he had appeared in to prove it, I could recall a recent time in which I had been just as sure as Lawrie was that Ben Gazzara was as dead as John Cassavetes. Deader, if anything. He always LOOKED deader, anyway.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I remembered where I was when I first heard that Ben Gazzara was dead, but I definitely remembered a number of places I had been during the time that I knew Ben Gazzara was dead. It was a bit like the strange double memory a couple of characters have in Ursula K. LeGuin’s novella The Lathe of Heaven, after history has been rewritten by a dreaming man with divine powers to reshape reality.

So, the call goes out? Now that Lawrie has gone to join John Cassavetes, and Ben Gazzara has come back to join us, does anybody else remember back when Ben Gazzara was dead?

Does Ben Gazzara?

20 Responses to “Lazarus Gazzarus”

  1. I would have been 50:50 on Ben Gazzara being dead until I saw his birthday on imdb earlier. Could you and Laurie have been thinking of Ben Carruthers who is dead, shares a first name and rhythmic surname as Benny G, and also appeared in Cassavetes’ flicks?

    Yesterday I realised that Yuri Gagarin is dead (and has been for 40 years) but I have no idea whether anyone mentioned that to me before and it just floated away out of my ear.

  2. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of Ben Carruthers, Jenny. He wasn’t just in Shadows. He was in Guns of the Trees and Lilith as well. There is an iconic William Claxton photograph “Birdland at 3 am” It shows the club’s entrance with a hipster with a sax in his hand leaning against the canopy. That hipster — never identified by name in any appearance of the photo — is Ben Carruthers. He was probably waiting for Cassavetes and the Shadows crew to show up.

    Gazzara’s best work is for Cassavetes, most particularly Husbands and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie He’s also great in Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack.

    He radiates the joy of being alive.

  3. Here he is in Shadows — right in front of Birdland, as I said.

  4. Oh, I must get organizized and see Saint Jack, I only managed to catch a bit of it once. And there was an amazing line from Brit sitcom actor Rodney Bewes as a seedy Brit abroad, rhapsodizing about a whore he knows: “She does things to your arse, it’s like being dead. You know, heaven?” Garbled, braindead pornographic poetry!

    It’s a good suggestion but I don’t think I knew if Ben Carruthers was dead at the time. I’m not sure anything Gazzara appeared in between 1981 and 1997 got a UK release, which is perhaps why we thought he’d gone.

  5. Interesting, though Gazzara was in that Patrick Swayze epic from 1989, Road House, as the chief bad guy!

    I’ve had my difficulties with Cassavetes but The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie is the film that I connected with and got on the wavelength of the most so far. The pacing of it felt perfect, the heartbreaking downward spiral Vitelli goes on, almost but not quite making it. Even when everything is going great there’s still a feeling of things on the edge of total collapse, with even the suggestion of welcoming the self destruction.

  6. Elaine May made the best Cassavetes film though: Mikey and Nicky.

    Actually, I say that, but there are still lots of Cassavetes films I haven’t tried. But M&N worked for me right away.

  7. Road House definitely falls into the period when Gazzara was technically dead.

  8. Yep, they probably reanimated his corpse and he still out-acted Swayze (I assume).

    The opening of Shadows is a great, and very memorable, one. I also like it when they’re all smoking in a caff and then go to the MoMA.

  9. Yeah… gotta give Cassavetes another fling.

  10. […] That’s Weird… I write a birthday piece for Ben Gazzara. In it, I reference the work of science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin. I suspect I’m the […]

  11. Mikey and Nicky is very special. It’s based on an incident that happened in her own family. The story about “Izzy, who last all his hair” is a direct reference to Mike Nichols. The style of the film may seem Casavetes but the auteur is Elaine May.

    Oh and that’s Carol Matthau as the ex-girlfriend they visit.

  12. Superb, thanks! That scene in the cemetery at night is just the greatest.

  13. Beautiful. Improv scenes have a tendency to go on about 30% too long… which is why cutting them down is usually necesary, so you need multiple cameras… but this one really makes duration WORK. It’s just perfect.

  14. That’s because it wasn’t an improv. It just looks that way. I have a copy of May’s script. Not a line was altered.

  15. I remember when Jack Palance died a few years ago. And then he died again.

    Viz Magazine (once again I drag down the tone of this blog) even did a story about Jack Palance dying for a second time so it wasn’t just me. I was at a party once where my conversation-starter was that I’d just heard that Vincent Price had died. “Or has he?” was the first response. This isn’t as sad as the time, in a Queensland youth hostel, I read the news that James Cagney had died and someone said “Who’s he?”

    Wonderful to see Ursula LeGuin mentioned particularly Lathe of Heaven, a copy of which I can see on the shelf as I type.

  16. Good call on Palance. How many other stars have died more than once?

    Mark Cousins and Sean Connery once had a bet over whether Leni Riefenstahl was alive — Mark won, she was kept alive by the power of evil, but stingy old Sir Sean still hasn’t coughed up the fiver, so far as I know.

    I trust everybody’s seen the YouTube clip of Ernest Borgnine on his theory of longevity?

  17. re; Leni Riefenstahl, This month’s Qantus inflight mag (“The Australian Way”, 1950s-era attitudes to race relations it would seem) has a holiday accommodation story that is headlined “Triumph of the Villa”. Luckily the subheadline isn’t “And it won’t holocaust you much”.

  18. Shoah Little Appreciation.

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