In 1966 I had a telephone interview with Ben Gazzara, and the story I wrote afterward is one I’ve regretted ever since. I got too cute, did not use a single quote from the actor, and hid his comments under a layer of my own bias, based on my appreciation of his performance in a film I had seen nine years earlier, a performance that raised my expectations for Gazzara to a level few actors ever achieve.
I don’t think I was far off target, but the important thing is I was entirely too presumptive, too familiar, and too pretentious.
If Gazzara ever saw the article — and I hope that he didn’t — he probably crushed it into a ball, tossed it toward the nearest waste basket, and grumbled, “What a bunch of crap!”
And little of it would have made sense to someone who hadn’t seen “The Strange One,” and therefore had no knowledge of a character whose name began the article.
Akron Beacon Journal, May 1, 1966
Jocko de Paris.
Remember, Ben. Remember all the nice things people said when you made your movie debut in “The Strange One,” playing the sadistic de Paris.
This kid is gonna be a big, big star. That’s what they said.
Later it was maybe he’ll be a big star.
And then, maybe not.
Still later, it was whatever happened to the guy who was run out of town at the end of the movie about military school cadets?
In 1963, you arrived on television playing Detective Sgt. Nick Anderson in “Arrest and Trial,” a series that may have been ahead of its time because it lasted only one season. Two years later you were back, starring in “Run For Your Life.” The show was renewed for a second season.
So you’re gainfully employed on network television, but it must be disappointing that you’re not starring in important movies. That’s what was expected after you twisted your way into our heads with that brilliant portrayal of de Paris.
Jocko de Paris. Biting. Brutal. Savagely amusing. Compelling. Memorable. The performance still rings hard and true whenever I see it . . . and I’ve seen it several times, thanks to Channel 3's Late, Late, Late Movie.
Jocko de Paris is a role that comes along about once in a lifetime.
But when an actor comes on super-strong in a role like that and he’s liable to be typed. Producers develop blind spots. They can’t see the actor as a leading man, especially if that actor follows up the role by playing remorseless killer Lieut. Frederick Manion in “Anatomy of a Murder.” Another great film, another memorable role.
You realized you had a problem, and you knew what to do —
Kill de Paris. Dispose of Manion.
So you played a good guy cop on “Arrest and Trial.” But you went too far, didn’t you. Viewers didn’t take to a program that had you making arrests every week, then turn around and help lawyers set the suspects free. It was as if Lieut. Gerard had turned around to help prove Richard Kimble innocent. Bad melodrama.
So try again.
Now you’re playing dashing, devil-may-care Paul Bryan. He’s warm, compassionate, lovable, concerned. He even laughs once in awhile. Jocko de Paris never laughed. Unless he hurt someone. However, Paul Bryan faces a bleak future — his doctors say he is dying. He’ll only last as long as the program maintains good ratings.
And should those ratings, which were good last season, get even better this fall, well maybe you’ll make a real name for yourself . . . a clean, invest-your-money-in-me-and-we’ll-make-a-blockbuster-movie-together kind of name.
After all, you deserve success. You’re the kid from New York’s East Side, who not only grew up in the slums, but did it during the depression, who told me your earliest recollection was the sound of screaming from the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital. That’s the kind of stuff that, you know, grabs you . . . right here.
And you bummed around from New York to Floria and back again, eventually trying acting because . . . well, what else was there? And you like it, enrolling in Actor’s Studio, and to everyone’ amazement, you hit it big at 22 in your Broadway debut, “End As a Man,” which Hollywood retitled “The Strange One.” You made a perfect Jocko de Paris, maybe because you thought you WERE Jocko de Paris.
But before you went to Hollywood, you were in two more important Broadway hits — “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Hatful of Rain.”
If your life had just been a movie about a kid from a tough neighborhood who wanted to be an actor, a good place for THE END would have been a scene showing you at the premiere of “The Strange One.”
But life goes on, and you remained in Hollywood, hoping to become a leading man, but too many producers saw you as a villain.
So you went back to Broadway and did “Night Circus,” but it closed after a week.
The good news — while doing the play you met Janice Rule, and you fell in love, though you frightened her at first. That’s another drawback of being too convincing playing a bad guy. Fortunately, she discovered the real you and the two of you got married.
Still, Janice Rule and Ben Gazzara are a strange combination. Eager-to-get-ahead Gazzara and rebel Janice, the actress who could have gotten ahead, but didn’t. A actress who wouldn’t play the Hollywood game married to the actor who couldn’t.
You decided to try television, but when your first series failed, you were offered a part in a movie, “A Rage to Live,” with Suzanne Pleshette. It was a bomb. Even you thought so.
So it was back to television and a series that probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the success of David Janssen’s “The Fugitive.” His character, Richard Kimble, is running from the law. Yours is running from death. Both of you have good excuses to abruptly break off the romantic relationships you begin almost every week.
Now you’re on hiatus between seasons. This is the time to do television interviews and talk to writers and reporters in Albuquerque, Chattanooga, Muncie . . . and Akron. Your message: Spread the word — watch “Run For Your Life.” It’s a gas.
Your brief vacation will soon end and you’ll return to playing Paul Bryan. Some folks look down their noses at television, but doing a series is hard work. It just too bad that you’re working so hard to make us forget what’s probably the best role you will ever play.
Jocko de Paris.
Gazzara's marriage to Janice Rule ended in 1982. Later that year he married Elke Stuckmann, and they remained together until his death in 2012.
The actor kept busy all his life, never achieving the stardom that had been predicted, but establishing himself as a well-known actor who delivered strong performances.
"Run for Your Life" lasted 85 episodes, ending during the 1967-68 season. From there he did such films as "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," "The Bridge at Remagen," and "Husbands," the first of three movies he made with his good friend, John Cassavetes, directing.
He divided his work between theatrical and television films, continuing his career even after he was diagnosed with throat cancer, which greatly affected his voice, which became more and more gravelly.
NOTE: Undoubtedly, I appreciate "The Strange One" more than most, but I can't explain why. Gazzara's character is a sick, sadistic fellow who delights in bullying weaker students, including those played by Arthur Storch and Paul E. Richards (not to be confused with a much more successful actor named Paul Richards).
Storch is particularly good as a first-year cadet named Simmons. He didn't appear in many films or TV after "The Strange One." He joined the faculty at Syracuse University and was the artistic director of a Syracuse repertory theater.
Perhaps my fondness for the film stems, in part, from my mother, who recommended it. A strange recommendation, I thought, because it was not the kind of film I thought she'd enjoy. Apparently, she's the source of my unusuall sense of humor. I actually got lots of laughs from the film, especially during Storch's scenes.