Actor Gazzara radiates the energy of a nuclear fuel rod—and manages to bring that candent glow here.
“In the fifties, I’d sort of led the way for actors who were offbeat,” Gazzara writes, with a touch of understatement. He was weaned at Erwin Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop in his native New York City and moved on to Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio. From these serious roots comes a serious actor writing a serious memoir, in high relief from standard fluff. Here is a man more interested in conveying his art than his celebrity: though Gazzara occasionally drifts into unexpected self-pity with comments like “superstardom had eluded me; that had not been easy to take,” in fact he hadn’t exactly taken the superstar track. What he wishes his readers to understand is how he went about shaping his fine roles in Saint Jack, The Spanish Prisoner, Tales of Ordinary Madness, and especially the films he worked in with his close friend John Cassavetes, including Husbands and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. He spells out his version of method acting as best he can, but still fairly obliquely, as he explains how he makes a character his own, gets the tempo right, uses sense memory (recalling a similar incident in his own life), and applies it believably to a part. In the course of this life narrative, Gazzara has his heart broken, endures bouts of hard loneliness, and suffers from depression described as bitingly and eerily as William Styron and Jim Harrison did in their own memoirs. But this account always circles back to acting, an art one senses Gazzara will continue to practice until the vanishing point. Theater buffs will take particular interest in his recollections of working with Edward Albee, who lets plays evolve organically according to the cast, while film fans will relish Gazzara’s vivid evocation of the highly creative, free-form atmosphere Cassavetes created on his sets.
A sui generis autobiography from a gentleman with a deep reservoir of romanticism, responsibility, and guilt.