Ben Gazzara's long stage and screen career has included a love affair with a good smoke.
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94
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"Here's a perfect example. In 1979, the director Terence Young called me. I had just made a movie for him called Bloodlines with Audrey Hepburn. He asked me to come and star in South Korea in a movie called Inchon. I knew that working with Terence was wonderful. The picture might not work, but you would have a good time. You would have caviar and Champagne and the living would be good and you would be paid top dollar. But then I read the script and I said no. It was difficult to say no to a friend, but I did.''
A month later, however, Young called again. "He said to me, 'Are you stupid, dear boy? Larry is coming to do it'--Larry Olivier--'and you're not going to do it?' So I said, 'OK, Terence, I'll be there.' And I went.''
The movie turned out to be very forgettable, but the experience was not. In fact, it was memorable in a way that would permanently affect Gazzara's life. It was proof positive that one never knows where something will lead.
"The point of the story is that that's where I met my wife, who changed my life. At that time I was so unhappy. I don't know if I would have changed without her. If Terence had just accepted my first refusal, I'd probably be dead now.''
The woman he would marry was in South Korea producing a television program for Young about the making of the movie. "She was supposed to meet me at the airport to welcome me,'' Gazzara says, "but she became ill. She had never heard of me. She made a sign for the guy who met me to hang up. It said Beng Azzara. I fell in love with her.''
He concludes this proves that one must have a positive attitude. He declares he most certainly has. He takes a puff of his Royal Jamaica, savors the flavor and releases the smoke. "These days,'' Gazzara says, "I turn nothing down.''
Least of all, a good cigar.
Mervyn Rothstein is a reporter for The New York Times.
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