Ben Gazzara, the respected Italian-American actor of stage and screen who died Friday in New York at the age of 81, expressed a special affinity and kinship with the Jews, whom he called his "brothers," according to a rare, 20-year-old audio recording made available to Haaretz.
"My earliest friends were Jews, when it wasn't so chic to have Jewish friends," Gazzara recalled in a spontaneous interview with this reporter while attending a Manhattan fundraiser for the Jerusalem-based David Yellin Institute in 1991. "I found them exciting, in terms of their intelligence and their passion about acting or producing or directing," said Gazzara, who studied with Lee Strasberg at the famed Actors Studio in Manhattan.
"From that day on I loved the Jews," said Gazarra, whose career in the theater spanned 50 years. "They have the same sense of humor I have, they have the irony I have. Probably being Sicilian, my breed has suffered a great deal also, so we have that in common. The Jews are brothers."
The NYC-born, Emmy award-winning actor appeared in more than 70 feature films and in hundreds of television programs -- including adaptations of Leon Uris' courtroom drama novel, "QB-VII," and "Voyage of the Damned," inspired by the story of German Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939. He was in a number of influential films by actor-director John Cassavetes and was also directed by Otto Preminger, Peter Bogdanovich, and David Mamet, and on the Broadway stage by the legendary Elia Kazan.
In August of 1976, Gazzara was among "a non-partisan committee of Americans prominent in the arts who submitted a statement in support of Israel to the platform committee of the Republican Party national convention," according to a report that year by JTA.
"We place our emphasis on Israel because no other people in the area, with the possible exception of Lebanese Christians, is the target of total planned destruction," declared the statement. Gazzara's fellow committee members included Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, Elle Wiesel, Shelley Winters, Paddy Chayefsky, and Herman Wouk.
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