A chronology and list of events in Cassavetes' early career, 1929 - 1968. To access a chronology and list of events covering the last ten years of Cassavetes' life and the nineteen years following his death, click here.

1929 - 1956 / 1957 - 1959 / 1960 -1962 / 1963 -1968

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Beginnings: 1929-1956
  • Nicholas John Cassavetes (NJC), father of John, arrives in America with his brother Arthur in 1908 from Larissa, Greece. They set in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • In 1911, NJC enters Harvard on a partial scholarship. He concentrates in Chemistry. To support himself, he holds various jobs after school from 6 p.m. to midnight.
  • In 1915, after leaving school, NJC serves the US Army as an interpreter, Honorary Secretary and Director of the Pan-Epirotic Union in America.
  • On April 24 1926, NJC marries Katherine Demetri (KD), fifteen years his junior. They have two sons: John Nicholas (JC) on December 9 1929 and Nicholas John (NC) on December 21 1927. NJC is quiet, serious, thoughtful, very artistic, creative and original. KD is extroverted, animated, status-conscious, strong-willed, opinioned and outspoken. She is fluent in Greek, Italian, English, and Yiddish. She also has a great sense of humor and a great love for life.
  • During the Depression, the family is very poor.
  • In the early '30s, the family returns to Greece for six years. JC is two. When they return, JC doesn't know a word of English, only Greek.
  • During the 1950s and 1960s, the family moves to Riverside Drive, Sutton Place, on the East Side of Manhattan. KD runs a boutique on the Upper East Side and NJC runs the Olympic Travel Agency at 203 West 42nd Street. In the early '70s they move to California to stay close to JC.
  • JC enters his teens and becomes known as a delinquent. The family moves to the suburbs in Sand Point, Port Washington, Long Island. In an upper-middle-class town, which is oppressive and conformist, JC is a white fly.
  • During High School, JC becomes known as "Cassy" and is "always ready with a wisecrack" and voted "Class wit." After chipping a front tooth, he develops his trademarked "smirk."
  • In June 1947, JC graduates High School and follows his brother to Mohawk College. When Mohawk closes down, he moves to Champlain. He fails out of Champlain at the end of his first semester.
  • JC doesn't know what to do with his life, whether to hitch-hike down Route One or take a holiday in Florida. He decides to enroll at AADA (American Academy of Dramatic Arts). The main reason (following a friend's suggestion) is the "girls".
  • JC enters AADA on February 8 1949. He brings two pieces: Philip Barry's The Youngest and The Merchant of Venice. He is described as "dark," "short," "Latin type," a "sensitive temperament," and a "fine intelligent boy." The school is located at Carnegie Hall on 57th St. and Seventh Avenue. He starts the two year program with an April class. He continues in the senior class of September, then graduates in mid-March of 1950. Beginning the second semester he has to pay the $500 a year tuition by himself.
  • He meets Fred Draper and Burt Lane.
  • He moves to a little apartment on 96th St., near Riverside Drive and shares the flat with 10 people.
  • After graduating school he starts making rounds, going on daily pilgrimages to casting directors, producers, agents, directors and writers to ask for a job. He does this for about 4 years.
  • He chains himself to a radiator to get a part in CBS TV program You are There in 1953.
  • During this period he does a lot of bit parts on stage: at Chapel Playhouse in Guilford, Connecticut, in Benn Levy's Clutterbuck, in 2 Blind Mice, in the Rhode Island regional Theater.
  • To avoid being drafted he joins Army Reserves with roommate Bill Stafford (who'll appear in many Cassavetes' works).
  • He keeps establishing his "crazy" reputation, shouting, jumping and beating his head on a locker to get the attention of younger AADA students (including an embarrassed Gena Rowlands). Some think that maybe his problems with alcohol might have started here.
  • He performs in Henry's Hathaway's 14 Hours in 1951 (his scene is cut from the final print) and Gregory Ratoff's Taxi in summer 1952 (as a hot-dog vendor)
  • After Taxi, he follows Ratoff as a "gofer" in a TV series called Cradle of Stars. They become good friends. He goes to Broadway as Assistant Stage Manager with Ratoff's Court Theater production The Fifth Season in January 1953. Just to make a little money - $85/week
  • During a performance, he meets Sam Shaw (news and film photographer) backstage. He is clowning around, declaring poetry and classics, doing back flips. Sam Shaw comes directly from a session of "actors' freedom" at the Actor Studio. He's impressed and adopts the boy.
  • He introduces JC to the artistic and cinematic "cream" of New York (and later will produce many of his movies and will do most of the photography, layout, design and writing for press packs, ads and campaigns). Thanks to him JC discovers poetry, painting and jazz.
  • Shaw introduces JC to Robert Rossen during pre-production of Alexander the Great. JC doesn't get the part, but the blacklisted director and the young actor become friends and Rossen will greatly help him during Shadows.
  • JC finally gets an agent, Robert Lang. They stay together for less than one year.
  • He has a minor TV role on Kraft with Richard Green in late 1953. He plays a man in an iron mask. He asks his friends to watch and in particular a young woman he's trying to court, Gena Rowlands (GR). As you can imagine the relationship will be not exactly smooth as velvet... (and we'll come back to this subject sooner or later)
  • He hires a new agent, William McCaffrey, and finally gets a good opportunity: the role of a bullfighter in Omnibus' episode "Paso Doble" in January 1954. The performance is a hit. There is wide media coverage (superbly orchestrated by JC, his agent and Sam Shaw) to get his name in print. Even Hedda Hopper becomes a huge supporter.
  • Thanks to Hopper, JC gets a chance to test for Michael Curtiz's The Egyptian. This is his first taste of Hollywood. Edmund Purdon, however, gets the part.
  • In March 1954, JC quits his job at Court Theater.
  • On March 19 1954, JC marries Gena Rowlands at the Little Church Around the Corner.
  • JC acts in more than 26 TV shows in the rest of 1954, 23 in 1955 and 12 in 1956 (working with writers like Reginald Rose, Robert Allen Arthur, Tad Moselle, Paddy Chayefsky, David Shaw, J.P. Miller, Horton Foote). On June 21 1955, JC and GR appear in Time for Love, on NBC's Armstrong Circle Theater. They do it again on October 9 on Goodyear Television Playhouse. GR is noted by Josh Logan who is going to cast her in Paddy Chayefsky's The Middle of the Night.
  • JC hires a new agent, Marty Baum, who spots him at the Newborne Agency. Baum recommends JC for The Night Holds Terror. He will be his agent up into the 1970s.
  • JC's salary rises from $500 to $25000 in 1957. JC and GR sign a long-term contract with MGM. They move from the apartment in 36E 36th St. to another at 162W 54th St. to a penthouse at 40E 75th St in 1956 (you can see it in many scenes from Shadows).
  • Crime in the Streets in 1955, Edge of the City and Affair in Havana in 1956, Saddle the Wind and Virgin Island in 1957. These films provide life-long friends, like Don Siegel, Sal Mineo and Sidney Poitier, but were unsatisfactory from an artistic point (except for Edge of the City).
  • In 1956, Rowlands starts acting in The Middle of the Night, JC remains at home or hangs out in bar. He is not happy with the course of his life and after a tour in Connecticut to play Tennessee Williams' Twenty-Seven Wagons, he decides it's time to do something different and meaningful with his life.

1929 - 1956 / 1957 - 1959 / 1960 -1962 / 1963 -1968

A chronology and list of events in Cassavetes' early career, 1963-1968. To access a chronology and list of events covering the last ten years of Cassavetes' life and the nineteen years following his death, click here.

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Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.