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 seventeen years following his death, click here.

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

Click here for best printing of text
Shadows and Johnny Staccato: 1957-1959
  • In the fall of 1955, JC meets Burt Lane (a graduate of Gena Rowlands' AADA class and father of actress Diane Lane), and they re-establish the relationship. Lane is about to give up acting.
  • In early 1956, they rent a room on an upper floor of the Variety Arts Building at 225 W 45th St and invite friends to read. They move to a vacant room on the ground floor for around $800 a month. This amateur adventure takes the official name of "The Cassavetes-Lane Drama Workshop." Classes are held a few nights a week and divided based on the experience (Cassavetes took the advanced students). They charge two dollars a head. This workshop, where Hugh Hurd, Tony Ray and Lelia Goldoni were students, developed the roots of Shadows.
  • The Workshop is very contrasted with the Actor's Studio. JC refused to enter the Studio, but when he became famous, they invited him for an audition. He decided to go with Lane and they improvise along the way. Strasberg is impressed by the piece and doesn't recognize the prank.
  • In January 1957, JC makes a special Sunday session at the Workshop and invites some students to join him. He describes a scene in details and the actors have to imagine and improvise (the scene is the post-coital sequence between Tony and Lelia and Hugh).
  • They think of turning the improvisation into a movie. All he needs are $7500 and a cameraman.
  • The cameraman turns to be Erick Kollmar. To get the money he pays a visit to Jean Shepard's Night People, declaring that if people want a movie about people they have to pay for it. And so they do - $2500 in cash and checks.
  • The movie is not intended for public distribution so the cast & crew are not paid for the job.
  • The shooting lasts more than ten weeks, from the end of February until May of 1957.
  • The relationship with Lane becomes tense because JC didn't include Lane in the project and once the movie began, the school is practically taken over by the troupe.
  • JC has a deadline: in the spring of 1957 he has to play in Saddle the Wind and Virgin Island.
  • By the beginning of May the shooting is finished. Editing starts. It takes more than 18 months. The problems run from too much footage to edit, to the poor quality of much of the sound and to wide inexperience.
  • JC's first choice for the soundtrack is Miles Davis, but he is turned down after his contract with Columbia Records. He then asked Charles Mingus, but after the first session he composes only two minutes of music. To finish the score JC asks Shafi.
  • In February of 1958, JC's brother Nick dies.
  • The movie is finished and ready to screen in late November 1958. It costed $25,000.
  • Premiere at Paris Theater in New York.
  • The movie needed some reshoots, and JC did them in the spring of 1959. He re-edited in the summer of 1959, leaving only twenty-five minutes of the original footage.
  • The new version (35mm) is shown on November 11th, 1958, at 7:15 and 9:30 P.M. at Amos Vogel's program "The Cinema of Improvisation." It is a success. Except for Jonas Mekas (who was very happy with the first release). Ben Carruthers and Erik Kollmar advocate Mekas' complaints.
  • JC goes through a difficult time: he is broke and has to borrow money everywhere. GR is pregnant and can't work, and he's never at home. To pay the debts (and to finish the re-editing of Shadows - because the offer comes eight months before the finish of it) he accepts an offer to direct and star in a TV series, Johnny Staccato.
  • Nicholas David Rowlands Cassavetes was born on May 21, 1959, just before JC went to Hollywood to start the six months of shooting of Staccato.
  • The pilot, "The Naked Truth", airs on NBC on a Thursday evening, the 10th of September 1959. It's not a success, with either the public or the critics.
  • JC directs five episodes and co-writes one. He begins to be unhappy with the program, mostly because the "politically correctness" imposes rules he doesn't like. Some letters arrive at the studio complaining about specific episodes and the references to religion and sex. When an episode about drug addiction is held, it's the last straw.
  • JC begins a series of attacks and forces the production to break his contract. Johnny Staccato ends on March 24 1960 after 27 of the scheduled 39 episodes.
  • JC waits for a distributor for Shadows, but after the fuss about the two versions and the cut and thrust on The Village Voice, nobody comes. Nobody wants to deal with a "difficult" actor after the Johnny Staccato brouhaha.
  • JC goes to Dublin to shoot a trash called The Webster Boy. The movie is no history, but the writer is Ted Allan. This friendship will last until JC's death. Another good outcome will be a distributor for Shadows. At the Vogel's show there was the San Francisco Film Festival programmer and writer for Film Quarterly, Albert Johnson. He loved Shadows and wrote a great review.
  • After The Webster Boy, JC and Seymour Cassel go to London to discover that Shadows is the talk of the town (thanks greatly to Johnson). Shadows is shown at The Beat, Square and Cool Festival. It is a smash.
  • JC takes Jo Lustig as his British agent and, after the success of Shadows at the Venice Film Festival (August 25, 1960 - where it won the Critic Award), Lustig has a deal with British Lion (UK distribution) and Europa Films (Scandinavian distribution). It is shown for the first time at Academy Cinema in the West End on October 14, 1960, and it grosses $11,000 in the first week (and stays there for six months). The major magazine and newspapers have good reviews and the major film magazine, Sight&Sound, dedicates a special in its Autumn/Winter 1960/1961 and Winter 1961 issues.
  • With the $28,000 from the distribution deal, the big money from the UK showing and the 70-30 split in favor of the production, JC is able to recover more than half of the expenses (and debt).
  • On November 15, JC signs a US distribution with British Lion. The American release is greatly disappointed, with two only significant bookings in march 1961, even if the releases are timed with the buzz surrounding JC and his first Hollywood movie, Too Late Blues.
  • With Shadows JC gains more or less $40,000.
  • Hollywood takes note and it'll soon dial JC's number.

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 seventeen years following his death, click here.

Top of Page

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