Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ben Piazza

The film The Hanging Tree (1959) is a Western character study of a doctor (Joseph Frail) who saves a local criminal (Rune) from a mob that is trying to hang him. The doctor, played by Gary Cooper, then tries to control the life of the young man, promising to keep his criminal past secret in exchange for his labor. Bisexual actor Ben Piazza (1933-1991) played Rune in his Hollywood debut, and although Piazza was being groomed for movie stardom, he never attained true leading man status. Instead, he ended up with a steady, if unsensational, career of supporting roles and TV guest shots. Although Piazza was married to actress Dolores Dorn from 1967 to 1979 (no children), he became the longtime companion of Wayne Tripp, who was mentioned as his partner in Piazza’s 1991 Los Angeles Times obituary. Piazza and Tripp lived together for eighteen years.

Compared to the young Marlon Brando, Piazza began acting in 1952 during his college days at Princeton University. He was accepted as a member of New York’s famed Actors Studio and made his professional debut off-Broadway in 1956. Ben made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Winesburg, Ohio, a play penned by Sherwood Anderson.

Piazza had some notable success on Broadway, where he replaced fellow gay actor George Grizzard in the role of Nick in the original production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962). Ben appeared in two other Edward Albee plays, The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story.

On television, he had recurring roles in two prime-time soaps, Dallas and Dynasty; as well, he played a supportive doctor in the coming-out TV movie Consenting Adult.

His big-screen credits included The Bad News Bears (1976), The Blues Brothers (1980), and Mask (1985), and his final feature film was the blacklist drama Guilty by Suspicion (1991), portraying Hollywood mogul Darryl F. Zanuck.

Piazza also wrote plays and a novel, The Exact and Very Strange Truth (1964), a coming-of-age story about an Italian-American boy in Little Rock, Arkansas, which was Piazza’s hometown. However, Ben wrote in the book’s introduction that any resemblance between the characters and real people was “irrelevant,” although the parallels to his own life were unmistakable. Piazza dedicated the book to openly gay playwright Edward Albee, who was a close friend.

Ben Piazza died of AIDS-related cancer at the age of 57 in Sherman Oaks, California, and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

In this film clip Piazza plays Mr. Simms, the high school principal in Mask, starring Cher and Eric Stoltz:

1 comment:

  1. I thought he was such a fine actor......and very hot, too. I never knew that he was bi.