Rowlands With the Punches

Gena Rowlands’ ability to lend her distinct persona to every character she’s played–especially those directed by her husband, John Cassavetes–is a rare quality among actresses to be cherished and appreciated. To give some indication of Rowlands’ sophistication as an actress, she started out her career by heading to New York instead of Los Angeles.

An elegant dame
An elegant dame
After attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Rowlands caught a break by landing a part in George Axelrod’s play, The Seven Year Itch (before it became an iconic Marilyn Monroe movie in 1955). Although Rowlands married Cassavetes in 1954, she tended to find roles primarily in TV series like Peyton Place and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It wasn’t until her string of collaborations with Cassavetes throughout the 60s and 70s that audiences really began to take notice of her.
Rowlands in Cassavetes' 1980 film, Gloria, for which she received an Academy Award nomination
Rowlands in Cassavetes’ 1980 film, Gloria, for which she received an Academy Award nomination
Their first film together, A Child Is Waiting, found Rowlands in a supporting role, her co-stars being Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland (before the barbiturates fully took over). Never one to shy away from intense subject matters, Cassavetes took on the topic of mental illness with A Child Is Waiting, though he later disavowed the project due mainly to artistic conflicts with the producer, Stanley Kramer.
Rowlands as Sophie Widdicombe Benham in A Child is Waiting
Rowlands as Sophie Widdicombe Benham in A Child is Waiting
Rowlands began to take the limelight in Faces as Jeannie Rapp, a woman in a disintegrating marriage with her husband, Richard Forst (John Marley). Unique for being shot in the cinéma vérité style, Faces marked the beginning of a true rhythm in the collaborations of Cassavetes and Rowlands. Their final film together was Love Streams in 1984.
Grieving the end of a marriage in Faces
Grieving the end of a marriage in Faces
Rowlands starred in Woody Allen’s Another Woman in 1988, which mirrored a similar style to the films she’d made with Cassavetes. After Cassavetes died of liver failure in 1989, Rowlands continued to appear in at least one film a year. Her prolific body of work is as impressive as the fact that each project has always shown her at her best.

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