Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock, and graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.
After graduating from Princeton, he moved to New York City to become an actor. He made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Winesburg, Ohio. In April 1959, he starred in Kataki and received a Theatre World Award for his performance.
As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway. Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.
In February 1963, he took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway. During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published. It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s. The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.
In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa. This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged. In March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse. It
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director. As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.
Piazza’s film debut had been in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper in The Hanging Tree. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.
In the 1970s and 1980s, his appearances included I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bad News Bears, The Blues Brothers, and Mask. On TV, he appeared in Dallas, Dynasty, Saint Elsewhere, Barnaby Miller, Moonlighting and Family Ties.
Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion. He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.
Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991. In 2016, a meeting room in the new Robinson Conference Center was named in his memory.