Rock the Oscars 2019: THE HANGING TREE

On February 11, 1959, THE HANGING TREE was released.  This film was the first Hollywood movie in with Little Rock native Ben Piazza appeared.  For the film, Piazza received a coveted “and introducing Ben Piazza” credit.

The movie starred Oscar winners Gary Cooper and Karl Malden, along with Maria Schell.  Future Oscar winner George C. Scott, was fifth billed for his scenery chewing role of a religious zealot.

The title song, “The Hanging Tree,” written by Jerry Livingston and Mack David, was sung by Marty Robbins in the film.  It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Song.

Filming began in June 1958 in Washington state.  Shooting took place from June through August 1958 mainly near Yakima, Washington.  The film was directed by Delmer Daves, who was probably best known as screenwriter of Love Affair and director of 3:10 to Yuma.  In conjunction with filming The Hanging Tree, Piazza appeared in a TV special on western movies.  Most of the others appearing in the special were well-established Hollywood western personalities including Little Rock natives Bronco Billy Anderson and Gail Davis.

The Hanging Tree had a budget of $1.35 million ($11.5 million today—about half of the typical modest film budget).  A good portion of this expense was the construction of a mining town.  Once production began, Daves became ill and had to be hospitalized for ulcers. Co-star Karl Malden was approached to complete the film.  He had recently finished his first directing assignment.  He had reservations, but agreed to direct because of support of Cooper. (There are discrepancies as to the length of time Daves was out of commission.)

Ben received positive notices.  One reviewer referred to him as being a “laconic, doe-eyed rebel.” Another said he was a “handsome and mean-looking boy…with curls like a golden poodle.”     Several reviewers referenced James Dean when discussing Piazza in a positive light.

The film was released to respectful notices in February 1959.  It earned around $2.2 million, which meant it turned a profit.

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Ben Piazza – born in LR 85 years ago

Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza 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.

Piazza attended college at Princeton University and graduated in 1955.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.

In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second String with Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character in The American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

In February 1963, he took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

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, West Side Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life. In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team inThe Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant . In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

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 November 2016, a room at the Robinson Conference Center was dedicated to his memory.

Rock the Oscars: THE HANGING TREE

On February 11, 1959, THE HANGING TREE was released.  This film was the first Hollywood movie in with Little Rock native Ben Piazza appeared.  For the film, Piazza received a coveted “and introducing Ben Piazza” credit.

The movie starred Oscar winners Gary Cooper and Karl Malden, along with Maria Schell.  Future Oscar winner George C. Scott, was fifth billed for his scenery chewing role of a religious zealot.

The title song, “The Hanging Tree,” written by Jerry Livingston and Mack David, was sung by Marty Robbins in the film.  It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Song.

Filming began in June 1958 in Washington state.  Shooting took place from June through August 1958 mainly near Yakima, Washington.  The film was directed by Delmer Daves, who was probably best known as screenwriter of Love Affair and director of 3:10 to Yuma.  In conjunction with filming The Hanging Tree, Piazza appeared in a TV special on western movies.  Most of the others appearing in the special were well-established Hollywood western personalities including Little Rock natives Bronco Billy Anderson and Gail Davis.

The Hanging Tree had a budget of $1.35 million ($11.5 million today—about half of the typical modest film budget).  A good portion of this expense was the construction of a mining town.  Once production began, Daves became ill and had to be hospitalized for ulcers. Co-star Karl Malden was approached to complete the film.  He had recently finished his first directing assignment.  He had reservations, but agreed to direct because of support of Cooper. (There are discrepancies as to the length of time Daves was out of commission.)

Ben received positive notices.  One reviewer referred to him as being a “laconic, doe-eyed rebel.” Another said he was a “handsome and mean-looking boy…with curls like a golden poodle.”     Several reviewers referenced James Dean when discussing Piazza in a positive light.

The film was released to respectful notices in February 1959.  It earned around $2.2 million, which meant it turned a profit.

Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza

Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza 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.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

piazza

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native l

anguage.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

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.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second String with Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character in The American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

 

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while appearing in Winesburg. Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

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.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

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.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

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.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team inThe Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

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 November 2016, a room at the Robinson Conference Center was dedicated to his memory.

Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza – actor, author, Little Rock native

BDP LRHS

Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza 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.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

BDP PU

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native language.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

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.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second String with Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character in The American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

piazza

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while appearing in Winesburg. Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

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.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

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.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

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.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team inThe Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

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.

Little Rock Look Back: Actor and author Ben Piazza

BdP book photo

BDP LRHS

Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza 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.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

BDP PU

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native language.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

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.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second Stringwith Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character inThe American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

piazza

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while doing Winseburg.  Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

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.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

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.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

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.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team in The Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

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.

Little Rock Oscar Quiz Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday’s quiz.

MarySteenburgenDec091.  Which Oscar winner gave future Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen her first break in the movies?
C – Jack Nicholson – for the film Going South

2.  In which category was The Hanging Tree (which starred Little Rock native Ben Piazza) nominated for an Oscar?
C – Song – The eponymous title song

3.  Which former Little Rock resident won an Honorary Oscar in 1958?
B – Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson

4.  The Oscar winning documentary short “Nine from Little Rock” was narrated by which member of the Little Rock Nine?
C – Jefferson Thomas

5.  In addition to receiving an Oscar for the live action short “The Accountant,” Ray McKinnon has appeared in several Oscar winning films.  In which of these Oscar winners did he NOT appear?
C – Driving Miss Daisy

6.  Arkansas actor Rick Dial acted with many heavyweights during his film career. With which of these Oscar winners did he NOT appear?
B – Chris Cooper

christmas-story7.  Twice nominated for an Oscar, Arkansan Melinda Dillon is perhaps best known for appearing in which iconic holiday film?
A – A Christmas Story – as Ralphie’s mom

8.  How many Oscar nominees and winners starred in The Firm, which was filmed partially in Arkansas?
D – 7 – Gary Busey, Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn

9.  Little Rock Film Festival honorees Harry and Linda Bloodworth Thomason produced the Arkansas-set TV show “Evening Shade.” Which Oscar nominated actor did NOT appear in that show?
D – Billy Bob Thornton – He appeared in their Hearts Afire sitcom

10.  The song “Get Back to Little Rock” is featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary The War Room.  Who sang the song in the film?
C – Jason D. Williams

11.  Leo Robin and Jule Styne, who wrote the song “Little Girl from Little Rock” each won Oscars.  For which song did Robin win a Best Song Oscar?
D – “Thanks for the Memory”

12.  For which song did Styne win a Best Song Oscar?
D – “Three Coins in the Fountain”

13.  Prior to receiving four Academy Award nominations, Beasts of the Southern Wild was a hit at the Little Rock Film Festival.  Quvenzhané Wallis, the film’s star, made Oscar history by becoming the youngest Best Actress nominee.  How old was she?
B – 9

14.  The late Bob Ginnaven was a Little Rock adman and actor.  In addition to Steel Magnolias, in which Oscar- nominated film, did he also appear with Dolly Parton?
A – The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

father bride15.  Little Rock native George Newbern (and Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre alum) has twice appeared on film as the son-in-law of which Oscar winning actress?
B – Diane Keaton – Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II

16.  Little Rock Hall graduate, Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre alum and Pulitzer Prize winning writer David Auburn has written three movies. Which of the following Oscar winners has NOT starred in one of his movies?
A – Adrien Brody

17.  Which Oscar winner starred in the TV movie Crisis at Central High?
D – Joanne Woodward

18. The Oscar nominated film The Story of Dr. Wassell starred Gary Cooper as World War II hero and Little Rock native Dr. Corydon M. Wassell (who was related to two Little Rock mayors).  It was directed by which Oscar winner?
A – Cecil B. DeMille

19.  Which Oscar winning actress appeared on stage at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre?
B – Mercedes McCambridge in ‘night, Mother

20.  Which film starring former Little Rock resident Dick Powell won 5 Oscars?
A – The Bad and the Beautiful

21.  Scenes from A Soldier’s Story were filmed at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock.  Which of the following Oscar winning or nominated actors did not appear in that movie?
B – Morgan Freeman

bloody-mama-poster22.  Which movie filmed in Arkansas boasted an Oscar winner and Oscar nominee as well as a future Oscar winner and future Oscar nominee among its cast?
A – Bloody Mama – Shelley Winters, Diane Varsi, Robert DeNiro and Bruce Dern.  Robert Walden, who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of Death of a Salesman made his movie debut in this film.

23.  Ted Danson, Emmy winning actor and co-owner of Little Rock restaurant South on Main, appeared in which Oscar winning film?
C – Saving Private Ryan

24.  In addition to Mary Steenburgen, Central Arkansas-filmed End of the Line boasted several award winning (and future award winning) actors.  Which of the following cast members has not, to date, been nominated for an Oscar?
A – Kevin Bacon

25.  Oscar nominated Michael Shannon has appeared in each of the movies to date directed by Little Rock native Jeff Nichols. Several other Oscar winners and nominees have appeared in Nichols’ films. Which of the following have not yet appeared in a Jeff Nichols production?
C – Amy Ryan

MacArthur Peck26. Oscar winner Gregory Peck appeared on the silver screen as which political candidate with a Little Rock connection?
B – Douglas MacArthur

27. Arkansan Jason Moore directed a recent Broadway revival of Steel Magnolias. Which Oscar nominated actress from the 1970s appeared in it?
D – Marsha Mason

28. Arkansas native John Grisham was an early supporter of the Oxford American. Many of his novels have been turned into feature films. In addition to The Firm, which other Grisham-based film, has earned an actor an Oscar nomination?
B – The Client – Susan Sarandon, Best Actress

29. Shortly after appearing in Little Rock for an event around the opening of Robinson Auditorium, Maureen O’Hara filmed which Best Picture Oscar winner?
A – How Green Was My Valley

30. Oscar winner Lisa Blount made a name for herself in An Officer and a Gentleman. Which of her costars won an Oscar for appearing in that film?
B – Louis Gossett, Jr.

31. Carol Channing, who played “Little Girl from Little Rock” Lorelei Lee on stage, received an Oscar nomination for which movie?
D – Thoroughly Modern Millie

32. Which multiple Oscar nominee has been a featured speaker at the Clinton School?
B – John Lithgow

33. South Pacific‘s heroine, Nellie Forbush, is from Little Rock. The film was nominated for three Oscars, receiving a win in one of the categories. In which of the following categories was the film NOT nominated?
B – Film Editing

34. Delight native Glenn Campbell, who recently gave his farewell Little Rock performance at Robinson Center Music Hall, co-starred with which actor who received an Oscar for that performance?
D – John Wayne in True Grit

35. Oscar winner Shirley Jones is appearing with Celebrity Attractions in Central Arkansas next season and has appeared previously with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. For which film did she win her Oscar?
C – Elmer Gantry

36. The Arkansas Rep production of Les Miserables runs from March 5 through April 6.  Last year a film version of this classic musical received 8 nominations. How many Oscars did it win?
B – Three

hal n at lrff37. The Little Rock Film Festival honored Arkansas native Hal Needham in 2011. He received Scientific and Technical Oscar in 1987 and an Honorary Oscar in 2013. Which of the following Oscar winners did NOT appear in a movie directed by Needham?
B – Jack Lemmon – But his son Chris appeared in Cannonball Run II

38. John Corigliano will be featured with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in the 2014-2015 season. For which film did he win an Oscar?
C – The Red Violin

39. In the 1990s, Wildwood Park for the Arts featured several performers who have also been subjects of Oscar winning films. Which of the following Oscar winning or nominated movies is about someone who performed at Wildwood?
A – Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn

40. As a young actor, which future Oscar nominee performed scenes from Shakespeare on the stage of Little Rock Central auditorium as part of a national tour?
C – Hal Holbrook

41. Nominated for tonight’s Oscars for the song from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Bono and The Edge performed in the rain at the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center. For which film were they previously Oscar nominated?
B – Gangs of New York

42. Dave Brubeck performed at Wildwood several times. Which 2013 Oscar winner featured music by Brubeck?
C – Silver Linings Playbook

43. Which Oscar winner appeared in Little Rock for a fundraiser for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre?
A – Julie Andrews

44. Political writer Joe Klein appeared at the third Arkansas Literary Festival. His novel Primary Colors (published with the author name “Anonymous”) was made into an Oscar nominated movie. Which of the following stars of the movie has not won an Oscar?
D – John Travolta

Dick_powell_-_publicity45. Which Little Rock actor has served as an Oscar co-host?
C – Dick Powell – in 1948

46. Which Oscar winner and Oscar host has performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra?
D – Liza Minnelli

47. Which Oscar nominated or winning actor, who has been acclaimed for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, appeared at the Clinton School in 2009?
D – Sam Waterston

48. The works of former Little Rock resident and acclaimed composer William Grant Still have been featured in many movies. Which Oscar winning screwball comedy featured the music of Still?
A – The Awful Truth

49. Which writer, whose writings have inspired two Oscar nominated movies, has been featured in Little Rock-based Oxford American?
D – Charles Portis

50. In which movie did Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen NOT appear with back-to-back Oscar winner Jason Robards?
D – Time After Time

51. What happened to Oscar winner Elia Kazan in Little Rock?
C – He was married – to actress Barbara Loden. His son lived in Little Rock at the time.

52. Oscar nominated actor Roy Scheider died in Little Rock. In the 1970s, he received two Oscar nominations. In addition to a nod for The French Connection, for which other film did he receive a nomination?
A – All that Jazz

53. Paris, Ark. native and UCA alum James Bridges was an acclaimed director and screenwriter. In addition to receiving an Oscar nomination for writing The Paper Chase (which earned a Supporting Actor Oscar for John Houseman), for which other project did Bridges receive an Oscar nomination?
B – The China Syndrome

54. Bill Clinton is one-fourth of the way to EGOT status.  Which award has he received?
B – Grammy – in 2004 the Spoken Word Album for Children for a version of Peter and the Wolf

55. Brinkley native Louis Jordan’s song “Stone Cold Dead in the Market” appears in which Oscar winning movie?
B – Raging Bull

lewis_congressman_john56. Congressman John Lewis is one of the featured speakers at the 2014 Arkansas Literary Festival. In which Oscar-nominated documentary is Rep. Lewis featured?
A – Eyes on the Prize

57. Mavis Staples, who appeared at Little Rock’s Christ Episcopal Church in 2013, can be heard on the soundtrack of which Oscar-winning film?
B – The Help

58. Arkansas native Tess Harper received an Oscar nomination for her performance in Crimes of the Heart. Which Oscar winning actress did not play one of her cousins in that film?
A – Sally Field

59.  Little Rock Film Festival honoree Jay Russell is branching out into theatrical producing.  Which Oscar nominated Hitchcock film is the inspiration for his upcoming Broadway production?
B. Rear Window

60. In addition to being married to former Little Rock resident Helen Gurley Brown, David Brown was a movie producer. For which of these Oscar nominated films did he, himself receive an Oscar nomination?
D. The Verdict

61. Which Oscar nominated Documentary Feature was honored at the 2013 Little Rock Film Festival?
B. Dirty Wars

62.  Which Oscar winning director helmed The Last Waltz, a documentary which featured Arkansan Levon Helm?
C – Martin Scorsese

63. John Glenn, who was featured guest at the Museum of Discovery during the Clinton Library opening, was also a character in the Oscar winning film The Right Stuff.  Which actor portrayed him in that film?
B – Ed Harris

64. The work of which fashion icon, whose dresses often adorn Oscar ceremony attendees, was featured at the Clinton Presidential Center in 2013?
C – Oscar de la Renta

judge fleming65. Little Rock District Judge Vic Fleming appears in the documentary Wordplay. Another person who is featured is which Oscar host?
D – Jon Stewart

66. Part-time Little Rock resident Judge Reinhold spoofed an Oscar winning Best Picture as part of his appearance as the iconic “close talker” on Seinfeld. Which movie was it?
C – Schindler’s List

67. This summer the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre will present Hamlet. The 1948 version of this movie is, to date, the only filmed version of a Shakespeare play to win Best Picture. Which actor won an Oscar for appearing in this movie?
B – Laurence Olivier

68. Mary Steenburgen starred in the Oscar nominated film Cross Creek, which was a biopic of the author of which novel?
D – The Yearling

69. On which TV show hosted by an Oscar host, did Governor Bill Clinton appear in 1988?
A – Johnny Carson

70. Hot Springs native Alan Ladd is perhaps best remembered for essaying the title role in Shane. The film was nominated for six Oscars and received one.  For which category did it win the Oscar?
A – Cinematography, Color

71. Edward Everett Horton starred in the first play to be booked into Robinson Auditorium in April 1940. With a long and varied film career, he appeared in many Oscar nominated and winning films. Which of the following Horton films did NOT win an Oscar?
A – The Front Page

72. Gordon MacRae was the featured performer at the 1963 opening of the Arkansas Arts Center. Which of his films won two Oscars?
C – Oklahoma!

73. Which Oscar nominee appeared in Little Rock in conjunction with Ballet Arkansas?
B – Mikhail Barishnikov

74. The main branch of the Central Arkansas Library System has the names of authors inscribed around the top, one of which is Harper Lee.  Not only was her To Kill a Mockingbird turned into an Oscar winning movie, an actress received an Oscar nomination for portraying Lee in a film.  Which actress?
C – Catherine Keener

pscdutton75. Charles S. Dutton recently appeared at Philander Smith College’s Bless the Mic series. In which Oscar nominated sci-fi film was he a performer?
B – Alien 3

76. Little Rock Catholic High grad Gil Gerard appeared in which Oscar nominated 1970s disaster film?
C – Airport 77

77. With which two time Oscar winner who was the daughter of an Oscar winner did Ben Piazza twice share the stage?
B – Jane Fonda

78. Little Rock native Frank Bonner guest starred on a variety show hosted by which Oscar winner?
A – George Burns

79. Which Little Rock museum recently hosted an exhibit on Gone with the Wind?
C – Historic Arkansas Museum

80. Which Oscar nominated actress was featured in the Disney Channel movie The Ernest Green Story?
B – Ruby Dee

81. Bruno, which starred Joey Lauren Adams was feature film directorial debut of which Oscar winning performer?
C – Shirley MacLaine

wesbentley82. Which cast member from the 2000 Best Picture winner had previously acted on local Little Rock stages?
B. Wes Bentley appeared in American Beauty

83. James Earl Jones has appeared in Central Arkansas several times including with the Arkansas Symphony and at UCA. For which movie did he receive an Oscar nomination?
D. The Great White Hope

84. Which multiple Oscar nominated performer was appointed to head a federal agency by President Clinton?
A. Jane Alexander – served as head of the National Endowment for the Arts during his first term.

85. Oscar nominated film So This Is Washington focused on which Arkansas duo?
C. Lum and Abner

Ben and DeNiro86. Ben Piazza’s final feature film appearance was a Darryl F. Zanuck in the film Guilty by Suspicion. Zanuck was a recipient of the Irving Thalberg Award. Which of the following is true about Zanuck?
A – First Thalberg Award recipient
B – Only three time Thalberg Award recipient
C – Only Thalberg recipient to also be the father of a Thalberg recipient
D – Last person to receive a Thalberg who was a previous recipient
All of these are true