Perhaps better known to the general public as an actor, John Cassavetes' true artistic legacy derives from his work behind the camera; arguably, he was America's first truly independent filmmaker, an iconoclastic maverick whose movies challenged the assumptions of the cinematic form. Obsessed with bringing to the screen the "small feelings" he believed that American society at large attempted to suppress, Cassavetes' work emphasized his actors above all else, favoring character examination over traditional narrative storytelling to explore the realities of the human condition. A pioneer of self-financing and self-distribution, he led the way for filmmakers to break free of Hollywood control, perfecting an improvisational, cinéma vérité aesthetic all his own.
The son of Greek immigrants, Cassavetes was born December 9, 1929, in New York City. After attending public school on Long Island, he later studied English at both Mohawk College and Colgate University prior to enrolling at the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts. Upon graduating in 1950, he signed on with a Rhode Island stock company while attempting to land roles on Broadway and made his film debut in Gregory Ratoff's Taxi in 1953. A series of television roles followed, with Cassavetes frequently typecast as a troubled youth. By 1955, he was playing similar parts in the movies, appearing in pictures ranging from Night Holds Terror to Crime in the Streets.