Born March 26, 1939, in Bronx, NY; son of Arthur (a meat dealer) and Sophie Caan; married Dee-Jay Mathis (a dancer), 1961 (divorced, 1966); married Sheila Ryan (a model and actress), 1976 (divorced, 1977); married Ingrid Hajek (a pastry chef), September 9, 1990 (divorced, 1995); married Linda Stokes, October 7, 1995; children: Tara (from first marriage), Scott Andrew (an actor; from second marriage), Alexander James (from third marriage), James Arthur, Jacob Nicholas (from fourth marriage). Education: Studied economics at Michigan State University; studied theater at Hofstra University, Long Island, NY; studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, New York, NY, and with Wynn Handman.
Contact —P.O. Box 6646, Denver, CO 80206–0646; 644 Amalfi Dr., Pacific Palisades, CA 90272.
Actor in films, including: Irma La Douce (uncredited), 1963; Lady in a Cage, 1964; The Glory Guys, 1965; Red Line 7000, 1965; El Dorado, 1966; Games, 1967; Countdown, 1968; Journey to Shiloh, 1968; Submarine X–1, 1968; The Rain People, 1969; Rabbit, Run, 1970; T.R. Baskin, 1971; The Godfather, 1972; Slither, 1972; Cinderella Liberty, 1973; The Gambler, 1974; The Godfather: Part II (uncredited), 1974; Freebie and the Bean, 1974; Funny Lady, 1975; Rollerball, 1975; The Killer Elite, 1975; Gone with the West, 1976; Silent Movie, 1976; Harry and Walter Go to New York, 1976; A Bridge Too Far, 1977; Another Man, Another Chance, 1977; Comes a Horseman, 1978; Chapter
Though American actor James Caan was a leading man in the 1970s—his best–known role was as Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather —he stopped acting for five years in the 1980s. Even before he left the industry behind, he was already playing more character roles, a trend that would continue into the early 2000s. His up–and–down career was slowly rebuilt after his hiatus, primarily after the success of 1990's Misery. Caan was often cast in tough guy roles, especially mafia types, but he also succeeded in doing comedy, singing, and dancing. His tough reputation spilled over into Caan's personal life which was marred by several arrests for violence.
Caan was born on March 26, 1939, in the Bronx, New York, the son of Arthur and Sophie Caan. His father was employed as a kosher meat wholesaler. Caan grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York, and Long Island City, with his brother, Ronald, who became a producer, and his sister, Barbara. As a child, Caan attended PS 150 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. When he was a high school student at Rhodes High School, Caan was an athlete and class president.
After graduating from Rhodes, Caan entered Michigan State University where he studied economics and wanted to play football so that he could have a career as a professional football player. However, when he came to Michigan State, he was too small to make the team and had to give up his football dreams. Caan then transferred to Hofstra University where he studied theater. Caan later studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre with Sanford Meisner in New York City and with Wynn Handman.
Caan began his professional acting career on stage in New York City. His stage debut came in 1960 in La Ronde. The following year, Caan made his Broadway debut in Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole in 1961. He then moved to Los Angeles, California, where he began working in television. Caan appeared in some episodic television roles on shows like Naked City. Within a short time, Caan was also appearing in feature films. His first role was an uncredited part in 1963's Irma La Douce. His first real film role came in 1964's Lady in a Cage.
In 1969, Caan appeared in The Rain People, a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It was Coppola who soon helped Caan's career take off. In the early 1970s, Caan had two breakout roles that were among the best of his career. The first was the part of Brian Piccolo in the 1971 television movie, Brian's Song. Piccolo was a professional football player for the Chicago Bears who was stricken with cancer at the height of his career. Caan was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work in the television movie. Coppola then cast Caan in a role the actor was forever identified with in The Godfather.
In 1972's The Godfather, Caan played Sonny Corleone, the eldest son of the mafia capo. Caan's character was a violent man who was tapped to run the family business until he was killed at a tollbooth in one of the film's most famous scenes. Caan was nominated for an Academy Award as a best supporting actor for his work. Caan's success in The Godfather led to many starring roles in film in the 1970s and early 1980s, though he also had a problem from being typecast as a Sonny Corleone type. The actor also turned down roles in what became some of the big leading roles of the decade. He was offered, but refused, roles in many critically acclaimed films, including: M*A*S*H, Love Story, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Kramer vs. Kramer, Apocalypse Now, and Superman.
One of the roles that Caan did take in the 1970s was the lead in 1974's The Gambler. He was praised for his work, and later had a co–starring role in Freebie and the Bean in the same year. In 1975, Caan was able to show off his other talents when he played Billy Rose in Funny Lady, the Barbra Streisand vehicle in which she played Fanny Brice. Caan sang in the film. While working on his directorial debut, Caan took a role in 1979's Chapter Two to raise funds to finish his film. Chapter Two was based on a play of the same name, and Caan played the character based on the playwright.
In 1980, Caan's directorial debut, Hide in Plain Sight was released. He also had the starring role in the film. Hide in Plain Sight had taken Caan two and a half years to make, and he said he never wanted to direct again. The film was based on the true story of a divorced father who lost touch with his children when their stepfather was put in the witness protection program because he was an informant on the mob. The father, played by Caan, had to sue to find his children. Caan wanted to make to a simple, powerful film, but was upset that the film studio executives added music to the soundtrack that he did not want. In addition to that and other other clashes with the production company, Hidden in Plain Sight was a failure at the box office.
Caan went on to star in a few films in the early 1980s. In 1981, he played the title role in Thief. Caan was proud of his work in the film, though it did not do well at the box office. The following year, he played the ghost of the husband of a character played by Sally Field in Kiss Me Goodbye. Caan later said he disliked this film, as he did several films he appeared in just to work or for the money.
Kiss Me Goodbye was one of the last film that Caan would make for several years. He did not make any films between 1982 and 1987. During that time, he suffered some personal tragedies. His sister, Barbara, died of leukemia. Caan had run–ins with the law, including a 1980 arrest when he was charged with beating Sheila Ryan, his ex–wife, after she told him she was re–marrying. Caan also had problems with his temper, drug use, abuse, and depression. But he also found joy in raising his son, Scott, of whom he had custody. Caan spent as much time as possible with him; he even coached his son's sports teams.
Though Caan said he had no intention of returning to acting, in 1987, he was forced to restart his career because he was having financial problems because an associate mismanaged his funds. Coppola gave Caan his first film role in five years when the director cast the actor as a burnt–out career military officer working burial duty at Arlington National Cemetery in the Vietnam–era Gardens of Stone. In 1988, Caan took on an entirely different film role when he appeared in Alien Nation, an adventure set in the future when space aliens were moving to the United States. Caan played a veteran police detective who was partnered with an alien.
Within a few years of the reawakening of his acting career, Caan was in one of his biggest box office hits. In 1990, he was given a lead role in Misery, based on a story by Stephen King, when Warren Beatty was dropped from the project. Caan played a romance novelist who has a car accident near the home of an overenthusiastic fan, played by Kathy Bates. The fan is angry with the changes the author has made in some of his recent works, and holds him captive and inflicts injury on him. Caan receive good reviews for the role he called the most physically demanding of his career as he had to stay in bed most of the time. Misery helped put Caan's career back on track.
In the early 1990s, Caan appeared in a number of hit movies, including 1991's big budget spectacle, For the Boys. In the film, Caan played Eddie Sparks, a member of a song–and–dance team with Bette Midler. The film explores their relationship as they entertain troops from World War II to Vietnam. The role allowed Caan to show more of his singing and dancing skills. Midler complimented her co–star, telling Bernard Weinraub of New York Times, "Somehow Jimmy's acting never shows.… He has a more languid way of working. And everything he does is very small—he's a master of the small gesture, the flickering eyelash; everything was exquisitely right. He has all these deep layers of macho stuff; he's very boisterous, very outgoing, but then you work with him and get him in a corner, and you realize he's very smart and very sensitive."
Caan went on to appear in a number of other films of significance in the 1990s. He played a gangster the 1992 romantic comedy Honeymoon in Vegas, a box office hit. In 1993, Caan played a football coach in the controversial film, The Program. Caan's son, Scott, also began an acting career, and the pair appeared together in 1996's A Boy Called Hate. The breadth of his film choices could be seen by two films released in 1996, Eraser, an action picture starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the comedy Bulletproof.
While Caan's career was rebounding during this time period, he was still having numerous run–ins with the law and with tragic incidents. In 1993, while Caan was staying at a friend's apartment, a young aspiring actor, Mark Alan Schwartz, fell from the fire escape to his death. A year later, he was arrested for showing his gun in public to Derek Lee, a rap artist, and for beating up a woman. Both cases never went to trial. Caan checked himself into drug rehabilitation in 1995 at the Exodus Recovery Center and remained clean after that date.
Many of Caan's film roles in the late 1990s and early 2000s were again tough guys, often mafia types. In 1999's Mickey Blue Eyes, he played a gangster opposite Hugh Grant who played his future son–in–law. In the 2000 thriller The Way of the Gun, Caan's character was the muscle for a mafia lawyer, but was a bad guy with good intentions and the moral character in the film. Caan went on to play Uncle Frank, a subway contractor in New York City who operates a company which has been corrupted by mafia connections, in 2000's The Yards. Not all his films were dark, however. In 2003, he played a publishing company executive who learns his long–lost son was raised by elves, in the holiday hit, Elf. Both the film and Caan received good reviews.
Caan also began working in television more in this time period. After playing detective Philip Marlowe in the 1998 television movie Poodle Springs, based on an unfinished novel by Raymond Chandler, he appeared in two more television movies in 2001, FX's A Glimpse of Hell and Showtime's Warden of Red Rock. In the former, Caan played a navy captain in the 1989 real–life tragedy that occurred on the USS Iowa, while in the latter, a western, he played a warden of a local prison. In 2003, Caan began starring in his first major television series, the NBC drama Las Vegas. He played "Big Ed" Deline, the head of security at a casino. Las Vegas was one of the most popular new dramas on television that season, and Caan was the senior member of an ensemble cast. In 2004, Caan began filming the motion picture Santa's Slay .
Having been at both the bottom and the top of the acting business, Caan was able to offer sage advice to aspiring actors. He told Denis Hamill of Daily News, "[W]hat is inevitable, no matter what heights you achieve, is that there is a slide down. The degree varies of course, but if your whole life is [acting], you're nuts. Because then when your career slides, your life goes with it. So acting is not my life, it's my job. It's very, very important to me. But my life, my family, my wife, my children, my friends, my health, their health. After that, of course, I'd also like to be the best actor in the world."
Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, Inc., 2004.
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Chicago Sun–Times, August 15, 1999, p. 3.
Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 1980, p. 19.
Daily News (New York), March 19, 1998, p. 2.
Esquire, May 1998, p. 82.
Houston Chronicle, March 16, 2001, p. 10.
Independent (London, England), October 19, 2000, p. 7.
New York Times, April 3, 1981, p. C6; November 17, 1991, sec. 2, p. 13; September 8, 2000, p. E10.
Observer, August 22, 1999, p. 12.
People, October 4, 1993, p. 53; December 15, 2003, p. 24.
San Francisco Chronicle, November 7, 2003, p. D1.
St. Louis Post–Dispatch, December 7, 1990, p. 1F.
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USA Today, July 21, 1994, p. 2D.
Washington Post, March 21, 1980, p. D1.
— A. Petruso