“I have an agent I trust professionally more than anybody else, but with the best intentions, he could put me in the shithouse just as fast as somebody who wanted to ruin me.” James Caan
An American actor since the 1960s, tall and curly-haired James Caan gained prominence in the early 1970s with his Oscar-nominated performance as the hot-tempered Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and the Emmy-nominated cancer-stricken football player Brian Piccolo in the made-for-television movie Brian’s Song (ABC, 1971). Initially earning notice in The Glory Guys (1965, received a Golden Globe nomination) and Coppola’s The Rain People (1969), Caan went on to make an impression playing roles in such movies as Karel Reisz’s The Gambler (1974, earned a Golden Globe nomination), Funny Lady (1975, earned a Golden Globe nomination), Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975, won an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Award), the well-liked Alien Nation (198), the acclaimed Misery (1990), the hit Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), the controversial sports drama The Program (1993), Flesh and Blood (1993), the big-budget action Eraser (1996) and the wonderful indie hit Bottle Rocket (1996). His more-recent wide screen film credits include The Yards (2000), Luckytown (2000), The Way of the Gun (2000), City of Ghosts (2002), Jericho Mansions (2003), Dogville (2003), Dallas 362 (2003), Elf (2003) and Santa’s Slay (2005).
The 66-year-old actor, who became the recipient of the 1999 Hollywood Discovery Award from the Hollywood Film Festival and the 2003 Florida Film Festival‘s Lifetime Achievement Award, currently stars as Big Ed Deline on the NBC hit series “Las Vegas” (2003-?).
Off screen, the German Jewish descendant actor has a black belt in karate and spent nine years on the pro rodeo circuit. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, his personal life was surrounded by controversy. After extensive reports of drug abuse, he was arrested three times, twice for assault and once for allegedly intimidating rapper Derek Lee with a gun. In 1994, Caan, who was friendly with marijuana smugglers Joey Ippolito and Ben Kramer, offered his home as a guarantee toward the $2-million bail and appeared as a character witness for his “dear friend,” Joey Ippolito, who was on trial for cocaine distribution. In addition, his romantic life shares a great deal of notoriety with four marriage failures. He first tied the knot with dancer DeeJay Mathis, but they divorced in 1966. He next married model Sheila Ryan in 1976, but separated for pastry chef Ingrid Hayjek, whom he wed in 1990. In 2005, he divorced his wife of ten years Linda Stokes. Caan has one daughter and four sons from these relationships. Aside from the marriages, his private life has also been linked to Leesa Rowland (together in the mid-1980s), who sued Caan for mistreatment and won an $84,000 verdict.
Childhood and Family:
Son to Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Arthur and Sophie Caan, James Langston Michael Caan was born on March 26, 1940 (some sources mention 1939), in the Bronx, New York. Along with his brother Ronnie and his sister Barbara (died of leukemia in 1981), James grew up in Queens, New York City. The New Yorker, after graduating from New York’s Rhodes High School, briefly enrolled as an economics major at Michigan State University before transferring to New York’s Hofstra University, in which he was a drama major. Upon graduation, in 1960, he went on to study acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York. After some stage work, James decided to pursue a professional screen career.
James Caan, who carried the nicknames “Shoulders” and “Killer Caan” in his youth, has been married four times. He was married to his first wife, DeeJay Mathis, in 1961, but they divorced five years later in 1966. The couple shares a daughter named Tara Caan. James next tied the knot with actress Sheila Ryan in 1976, but the marriage ended in 1976. From the second marriage, he has one son named Scott Caan (actor, born on August 23, 1976). On September 9, 1990, James remarried, this time with Ingrid Hajek, with whom he has one child, son Alexander James Caan (born on April 10, 1991). After a five-year marriage, James divorced his third wife in 1995 to begin a new family with Linda Stokes, whom he married on October 7 that same year. James and Linda welcome their first son, James Arthur Caan, in 1996, and their second son, Jacob Caan, was born in 1998. In 2005, however, James once again had to deal with marriage failure and filed for divorce from his wife of ten years, citing irreconcilable differences.
Deciding to become an actor while in college, James Caan was accepted by Sanford Meisner into the Neighborhood Playhouse in 1960 and made his first stage appearance in the off-Broadway play “La Ronde” that same year. He soon moved on to Broadway when he landed a part in the 1961 production of “Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole.” After some stage exposure, Caan began his onscreen career with guest roles in television series like “Naked City” (1961), “Route 66” (1961), “Alcoa Premiere” (1962), “The Untouchables” (1962), “The Wide Country” (1963) and “Dr. Kildare (1963).” In 1963, he made his film acting debut with an uncredited part in Irma la Douce, starring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, and followed that up with a more substantial role as an ominous villain in the thriller Lady in a Cage the following year. In between film work, Caan continued to make a number of guest appearances on television.
The actor got his third film role in 1965 when director Arnold Laven cast him in the supporting role of Pvt. Anthony Dugan in the Western The Glory Guys, a role that brought him a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer in 1966. Caan’s film career started to take off. He was seen in many films, including Red Line 7000 (1965), El Dorado (1966), Games (1967), Submarine X-1 (1968), Countdown (1968), Journey to Shiloh (1968), Rabbit, Run (1970) and T.R. Baskin (1971), and won notice as a brain-damaged football player in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People (1969). The actor obtained even more attention for his Emmy-nominated performance as football player Brian Piccolo in the ABC film Brian’s Song (1971).
However, it was Caan’s supporting performance as the touchy hoodlum Sonny Corleone in Coppola’s enduring epic The Godfather (1972) that made the actor a star. For his effort in the Al Pacino and Marlon Brando vehicle, Caan was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.
With newfound stardom, Caan found himself top-billed in films like the Mark Rydell-helmed Cinderella Liberty (1973, opposite Marsha Mason) and the comedy Slither (1973), and earned praise, as well as a Golden Globe nomination, for his leading role in Karel Reisz’s The Gambler (1974). He made a short-lived appearance in The Godfather Part II (1974), costarred with Alan Arkin in Freebie and the Bean (1974) and demonstrated his singing ability as impresario Billy Rose, opposite Barbra Streisand’s redux as Fanny Brice, in Funny Lady (1975, earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actor in Musical/Comedy). He won a Best Actor at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for his bright starring role in Rollerball (1975), a science fiction film directed by Norman Jewison.
Despite his impressive acting, most of Caan’s films had neither box office victory nor prestige. Numerous box office disappointments followed, including The Killer Elite (1975), Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976), the film version of Neil Simon’s autobiographical play Chapter Two (1979) and the critically panned romance Kiss Me Goodbye (1982). In 1980, Caan made his debut as a director by helming the drama film Hide in Plain Sight, in which he also starred as Thomas Hacklin, opposite Jill Eikenberry. Although the film earned critical praise, it failed to receive an audience. These poor choices, united with Caan’s refusal of roles in the now-classic features One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), held back his career.
Following the dissatisfactions, Caan vanished from the screen for almost five years due to personal problems, which included suffering depression over the death of his sister, mounting problems with cocaine, and what he described as Hollywood burnout. The actor returned to film in 1987 when his long-time buddy Coppola tapped him to play a hard-bitten career officer in the war drama Gardens of Stone (1987). He next was seen as a discontented cop, paired with Mandy Patinkin’s space visitor, in the popular film Alien Nation (1988). After Dick Tracy (1990), Caan’s career received some revival when he was cast opposite Kathy Bates in the acclaimed film version of Stephen King’s bestseller Misery (1990), in which Bates won a Best Actress Oscar. The film was a huge success, but his follow-up, For the Boys (1991, with Bette Midler), failed to win public or critical support, despite finding some devotees. The following years saw impressive performances in films such as the hit Honeymoon in Vegas (1992, opposite Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker), David S Ward’s controversial sports drama The Program (1993, as football coach Sam Winters) and Flesh and Blood (1993, played the father of Dennis Quaid). He also appeared in his son, Scott Caan’s starring vehicle, A Boy Called Hate (1996), starred opposite Arnold Schwarzeneggar in the big-budget action Eraser (1996), appeared as a gangster in the independent hit Bottle Rocket (1996), acted with Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans in the comedy Bulletproof (1996), costarred with John Cusack and Stephen Rea in the period drama This Is My Father (1998) and starred with Hugh Grant in the dark comedy Mickey Blue Eyes (1999). He also revisited the small screen by playing detective Philip Marlowe in the HBO movie Poodle Springs (1999) after sixteen years absence. Also in 1999, Caan was honored with a Hollywood Discovery for Achievement in Acting from the Hollywood Film Festival.
Caan went on to turn in good performances in a string of films that would have been less significant without him, including The Yards (2000), Luckytown (2000), The Way of the Gun (2000), A Glimpse of Hell (2001, TV), Warden of Red Rock (2001, TV) and City of Ghosts (2002). Next up for Caan, he starred in Jericho Mansions (2003), had a feature role in Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003, starring Nicole Kidman), appeared once again with his son, Scott, in the drama Dallas 362 (2003), played a small role in the mafia drama This Thing of Ours (2003) and gave a tough, comedic performance as the flumoxed birth father of a man raised by North Pole elves (Will Farrell) in the holiday charmer Elf (2003), before having an uncredited role in the David Steiman-helmed comedy/horror film Santa’s Slay (2005).
While his film career gradually dropping, Caan enjoyed success on TV when he was cast as a regular in the NBC drama “Las Vegas” (2003 - ), starring as tough-as-nails casino security chief Big Ed Deline. Premiering in 2003, the series opened to strong ratings and favorable reviews. The high-profile actor currently continues filming the hit series “Las Vegas.”
- Florida Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003
- Hollywood Film Festival: Hollywood Discovery Award - Outstanding Achievement in Acting, 1999
- Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Best Actor, Rollerball, 1976