John Cassavetes

Called the father of American independent cinema, John Cassavetes began his career as an actor and continued to call on those skills to fund his directorial efforts. Born Dec. 9, 1929, the New York City native worked steadily in television and film during the 1950s.

In 1959, Cassavetes helmed his first movie, the self-financed, largely improvised Shadows, which was hailed as a landmark achievement. Soon after, he signed on to direct for Paramount, but the experience proved bitter. Vowing to control his work, Cassavetes returned to acting to raise money, appearing in 1960s movies such as The Dirty Dozen (which earned him an Oscar nod).

In 1968, Cassavetes again took the director's seat with Faces, which starred his wife, Gena Rowlands. He followed up with Husbands (1970), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and his cinematic masterwork, A Woman Under the Influence (1974). He died Feb. 3, 1989.