Benjamin Tatar / Actor was Jackie Gleason's aide, lived with Ava Gardner
Jan. 23, 1930 - Nov. 29, 2012
December 2, 2012 12:22 am
By Patricia Sabatini / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Benjamin Tatar, a Pittsburgh-born actor who got his start as a personal assistant to comedy actor Jackie Gleason and had been the live-in companion of screen legend Ava Gardner, died Thursday at UPMC Shadyside. Mr. Tatar, who had chronic pulmonary disease, was 82.
An Oakland resident who had been living in Pittsburgh for the last 30 years since returning here to care for his ailing mother, Mr. Tatar developed a passion for movies and the theater while attending Schenley High School and acting for the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Mr. Tatar graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English and drama. He then headed to New York City on a full scholarship to attend an acting school affiliated with the American Theatre Wing.
Mr. Tatar worked as a cue card boy in television for "The Jimmie Rodgers Show" and "The Kate Smith Show" and handled fan mail for the 1950s sitcom, "The Honeymooners," starring Gleason. He later became Gleason's personal assistant, traveling to Paris to play a small acting role in the 1962 comedy "Gigot," starring Mr. Gleason and directed by Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly.
Mr. Tatar. who spoke Spanish, Italian, French and German, spent a number of years living in Spain, where he became director of dubbing for film companies there, dubbing films into different languages.
Over the years Mr. Tatar had small parts in numerous films, including 1964's "The Thin Red Line" filmed in Spain; the "Battle of the Bulge" starring Henry Fonda in 1965; 1970's "Patton" starring George C. Scott; "The Wind and the Lion" in 1975; and more recently, "The Piano Lesson," a 1995 TV movie produced by the Hallmark Hall of Fame and written by the late Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson.
Mr. Tatar's stories about his relationship with Gardner, a heavy drinker, "usually started and ended with 'I found the bottle and I hid it from her,'" said Howard Elson, a Squirrel Hill resident and friend of Mr. Tatar's.
"I remember him talking about what a temper she had and how he was trying to control situations she was overreacting to."
Mr. Tatar, who never married, wrote an autobiography titled "The Dream Never Dies" that focused on his relationship with Gleason, Gardner and his years in Spain, although it was never published.
After returning to Pittsburgh from New York in 1981, Mr. Tatar was active in local theater. In recent years, he "reinvented himself," said his niece, Barbara Jones, appearing in locally produced low-budget cult horror films.
"He was the kind of guy everyone liked to hang around with," said Audrey Glickman, a longtime friend who worked with him in local theater. "He was a pleasant guy. He was fun."
A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Mr. Tatar supplemented his income selling word search and crossword puzzles to Dell Publishing, Ms. Jones said.
TATAR, Ben (Beniamino Tatarini)
Born: 1/23/1930, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Died: 11/29/2012, Shadyside, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Ben Tatar's westerns - actor:
The Christmas Kid - 1966 (prosecuting attorney)
The Bang Bang Kid - 1967 (Leech)
Land Raiders – 1969 (Loomis)
Pancho Villa – 1971 (Private Bates)