Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I felt like I had known him!

Jimmy wanted Mercede's Stetson hat. He didn't get it!

When James Dean was killed in an auto accident in California, he had just completed three motion pictures. I assume you are familiar with those titles. I will repeat them for you newcomers. The first one was "EAST OF EDEN," directed by Elia Kazan and starred James Dean, Julie Harris and Richard Davalos. It was about a young man who tries to win over the love of his father. His mother is a prostitute and the film got rave reviews. The second, my favorite, was "REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE," directed by Nick Ray. It starred James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Nick Adams, Dennis Hopper and Corey Allen. It was the first real movie made about teenagers of the fifties. Prior to this, films about teenagers were all "B" type films. They were black and white and were cliches, a little bit of music, car races and corny story lines. When REBEL was starting to be filmed, it too was black and white. But, when Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros. saw the response and money coming in from EDEN, he decided to have REBEL in color too.

Young people of that era could associate with the story line, not getting along with parents, school gangs that existed in those days, and trying to be understood by adults. Dean had charisma and talent, that made his role seem real. It was Natalie Wood's first adult role. Sal Mineo had been on stage in New York. These were new faces on the screen and each one were very good actors. It was released a week or two after Jimmy was killed. His third motion picture was in "GIANT," directed by George Stevens. The stars of the film were Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

But James Dean was the third lead and all the publicity was built around him. The film was about cattle barons and Jimmy was a hired hand, until he inherited a bit of land and struck oil on it. After REBEL was released and news of Dean's death made public, every publication wanted stories about him. He had died at the young age of 24. Many of the stories were made-up by girls who claimed to have dated him and also claimed he was going to marry them. In the books written, with research, none of the girls had even known him. But, Dean, bigger in death than in life, was hot copy. Magazines just wanted stories on Dean, whether or not they were true. There were numerous magazines in those days, similar to the National Enquirer, titles like CONFIDENTIAL, WHISPER, RAVE, ON THE Q.T., SUPPRESSED, LOWDOWN, HUSH-HUSH and many more. Confidential had started it all.

There have been so many books written about Dean that it is hard to separate fact from fiction. We may never know what the real James Dean was like. Those who did, were his friends and are all dying off day by day. Some dying too early, like Nick Adams, who committed suicide when his career was collapsing. Natalie Wood, drowning off Catalina Island. Sal Mineo, murdered in his carport, Jack Simmon's, Jimmy's one time lover, I believe, died of cancer. So, there aren't too many left. We, one time teenagers, will all soon be gone but books and the three movies, will let Jimmy's memory live a bit longer. He will always be 24.

Those fictitious stories written, were like the ones made up about Elvis. He isn't dead, he is in hiding. We knew these stories weren't true, yet we bought the magazines and read them anyway.

I never met James Dean but I was caught up in all of the hysteria following his death, as many of you old timers were. I was working at a theater when he died, so I could see how many fans "were being born" after his accident. I watched his performance in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE so many times, I actually felt like I knew him. Of course the screen personage of characters do not equate to the real actor's character. His Aunt Ortense told me that the screen scenes that came closest to the real Jimmy, was in EAST OF EDEN, when he was running through the bean field and then laid down in the dirt smiling, looking at the small stems that were growing.

After he died, I bought every magazine that printed anything on Jimmy. As a matter of fact, I bought two copies. One to cut up for a scrapbook and one to keep. Of course they have all disappeared today, assumed to have been stolen. But, I enjoyed them, the many years I had them.

When I had the James Dean Memorial Foundation in Hollywood, I used to put out a newsletter on Jimmy. I had tracked down a lot of information that hadn't been printed. Unfortunately, I didn't save any copies for myself. I do recall Jimmy didn't wear Levis in real life. He wore Lee Jeans, although Levis used his image in their Japanese ads for Levis, and probably paid the Curtis Licensing Company money for the use of his name. I shouldn't say he "never" wore Levis because Louis Federici, (a theater owner), said he had rented an apartment to Nick Adams's friend whom Nick lived with and Jimmy used to stay over. And he had heard Jimmy and Nick arguing over...who would wear the one good pair of Levis to hustle in? Of course to Federici, any type of Jeans would be Levis to him. I assume this was about the same time they appeared in a Pepsi-Cola commercial together. Jimmy was the lead actor in the commercial and Nick was an extra.

Yes, I visited Fairmount, Indiana, when I lived in Lima, Ohio. I went there with Ray Van Camp and his girlfriend, whom he later married. He took 8mm movies of Jimmy's tombstone with me sitting on top. At that time, we stopped by Jimmy's grandparents home that was in downtown Fairmount. We talked to them first and then they gave us directions to the cemetery. I visited the Winslows on another trip, after I had left Hollywood and had worked for Nick Adams. On that trip, I went with the Capitol theater's cashier, Peggy, and her boyfriend. I gave Ortense a lot of 8"x10" glossies of Jimmy that I had purchased at Warner Bros.

Over the years, I have made a few more visits there. I sold a few James Dean, mounted blow-up photos to the Fairmount Historical Museum. Blow-ups I had made for a business in Lima, that fell through. And they are now on the walls of the museum. There were two museums in Fairmount. The other one was operated by David Loeher, but he had recently moved it to Gas City, to be near the interstate freeway, but now it is closed due to lack of business. Like I said, Dean fans have gotten old and are few and far between.

The late photographer, Roy Schott, said Jimmy had been a pain in the ass. He would do anything to get attention. In a documentary he said Jimmy left a group of friends at Schott's and suddenly they heard cars honking out front. Jimmy had taken a chair from the house, placed it in the center of the street and was sitting in it. "Anything" to get attention. Beulah Roth, the widow of photographer, Sanford Roth, said her brother, playwright, Leonard Spiegelgas, hated Jimmy. One time Jimmy had been standing in their kitchen when suddenly he spit on the floor!

Beulah's husband had died overseas and she couldn't afford to have his body flown back to the states. She said she buried a casket here, filled with rocks and nobody knew the difference. I don't think she mentioned what had happened to his real body. She could have had him cremated and buried his ashes, but I know she didn't. She sold over 1,625 James Dean negatives, that her husband Sandy had taken of Jimmy, to Seita Ohnishi, a Japanese entrepreneur who is a big James Dean fan, for $225,000. She sold them as soon as she heard that the Curtis Licensing Company had licensed James Dean's name and image.

Beulah had been hospitalized for some illness and was being released from the hospital when she had a seizure and died. Edward. G. Robinson's widow and daughter had gone to pick her up when they learned she had just passed away. Her brother, Leonard, had passed away a few years before. He loved reading the Hollywood Star. Beulah said he had told her that Bill Dakota was a "Majority of One." He had written a play by that name. He also produced or worked on some of the Academy Award programs. He also wrote the screenplay for "Gypsy."

Beulah had an old chair that Jimmy was photographed sitting in. Seita Ohnishi.......bought the chair. Ohnishi, also built some sort of concrete arch in Japan, that cost nearly $1 million dollars, to be dedicated someplace in Jimmy's honor. I don't believe he ever found a place for it. He did build a small memorial at Cholame, near the spot Jimmy's accident occurred. Nothing real fancy. A bronze thing wrapped around a tree with plaques on the ground with Beulah's and other Dean's friends names on it.

Curtis Licensing has made millions off James Dean's name and image. And of course so have the Winslows. Everyone still capitalizing on Jimmy. He is probably turning in his grave. In Dean's unsigned will, he had left nothing to his father. But, up until Winton Dean died, he was making money from the licensing. He died soon after he was found running nude through a field in Fairmount. So now the Winslow heirs receive a percentage of the money made from the licensing. Mark Roseller, an attorney who started the licensing, has a new home with a built-in elevator. He had also licensed Elvis Presley, but Priscilla wised up and fired him and did the licensing of Elvis on her own, forming a corporation.

Liz Sheridan's book, "Dizzy and Jimmy," tells of her years she spent with Jimmy in New York. Yes, they had had sex, the first woman to come right out and admit it. But, the book is strictly on her life with Jimmy and hardly any mention of their friends outside of Bill Bast, whom Jimmy had lived with in California. Like I say, it is her story about her and Jimmy. I wish we had gotten a clearer picture of Jimmy from those who knew him. In the "James Dean Story," Robert Altman's first film, which was a documentary, people were interviewed in Fairmount, and a few New York friends, but nothing in real depth. I heard Bill Bast, who had written the first paperback on Jimmy, titled JAMES DEAN, has rewritten it and supposedly has mentioned their homosexual relationship, which he couldn't have possibly written during the fifties. Martin Landau, who was a close friend of Jimmy in New York, should write a book. Is he too embarrassed to write about the "real" James Dean? Was the Fairmount minister, Reverend De Weerd, homosexual? Dean used to have dinner with him, on several occasions. One book claims De Weerd did admit that they had had homosexual relations. If this is true, he would be like the Catholic Priests today, and would have been run out of town, if the Fairmount townspeople had been aware of it. (I just read a book on Dean by Val Holley. I purchased it in 1995. I buy too many books and haven't read half of them. Anyway, it is one of the better books on Dean and he has done a lot of research and names a lot of Jimmy's friends in New York and Hollywood.)

Did Jimmy tell the draft board he was homosexual? I don't think so. He was classified as 4-F on the papers (I have a partial copy) because of his eyesight. Homosexuals, in the fifties, were classified as 1-Y. Jimmy was registered in 1949, so I don't know if that classification was used in those years. I asked the Selective Service Board what 1-Y meant and he jokingly said, "1-Y's would have to go after they took women and children." Jimmy may have told the draft board he was homosexual, just to see their reaction. Jimmy "always" wanted attention. (I tried to make an excuse for Dean here but I also just read Bast's new edition of his Dean book and he claims he actually saw a letter Jimmy had written to the Fairmount draft board stating he was homosexual. So, that solves that question, once and for all.

Or, does it? Potential draftees have to "show up" at the draftboard. Letters, alone, are not accepted. At the time of their physical examination, is when it is determined whether or not a person is accepted or rejected for the Army. I don't recall reading if he did this, although I do have part of the Selective Service papers (shown in my manuscript), that say he was 4-F, therefore he had to have been examined by the draftboard.

I headlined a story which read: "JAMES DEAN WAS KILLED." Of course this was taken the wrong way. Readers thought I had meant he had been murdered. What I wanted to convey was that he "had been killed in the car accident" and that he wasn't in a mental hospital or a cripple from the accident as many written stories had claimed. I was the first one to publish a copy of his death certificate to prove this, which stated he had a broken neck as well as other broken bones. Rolph Wutherich, the mechanic he talked into going with him to the races in Salinas, was thrown from the car and hospitalized for nearly a year for broken bones and the near fatal destruction of his body. He later filed a lawsuit against the estate stating Dean had knowingly been driving in a careless and wreckless manner. It was dismissed because the statute of limitations for such a suit had expired. Jimmy had been ticketed a few miles before he had the fatal accident. Wutherich was killed in another car accident, years later, in Germany. And Donald Turnupseed, whose car collided with Dean's, is also deceased.

Jimmy was practically unknown before the accident, although his two films that came on the screen afterwards would have given him star status. "EAST OF EDEN," wasn't such a box-office hit when it was first released, although it made more money than the studio had anticipated. It made ten times the money when it was re-released, over and over, double billed with, "REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE." It wasn't studio hype that made him famous. When audiences saw his performance in "Rebel Without A Cause," and knew he was no longer with us, they wanted to know everything there was to know about James Dean. This film role showed him as an innocent teenager, misunderstood by his parents and getting tangled up with teenage hoodlums, a reflection of teenager's feelings in that time period. They felt like they knew him, that he was somewhat a part of their lives, their yearnings. It wasn't just another stupid, black and white teenage movie exaggerating teenager's lives, with no talented actors. They related to Dean, and even today, youngsters all around the world, seeing his roles for the first time, still feel a connection to him.

Dean was praised for his characterization of the role. But, anyone who has seen a few of his television programs (he appeared in nearly 30), prior to his motion picture films, can see that he used "gimmicks he had developed," that had worked for him on television, that he would later use in his films. Many improvisational lines, were lines he had used in these television dramas, which many people hadn't seen in those days, when television was new. The cold milk bottle in (REBEL), that he rolls against his forehead was used in another scene in another movie, which I am sure he had seen. When I saw it in a late night movie, I immediately associated it with that scene Dean did.

I talked to Bob Heller many years ago, when he was living in Detroit with his wife Joanne. She had been working for the American Lung Association and I had heard that he had known Jimmy in New York. He told me, "Dean admired Brando and Clift very much, but he was more into Gary Cooper's acting than either of the other two." And anyone who is familiar with Cooper can shut their eyes and see Dean's mannerisms that were very similar to Cooper, holding his head low and lifting his eyes. Perhaps he wanted to hide this fixation and liked being compared to Brando and Clift, for the publicity. Can anyone actually say they can truly compare any scene Dean did, with any scene of Brando's or Clift's? But, now comparing Dean with Cooper, it is Cooper inside and out....."Well, there, then now!"

BOB HELLER and JAMES DEAN in the fifties in NEW YORK.

In an autobiography by actress, Mercedes McCambridge, (The Quality of Mercy), she said: "Before either of us was officially on film in "GIANT," Jimmy tried several times to steal my Stetson hat. He knew that if he switched my hat with his and was photographed wearing it, I couldn't be photographed wearing it! Mine was the perfect Texas hat. I had to watch it like a hawk until after the first scene in which I wore it, making it forever identified as my hat! It was originally Gary Cooper's hat. The sweatband inside the brim was taped-"G. Cooper." Back in Hollywood when I was doing wig and make-up tests at Warner Bros., G. Cooper wandered into the make-up department. The hairdresser was placing on my head, the never-touched-by-human-hands, brand new Stetson hat. G.Cooper hooted! "Where the hell did you come up with that silly looking headgear?" We explained it was was my character's hat for "GIANT." G. Cooper stomped out and said, "You mean to sit there and tell me that a Texas woman who spends most of her waking hours in the middle of hundreds of head of cattle would be caught dead in that stupid hat?"

He was upset, Cooper was. He went to the phone and called his wardrobe man. A hat was brought. G. Cooper placed it on my head. He was right! The hat was Texas! Giant! Right! The hat was also a good bit the worse for wear. There were indications it had been doused from time to time. I said it must have been rained on quite a bit. G. Cooper said, "Nope. Peed on a lot! That's what makes it such a fine Texas hat. No self-respecting rancher wears a hat that his horse hasn't peed on!" That hat sure lost all of its stiffness. It rolled into shape easily at the slightest touch. The discoloration gave it a certain added interest--dark golden streaks and wavering blots of bleach...interesting. Sometimes as I strolled in the blister of the Texas sun, G. Cooper's peed on hat, on my hot wigged and perspiring head, the air around me became recognizably ammoniated, but it was a great hat and I managed to survive the malodorousness. "Jimmy Dean wanted that hat. Jimmy Dean didn't get that hat."

Discount Available At Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book sites
Retailers may order at INGRAM Book Distributors
ISBN  978-0-615-37758-2
Published by Studio "D" Publishing Company

(link:the-gossip-columnist-53.blogdpot.com) Revealing lies about James Dean.