for GIANT AND EAST EDEN            


When I was a young actor in New York, there was a saying that if Marlon Brando changed the way actors acted, James Dean changed the way people lived. I believe that. No one came before him, and there hasn't been anyone since." -  MARTIN SHEEN.

DEANOLOGY. James Byron Dean, Jimmy Dean, Jim Stark, Jamie, Jimbo, Cal Trask, Jet Rink..............?  So what's left to say about Jimmy Dean ? In the literally millions of articles that have been written about James Byron Dean, what can possibly have been left unsaid ? Volumes. That's the truth. If you are reading this article then chances are that you're a James Dean fan, and if you are, then you, like millions of others, have been touched, influenced, by this gentleman. Emotionally and intellectually influenced. Dean's great power as an actor was fuelled by his ability to hit us where it hurts. He hit you below the belt.   Up until he arrived on the screen scene, the majority of actors used their art, their craft, to portray any assortment of characters, be they of  a comic or tragic nature, in a tradional and accepted fashion, one that had developed through the theatre then moved into silent movies, and blossomed into the wonderland of moving pictures with sound and colour. But the actors always conducted themselves with a modicum of restraint in their communication with an audience. They didn't bully or beat their audiences into accepting them, and when the show was over, they came out of character and moved on.  Dean  never appeared to be out of character, on or off the screen. He was emotionally naked in front of the cameras, and I believe that, quite simply, he just hurt too much. He grabbed you by the collar, pushed you up against a wall and said " You're going to listen to me. Someone has to listen to me, because I'm going nuts. This world isn't right, my life ain't right,  every day I have my head in a sling, I just can't make any sense of what's going on and if I don't get some relief soon, I'm - going -  to -  explode."  !!!  .............And he did. 
He punched his  personal life into each character he played, blended them together, and kicked us in the guts with it. When I first saw "REBEL" I became totally lost in it.  I saw the film in an old cinema called the "Orient" in Glasgow, Scotland.
                                       The Orient Cinema Glasgow © 1975.

Right from the opening shots I was gone with Jim Stark. I came out of the cinema in shock, because I realised that the character on the screen was reflecting a great deal of what was going on in my own life. Only later did I discover that he had hit millions of viewers in the same way. I was eighteen at the time. My mother died when I was seven years old, and I had only just recovered from tuberculosis after spending nine months and two days in a TB ward. I was unbearably lonely, often to the point of despair. I  had virtually no friends, having spent my adolesence in the aforementioned TB ward, and I had no sense of direction whatsoever. The outside world made no sense to me. Still doesn't. At times I thought I was going mad by being so out of step with world, and that scared me. It was some considerable time before I realised that I was sane, living in a world gone mad. That was even scarier. Still is.  And that's where James Dean scores again. We identify and sympathise with Jimmy throughout the confusion and chaos of just one day in the life of Jim Stark.  In a story covering a time span of little more than 24 hrs, we experience a lifetime of frustation. Jim Stark is alive and well.
So are Plato, Judy, Crunch, Buzz, and every character in that movie. In the bumbling, mumbling, self effacing, brow beaten buffoon of a father portrayed so brilliantly by  Jim Backus. In the shrew of a mother who keeps moving the family from town to town, and the dear old sandwich making granny who constantly stirs the bubbling pot of family problems.  They're alive in you and me and the kids that run crazy in the streets today. Thousands of Platos running around and gunning around. Legions of Judys with fathers and Mothers who, in their time, were, themselves, lost . Products of war, unemployment, and great emotional frustation.  Jim Stark triumphs in the end, but at a dreadful price. It's only with Plato's death that any sense of normalcy appears. The coming together of a family who, hopefully, will have  some idea of how real.. how hurtful... how frustating.....life can be, and how beautiful we can make it if only we try . As Jimmy says to Judy " Life can be beautiful."  Contradictory to what appears to be happening on screen - a bad mixed up kid with a violent past rebelling against all around him - the  good guy, the sane guy, is James Stark , and nobody realises it until the camera pulls back in the final scene, and we see the parting shot  of the squad cars at the planetarium with a heartbroken Jimmy, dazed and in shock. Written across his face is a silent  " I told you so. I knew it was going to be this way. Why didn't anyone listen to me."  
 For me, that's a strong part of James Dean's message - " Why isn't anyone listening to me." ? The eternal cry of the teenager -  "Just when I need direction in my life, I can't find any."  Having been turned on by this brilliant actor, I obviously had to find more about him, and I wanted to see more of his work. Then I saw "East Of Eden."  Again I was overwhelmed by the sheer power of his performance. A strange thing happened. I was elated and overjoyed that I had found someone who could articulate what I couldn't,  yet I left the cinema with a terrible feeling of desolation. That dreadful, heart wrenching loneliness for.... I don't know what,  was with me all the time, and I wanted a way out. Again it took some time to realise that I wasn't unique. There were thousands and thousands of Jimmy Deans across the world trying to make sense of their lives.
Legions of them.  Mr Dean created a persona that every unhappy teenager could adopt as his own. It is incredible that after more than half a century his name is bigger than ever. Or is it really so incredible ? There are more unhappy teenagers now with the same old problems.  Insecurity. No direction. Fast food, fast cars, fast everything, except answers.  Drugs. Rampant obscenity. Alcoholism, etc, etc.   In a world gone mad, what does James Dean do today ? You'll find the answer in the graffiti sprayed across the walls of your nearest railway station.  Buzz. Crunch. Judy. Plato. Kids going over cliffs in stolen cars. What's truly amazing about REBEL is that it could have been made yesterday.  The seeds of what was to come are all there.  Brando and  Montgomery Clift were early contributors to the mixed up, but decent, bewildered, lost, sensitive, vulnerable, longing for God only knows what, part of us, you and me. See how the adjectives flow thick and fast, yet I can't cover it. Everyone knows that James Dean was influenced by both of these phenomenal actors. That's as it should be. Everyone's looking for something, for someone. A role model. 
                                            Gemmel St Glasgow. This is the street
                                            where I spent the first year of my life.
But what made Jimmy Dean so powerful  was the hurt, and his uncanny ability to make everyone in the audience identify with that same hurt inside themselves, and, in truth, we were watching some startling revelations of our own personalities. Cal had problems too. Enormous personal problems which drove him close to the point of madness. Raised to believe that his mother had died when he was a baby, he eventually discovers the truth, that she hadn't gone to heaven like his father had always told him, but was, indeed, alive and well, and  engaged in the lucrative busines of running a whorehouse in the next town.  I do believe that Jimmy's unquenchable longing for his own mother helped fuel the part he played. I identified strongly with those characters. As I told you, my mother died when I was seven years old. I'm still looking for her. I am now almost sixty eight years old, yet part of me is still racing to the edge of the Cliff. And Buzz has his sleeve caught in the door handle, and he can't get out of the car in time !  Down, down, down, onto the rocks below goes Buzz, and down,down,down onto the rocks of life go countless kids like him. Not really bad kids. Just nowhere to go, and in many cases all they did wrong was get their jacket sleeve caught in the door handle of life. There's the rub. There's the pain. All so unnecessary. And still no one's listening. 

Glasgow tenement 1925.  By the time I was born,1938,
 nothing had changed.  Wherefore art thou Jimmy Dean ?

I had a dog called James Dean. He was like an overgrown poodle. Someone who didn't want him put him in their car, drove him to a lonely spot, dropped him off, and just drove away. The bastards abandoned him. He died of cancer a couple of years back and I miss him very much. Poor Jimmy Dean, I was with him right to the end. That's the kind of pain I'm talking about.  Clean, loving, bittersweet pain,  I call it the beautiful hurt, and nobody expressed it better than James Byron Dean. Hey ! let me tell you how that Jimmy Dean 'fleck jacket' - the one from REBEL - got me into bad trouble. About three weeks after I saw REBEL I was walking home through a little old shopping area in Glagow, Scotland, my home town.  It was dusk.  All the shop windows were lit up, and there  !  There, in  the clothing store window, was the flecked jacket !  This jacket. 
Deanerooney. Spot the looney.  I went inside and tried it on. It fitted perfectly, and the next day I was the proud owner of the JD fleck jacket. Then came  the slip- on shoes, white socks, white t-shirt, open neck white shirt on top. A pair of JD slacks, belt, semi-crew haircut, and there you have it. The perfect hand me down, off the peg, Jimmy Dean persona. I took to mumbling, bumbling, fumbling, stumbling and soon I would be rumbling. Someone would ask me what time it was  and I'd spend the next ten mintutes telling them. This involved shifting my weight to one side, balancing on one foot, and hooking the fingers of one hand behind me, in my belt. Dropping my chin to my chest, and with a look of intense pain on my face worthy of an Oscar, I would announce, in a voice cracking with emotion, that I had forgotten to wear my watch. Now comes the interesting part. The trouble. With a capital T and double.  My father suggested I go back to high school to pick up on the education I missed out on while I was in hospital. So now, at almost nineteen years of I age, I return to school and I'm placed in a class for 17 year olds. The chicks love my Jimmy Dean persona and there I am, sandwich bag in hand, recreating the scene from Jimmy's first day at high school. As I said, the young ladies love it, I'm two years older than they are. and they all look like Natalie Wood to me.  Beautiful, beautiful girls, and they  have that bobby soxer look of the fifties. Yeah I know. What about the trouble I mentioned. Well, after supper one night, my father suggested that I go to the ice cream parlour for a big bowl of ice-cream, there were seven in our family. So off I went, walking,  and I stopped at the traffic lights,  waiting for them to change to green so I could cross the street.  There was a guy standing in front of me and when the lights changed, for no apparent reason, he turned around and walked into me. "Hey ! Watch where you're going " I protested.  "Well" said he " If it's not James Dean." In a split second he  grabbed the lapels of my JD fleck jacket, and then he butted me full in the face with his head. BAM!  Down I went,  just on the edge of losing consciousness. Smash goes the bowl, and away goes the money I was carrying in my hand.  Then he began kicking me, and suddenly two of his pals appeared from out of nowhere and joined in. I rolled into a ball and huddled against the roughcast wall of a pub, with my back to them, my arms and hands covering my head.  
Buzz and Crunch and Idiot Features kept kicking me. Funny thing.  After the first few kicks you don't feel anything anymore.  I think the terror is greater than the pain.  I became aware of someone shouting " Let him up, let him up. Here's the polis', here's the polis' (police), and the guys pulled back for a moment. That was all I needed. I was on my feet and running like Jesse Owen. My legs were moving so fast my ass was two feet in front of me. Unfortunately, in my blind panic to get away, I ran up a dark side street and I could hear someone running not too far behind me. Then I heard another voice, a bit farther back, shouting " Forget it John. Forget it. Come on, let's go"  - and that was it. They gave up, and I was left gasping for air, slumped against a wall. Thank God.  I circled round a couple of blocks and made my way back home.  My father answered the door, wondering what the hell had happened to me , and to the ice-cream. When He saw me he did one of those Italian knuckle- biting things, you know, trying to hold back his rage. He knew what had happened the moment he saw me. I told him the incident had taken place just down on the corner of the street. He handed me an axe, picked up a steel poker and said " Come on, let's sort those bastards out." So down we go looking for the guys, but they were gone. Someone who had witnessed the scene said they had jumped into a taxi and taken off.  When we got back upstairs I looked in the mirror.  Looking back was Sly Stallone after going ten rounds with King Kong.

           not like this                                     like this                                                
One side of my face was swollen to twice it's normal size.One eye was closed, and my neck and cheeks were all torn where the bastards had dragged me along the rough-cast wall. When I took my shirt off, my ribs and sides were just a mess of bruises. But worst of all ! My jacket. My JD jacket ! Aw man. It was covered in blood. One sleeve was torn and the stuffing was hanging out from a shoulder pad. Non repairable. Finito. I was very, very angry. Forget the bruises, forget the pain. The bastards had robbed me of my Jimmy Dean Persona. How was I going to face the chicks at school looking like a smashed up Rocky ?  Luckily I had a couple of other influences to fall back on. I had been playing guitar for two years by now and Elvis was the big thing, so I quit school and joined a rock band. After that rather unpleasant interlude involving the Jimmy Dean jacket, let me return to James Dean proper and we'll have a look at " EAST OF EDEN" and "GIANT" the other two big movies starring James Byron Dean.  ( to be continued ) (c) joemoretti  april 2006
Director: Nicholas Ray
Producer: David Weisbart
Screenplay: Stewart Stern from an adaptation by Irving Shulman and a story by Nicholas Ray
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Production Design: Malcolm C. Bert
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James dean (Jim), Jim Backus (Dad), Ann Doran (Mom), Virginia Brissac (Grandmother), Natalie Wood (Judy), William Hopper (Judy's Dad), Rochelle Hudson (Judy's Mother), Corey Allen (Buzz), Sal Mineo (Plato), Dennis Hopper (Goon), Nick Adams (Moose).

                                                Author of article : Joe Moretti.    
                                                Polydor Studios. London 1972.                





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