Scene: Early in the morning at Googie’s. A low-priced restaurant. The young crowd gather here after Schwab’s (next door) closes at midnight. I’m sitting with a group in the booth in the rear. Between coffee and hot cakes and hot chocolate, I listen to talk about acting. Then a young fellow approaches. He is wearing a black leather jacket, a pair of old-fashioned steel-framed glasses. Jimmy Dean. I can tell by the way they greet him that they respect him. The talk continues. Jimmy slumps in the booth, seldom opens his mouth. When he does join in, all listen, and he says something like this: “All neurotic people have the necessity to express themselves. For me, acting is the most logical.”
The discussion continued until about three in the morning. Jimmy interrupted the debate (discussions between actors always turn into debates), asking: “Any you cats know where I can play the drums? (bongo) I got the urge.” A young actress said she lived up in the hills; it should be safe there. “Wait till I go to the house and get the drums,” said Jimmy. “I won’t be long. I’ve got my motorcycle outside.”
I couldn’t resist saying: “What’s he doing? Playing Marlon Brando?”
This was six months before Jimmy clicked in ‘‘East of Eden.” Since then, a lot of people have compared him with Brando “Is Dean deliberately doing a Brando” is good for discussion-to-debate at Schwab’s and Googie’s with thf young set anytime They believe an actor’s popularity is definitely related to the social complexion of an era. As Binky Doyle put it one night at Googie’s: “Shakespeare said, actors ‘are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.’ Get it?
Well, what I got from all this talk is that Dean resembles Brando because they both represent today. That’s why so many actors today work like Brando. As Brad Jackson, one of the gang, said “If all actors who work like Marlon voted, no wonder he won the Academy Award ” There’s a point here. Dean represents one of a whole new hep cat school of acting.
I didn’t attend the music session that night I went home to get some much needed sleep. Now stay with me We’re going to play it again—only some months later.
Scene: Googie’s. The important point is that it’s months later.
Jimmy Dean had finished his first movie, “East of Eden.” It had been sneak-previewed. Word was in the Hollywood air and smog that James Dean was “great,” “a new star,” “He’ll be up for an Oscar.”
Well, Dean walked in the same manner, wearing the same outfit, to the same booth He was the same Dean. But to the customers and the waitresses he was movie star Dean.
The youngsters who sit around Googie’s with Jimmy are, in the main, ambitious actors and actresses. They respect talent. They admired Dean before he hit the jackpot,. These aspiring actors, and this is important, don’t resent Dean’s success They don’t say, as others do“He got the break If Kazan had his eye on me I’d be as good, maybe better.”
This is a sample of the Hollywood revolution. The new style of serious young actor believes that an unknown like Dean, getting to star in a first picture, might make it easier for them. Maybe Hollywood producers will learn another lesson.
Therefore the newcomers keep studying, talking, breathing acting. They want to be ready when their big chance comes. They know it takes nights and nights of work to become an overnight sensation.
Jack Simmons and Binky Doyle and Jack Kramer and Tony Lee and Mila Nurma, who sit around Googie’s, know it was this way with their boy Dean.
Look at some of those other nights quickly. The lonely nights on a Fairmont, Indiana farm. The nights at UCLA where Jimmy didn’t startle the campus in any college play. The serious talks about acting with James Whitmore, who lived only a few blocks from the University. Later, the nights Jimmy left his Broadway hotel only to go to a movie, trying to throw off the bad feeling of being rejected by Broadway producers. The nights of studying at the Actors Theatre under the guidance of Lee Strassberg. These were nights to stay with Jimmy Dean forever.
Jimmy you must understand, has character and integrity. He is also undisciplined and irresponsible Anyone who really knows him is aware that he seldom reacts the way he feels; only when bored. Then he doesn’t bother with his defenses.
I’d say that the best way to describe Jimmy Dean quickly is to say he is Marlon Brando seven years ago. There’s the refusal to conform to accepted patterns, right to the motorcycle. Yet, somehow, this comparison is unfair.
I’ll start at the beginning. James Dean was born on February 8, 1931. He was raised on a farm by an uncle and aunt. His mother died while he was still a baby. His father was a farmer. The farm background and the knowledge of .his type of people were useful to him when playing the farm boy in “East of Eden.” Jimmy could fail back on his own experiences. He could give the words and Kazan’s direction a genuine and individual interpretation. By the way, Dean has yet to read Steinbeck’s East of Eden. He read only Paul Osborne’s screenplay. “This was all Kazan intended to put on the screen,” he says.
Dean attended Fairmont High School. He is athletic and was a member of the baseball, track and basketball teams. In his senior year he won a medal as the school’s top athlete. He is still athletic; in fact, too much for his studio. The day before starting “Rebel Without a Cause,” Jimmy went to Palm Springs for the Sunday automobile races. He entered his Porsche car in two events. He placed third in a race against veteran drivers and he won first prize in the race for novices. He couldn’t understand why the studio told him he can’t do this.
“It was on a Sunday,” said Jimmy. “There wasn’t any shooting.” The studio couldn’t convince him auto racing is dangerous. To him, it isn’t, and they shouldn’t interfere with his individuality.
Jimmy became interested in acting while at high school. I learned this during a number of coffee sessions. Binky, Brad Jackson, Mila Nurmi (Vampira) all asked each other what made them become an actor.
Dean said one of his high school teachers was a frustrated actress. Through her he entered and won a State oratorical contest, reciting something dramatic by Dickens “Of course,” continued Jimmy, “this chick only provided the incident. A neurotic person has the necessity to express himself and my neuroticism manifests itself in the dramatic.” Dean and his friends were searching for the true reason.
Jimmy’s lingo is a mixture of the bop, the analytic and the idiom of the youngsters. He is certainly in tune with the times. He uses whatever words get there first to best express his thoughts.
After graduation from high school, there came two years of pre-law at UCLA followed by some TV work and the enrollment in the Actors Studio. This is acknowledged to be the finest school for young actors. Elia Kazan is in charge, but the main coaching is done by Lee Strassberg, who has great insight about talent. It’s my personal belief, I haven’t any proof, that Kazan spotted Dean, trained him, and had Strassberg work with him for months and months. Almost secretly, as is done with a horse, grooming him for the big race. He wanted Dean to be ready and he wanted the right picture. Kazan waited patiently. Dean and “East of Elden” were made for each other. Kazan rode another winner.
“East of Eden” had its world premiere at the New York Paramount Theatre. It was a gala premiere. There was no doubt. It was James Dean’s big night. All the hard lonely nights had now been rolled into the night of triumph. But Jimmy couldn’t face his Big Night in person. Two days before, he left New York and was on his way back to Hollywood.
This cat doesn’t buy that,” he explained. “I came to Hollywood to act not to charm society.” Jimmy is young. He’ll try to justify his conduct by saying the objective artist has always been misunderstood.
A few critics and patrons commented on the similarity of Dean to Brando. One movie reviewer hit hard and panned Jimmy for trying to act like Brando. Jimmy is sensitive. He was deeply hurt. But only a few knew this.
Dean has a unique personality, an individual quality which comes through. He has his own fine talent which shines when he allows himself to be himself.
Dean weighs 150 pounds; photographs thinner. He is 5 feet 10 inches tall, but appears slighter on the screen, because of the way he slumps. Dean represents the Montgomery Clift type; a woman wants to take care of Jimmy because he looks as if he needs help and kindness. Brando has authority. He commands the situation and the scene.
These are some of the vital differences between Dean and Brando, according to the young performers who know actors best. However, it’s a matter of record that Jimmy appeared in two plays on Broadway: “See the Jaguar” and “The Immoralist.” The last named won Jimmy the Donaldson and Perry acting awards. None of the alert New York drama reviews made a single reference to the fact that James Dean reminded them of Marlon Brando. Therefore, between these plays and “East of Eden,” a change took place.
Dean doesn’t like being compared to Brando, so those close to him confide. However, Jimmy’s public comment is: “I am not disturbed by the comparison nor am I flattered.”
Brando’s only comment, as far as I know, was made at a party attended by both. Marlon said to Jimmy: “Don’t you think you’re going a little too far to attract attention?”
For his own crowd, Jimmy will give his impersonation of Brando imitating Charlie Chaplin; then he’ll do Chaplin impersonating Marlon. Jimmy is a fine mimic. He is a very talented young man. He is an excellent cartoonist. He can play the bongo drums “like the living end.” He is okay on the piano and on a flute-like instrument called the recorder. Jimmy is hip when it comes to true jazz. He knows the names of “obscure eats who are artists on their particular instrument.” Jimmy is responsible for Leonard Rosenman writing the musical score for “East of Eden.” He appreciates fine music and is sent by pure jazz.
When Jimmy first came here, he had a house at the beach. He didn’t have a phone. No one, girl or studio, could get in touch with him unless they made the trip to the beach. Later he moved into town and rented a small apartment over a garage (about a reel and a half from Googie’s and Schwab’s).
Jimmy is disorderly. To step into his apartment is like arriving at the scene of a hurricane. Belongings are strewn everywhere. He’s frank about himself, “I’m intense. I’m so tense,” he says, “I don’t see how people stay in the same room with me. I wouldn’t tolerate myself.”
A few of his group not only tolerate but follow him. Dennis Stock, a photographer, not only believes in him but also believes they understand each other. Jack Simmons, a trying-to-make-it actor, has a prominent role in “Rebel Without a Cause,” and is a good actor. Jack is always around the house and set. He gets Jimmy coffee or a sandwich or whatever Jimmy wants. Jack also runs interference for Dean when there are people Jimmy doesn’t want to see. There are many people trying to contact a nobody who has just become a star.
Dean has a loyalty to old friends, but he also enjoys the attention or service they give him.
Recently Dean rented a house almost atop Laurel Canyon. Dean read the ad, rode his motorcycle as far up the dirt and stone road as he could, got out and spoke to the owner of the house.
“I want this place so I can play my drums late at night without complaints from the neighbors. How about it, man?”
“The only complaints you might get,” said dance director Dave Gould, “is from the coyotes.”
Dean was silent. Then he asked: “Could I see the inside of the house?”
Gould took Jimmy on tour When they reached the bedroom, featuring a king-size bed, Gould said: “That’s the bed Lana Turner slept in when she rented this place.”
Jimmy jumped onto the bed. Then while rolling around in it, he said: “I’ll take it. I’ll take it.”
Later, when the story of his moving plan became known, tourists began visiting the site. Jimmy promptly announced he’d look for another place to live.
This is James Dean up to and including the release of “East of Eden.” It’s going to be interesting keeping tabs on Jimmy Dean, watching how he responds to stardom and Hollywood. As one of the young actors trying to make it said: “It isn’t too hard to become a movie star. Jimmy Dean knows it. The hard part is growing up. And don’t think that cat Jimmy Dean doesn’t know it.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1955
Colby Lohmiller6 March 2023
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