The Secret Love That Haunts James Dean
Now that James Dean is Somebody in Hollywood, everything about him has become newsworthy. Nationally syndicated columns make note of his daily habits, his moods, his current companions. A girl he dated once was interviewed about him for newspapers throughout the country. But not so long ago, Dean was Nobody anywhere. Last October, he was just an obscure young actor lately arrived in Hollywood to make his first movie. Because Pier Angeli was interested in him, a few photographers snapped pictures of them together, but for all that, Jimmy Dean was just one of the anonymous, hopeful faces that make up the Hollywood landscape. It was then that he met Lili Kardell. She was another young hopeful. Both she and Jimmy were under contract to agent Dick Clayton. He introduced his protegés to each other. Right away, it clicked. Lili is a nineteen-year-old beauty with soft blonde hair and big blue eyes. She stands five feet, four and one-half inches tall, weighs 108 pounds and has a figure that offers the best of Marilyn Monroe and Anita Ekberg combined. Her measurements: 38½ -21-35.
When Lili met Jimmy Dean she was under contract to Universal-International. They were introduced by Dick Clayton, a handsome young agent from the Famous Artists office who handles both of them.
“It was outside the Warner studio,” Lili recalls. “I was with Dick at the time, and he said to me, ‘Lili, I have to pick up Jimmy Dean. Have you ever heard of Jimmy Dean?’
“I said, ‘No, I haven’t. Is he nice?’
“ ‘He is the most wonderful guy,’ Dick Clayton said. ‘Just wait and see.’
“Well, Jimmy came along in a few minutes, and we were introduced, and Jim said, ‘Let’s go across the street and get a cup of coffee.’ There is this drugstore right opposite Warners’. And that’s where we went. And right away I was struck very much by Jimmy.
“I do not know how it is with American girls, how they judge a man. But in Sweden it is not the looks that mean the most. It is the intelligence. And a girl gets the feeling with Jimmy, right away, that he is very sensitive, a very intelligent young man. He does not lead with wisecracks. He is natural, quiet. After a while he looks up at you and grins. It makes you feel very warm.
“I was very impressed,” Lili continues, her speech remarkably American for a girl who has been in this country only a year. “And I remember saying to myself, ‘I hope he gets my telephone number from Dick Clayton and rings me and asks for a date.’ ”
A few days later, when he got some time off from East Of Eden, James Byron Dean did exactly that. Back then he was earning very little money and had neither the car nor the motorcycle he now has. So on their first date they used Lili’s car, a ’52 Ford. Jim took Lili to dinner at the Villa Capri, one of Frank Sinatra and Vic Damone’s hangouts.
“Just being with Jim,” Lili remembers, “gave me a feeling of warmth and relaxation. I cannot explain it too well. But Jim is a man who does not like phonies. You must be yourself. And being yourself is much easier than trying to be someone else. Do I make it clear? When you are with Jim, it is all so easy. You do and say what you feel. You are not trying to impress.”
That first night they went up to Earl Felton’s—he’s a writer, a friend of Dean’s. Jim played the bongo drums. He plays them with a mounting intensity. His eyes become two narrow slits, his hands flail away, and he’s really with it, cool, mad, crazy-gone. When someone else takes over on the beat, Jim likes to dance. He sways and beats his palms.
Bongo drums are rapidly becoming a standard prop for the Hollywood young set. If they’re mentioned in any future history of this era it must be admitted that Jimmy Dean and Marlon Brando did more to popularize them than any advertising agency around.
Jimmy and Lili had a ball up at Earl Felton’s that night. The newness of their friendship, the magic that springs up between two young people (“It is all so good and exciting and filled with promise.”) brought about a growing fondness for each other.
On the way home they said very little. Dean often sinks into long silence, absorbed in the emotional depths he usually hides. When they got to the Valley Sands where Lili was living at the time, Jim took his date to the door and kissed her good night on the cheek. “Good night and thank you,” he said.
“Good night, Jimmy. Call me.”
He called her again, of course. And he saw her night after night. On the way home from Warner Brothers he would stop by the Valley Sands and pick Lili up. They would go riding and eating and dancing. And then when Jim got his Triumph motorcycle, they would go speeding down Sunset Boulevard, Lili astride the cycle, her arms around Jimmy’s midriff, holding on for dear life.
When East Of Eden was shown at the studio, and everyone said the picture would make Jim a star overnight, Jim shared his joy with Lili. He took her to Chasen’s, to the Crescendo, up to Arthur Loew’s house. For a while they were inseparable. But there were no items in the columns. Neither kid was known in Hollywood.
Then East Of Eden was released. Jimmy went east. He proved the prophets correct. Critics touted him as “the most talented young actor since Brando.”
Lili was ecstatically happy for Jimmy. She knew he wouldn’t write. He never does. But she knew that the moment he returned to Hollywood, he would be out to see her. She thought of him all the, time, too much of the time, in fact.
Out at Universal-International where she was enrolled in the dramatics school, they said Lili showed great talent, that she photographed beautifully, that what she most needed was lots of experience and hard work. Lili worked hard because the training ground for stars-to-be is no, cinch, with elocution, diction, dancing, riding, singing and dramatics classes six days a week. But she could not stop herself from thinking about Jimmy. One night he called from the east. She was out and when she found out about the long distance call, she was furious with herself.
But came January and Jimmy was back in town, living: as usual in his one-room apartment over a garage in the Hollywood Hills. Jim had something new: a gleaming white Porsche automobile. “I’m going to race it down the desert this Sunday,” he said to Lili one afternoon. “Wanna come down and watch me?”
Studio executives tried to prevent Dean from racing. “After all,” they said, practically, “You’re starting Rebel Without A Cause. Suppose something happens to you? We’ll have to strike all the sets, lose all that money.”
Dean paid no attention. Fiercely independent, he always goes his own way. He and Lili drove down to Palm Springs. He won the event for novice riders and placed third in the race against the top veterans, all impressed by his racing ability.
Waiting for Jim at the finish line was Lili, proud and beaming. That week end in the desert with Jim and Dick Clayton and Lili’s friend, Karen von Unge, was a wonderful one. After that, the two kids had dating time only for each other.
Then U-I failed to pick up Lili’s option, “We simply don’t have any pictures for the girl,” her agent was told. He, in turn, advised Lili to head for New York, “where at least you can get some television experience.”
Lili talked it all over with Jimmy. At nineteen her acting career means more to her than just about anything else. She is too young to get married, and Dean feels the same way.
Any experience she could pick up in New York, Jimmy told his girl, would add to her stature as an actress. After all, most of her pre-Hollywood experience was work in Swedish musical comedies.
So Lili kissed Jim goodbye and went off to New York.
Jim went into Rebel Without A Cause. It was ridiculous for a young actor to sit home and brood about a young actress when it was obvious that their careers were going to keep them apart. Jimmy started dating. He went out several times with Marilyn Morrison, Johnnie Ray’s ex-wife. He made a date with Ursula Andress, Paramount’s new blonde beauty from Europe, and since Jim was most newsworthy by then, a columnist extracted a sizzling interview from her.
“He nice boy,” said Miss Andress, “but he come by my house hour late. He come in room like wild animal and smell of everything I don’t like.
“We go hear jazz music and he leave table. Say he go play drums. He no come back. I don’t like to be alone. I go home.
“He come by my house later and say he sorry. Ask if I want to see motor-sickle. We sit on walk in front of motor-sickle and talk, talk until five.”
Now, Jim Dean’s a lad who, if not exactly conventional, has been brought up to have good manners. Why should he behave this way on a date?
Possibly because Jim’s mind just wasn’t on Ursula—nor on Marilyn nor on any of the other Hollywood girls. His thoughts were with a blonde Swedish girl, a continent away.
In New York, Lili Kardell was introduced to Aly Khan. This connoisseur of female talent took one look at the cute Swedish blonde, and he flipped. He was en route to Europe at the time, having arranged final custody agreements with Rita Hayworth concerning their daughter Yasmin. But he canceled his sailing to spend some time in New York with Lili. Separated from Jimmy, Lili went out with him. He took her to the Stork Club, to El Morocco, to all the night spots she had read so much about. He rushed her, no doubt about it. And she was immensely flattered. But her heart and thoughts were with the guy from Indiana.
When Lili heard that Jim had finished Rebel and was about to take off for Texas and the Giant location, she felt she had to see him. She flew back to Los Angeles.
“When do you leave for Texas?” she asked.
“Tomorrow,” Dean said.
So they had one night in which to talk and catch up on what had happened. Lili told about her New York experiences, the TV work, the big city, Aly Khan. Jim filled her in on the Hollywood data. Next day he took off for Marfa, Texas.
“See you when I get back,” he said.
This was not exactly the farewell scene bargained for. No protestation of love, not even an “I’ll miss you!” After all, she had come all the way from New York to see Jimmy. Now he was disappearing with the most casual goodbyes. Piqued, she decided that this time she wasn’t going to brood. She was going to get the elusive Mr. Dean out of mind.
So Lili started dating. She saw Jess Barker, Susan Hayward’s ex-husband. She was given a whirl by Frank Sinatra, one of the most charming men in town. She met and spent time with other men entirely unconnected with the world of show business. To casual observers Lili Kardell was having a ball.
The only trouble was, she couldn’t get Jimmy Dean off her mind. Every time she spotted a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, a motorcycle, even a leather jacket, she felt a pang.
Partly to provide diversion, she moved from her Valley Sands apartment to a new one south of Sunset Boulevard. The new one had no memories. Lili told herself she was glad. Then one morning, she woke up thinking “But how will Jimmy find me? He doesn’t know I have moved!” At that point she capitulated. If she couldn’t forget him, she couldn’t. So she called her agent.
“Don’t forget,” she told him. “As soon as Jimmy calls, give him my new phone number.” Then she sat back to wait patiently, somewhat buoyed up by the knowledge that she probably wouldn’t have to leave Hollywood again. Twentieth Century-Fox was prepared to test her “just as soon as Darryl Zanuck gets back from Europe.”
In Texas, Jim worked hard. After all, work was just what a young actor—a serious young actor should think about. He refused to answer any questions about his love life. Especially questions that went, (as by this time they did), “Is it true that you’re in love with Lili Kardell?”
When they asked him that, Jim just turned and walked away. But he couldn’t get the name out of his mind.
One evening in the middle of this past July, the phone in Lili Kardell’s apartment jingled. Lili answered it, unaccountably nervous. “I had a strange feeling,” she recalls. “Something told me.”
“Hi! Cat!” said a voice.
Lovely Lili threw herself tummy-flat across the bed. “It’s you, Jim,” she cried. “You, Jim.” Then she swallowed hard. A lump welled up in her throat, and it wasn’t easy to keep from crying.
—BY IMOGENE COLLINS
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1955