Photo by John Schreiber, of Bobby Hinkle
PBS reran an American Masters segment last night on the late actor James Dean. Dean, for you younger viewers who might not know, was the star of but three movies -- East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. His career went up with a bullet in 1954, and ended when, only a year later, at age twenty-four, he killed himself driving his Porsche on his way to a race.
Giant, his last picture, came out after he died. He won a posthumous best-actor award for East of Eden.
Dean was a method actor, out of the same school as Brando, and his performances were full of tics and quirks and twitches. Rebel Without a Cause was the teenage angst movie of its day, and influenced a generation of juvenile delinquents. (There is something of a curse connected to Rebel, which also starred a young Natalie Wood, who, years later, fell off a yacht and drowned; Sal Mineo, who was murdered by a pizza delivery man; and Nick Adams, who OD'ed, though his family always thought he was murdered, too.)
I felt a kind of kinship with Jimmy Dean because, well, we were distant kin. "Dean" was my mother's family name ...
Um. Anyway there is a scene in Giant, wherein the greedy lawyer and land guy are trying to get Dean's character to sell them his land, upon which he is drilling for oil. Dean has no real dialog in it, but he didn't want Rock Hudson, who was nominally the star of the film, to shine too brightly, so Dean brought a prop, a short length of rope with a weight tied onto one end. A local, Bobby Hinkle, who had been hired to teach Dean how to talk Texan, and how to handle a rope, had shown Dean some rope tricks.
So Dean twitches and tics and fiddles with the rope and basically steals the scene. As he was exiting, he let the weight hang down on the end of the rope, and with a little flick of his wrist, threw a loop over the weight and tied an overhand knot.
This was a trick I taught myself how to do as a boy, and until I saw that scene replayed last night more than fifty years after the movie came out, didn't remember that was where I had first seen it.
Another variation of "Wow, I didn't remember that actor was in that movie ...?