“In front of the camera, he had an instinct that was nearly uncanny. I don’t recall ever working with anyone who had such a gift. I recall one scene, where he was in a shadow, and had to lift his head to the light. We explained how it should go and he played it exactly right, to the half inch, the first time. He just seemed to know how it should be, without rehearsal or anything.” — William C. Mellor, Cinematographer
I was on assignment in Marfa, Texas, covering the film Giant and the people in the film — but focusing mostly on James Dean. I knew what a terrific and inventive subject he was. Anytime I pointed my camera at Jimmy and he wasn’t on the set working, he would perform for the camera at every opportunity, giving me many wonderful and creative images to record. He also borrowed my camera on occasion to shoot pictures of Elizabeth, George Stevens or some of the extras on the set. Even though Jimmy had been told not to drive his car during the filming, he would have his script man drive through the open fields at night while he sat on the front fender with a .22 rifle in hand, shooting at rabbits that were frightened out of the brush and caught in the glare of the headlights. George Stevens didn’t know about this extracurricular activity, I’m sure. — Sid Avery
At the age of five Jimmy was taking tap and ballet lessons and appeared in a recital with the Marion College of Dance and Theater Arts. Years later he continued his dance lessons with instructor Katherine Dunham in New York. Photographs by Dennis Stock, 1955.
I want to live as intensely as I can. Be as useful and helpful to others as possible, for one thing. But live for myself as well. I want to feel things and experiences right down to their roots… enjoy the good in life while it is good.
Happy Birthday James Dean!
One evening after a photo session at my place, the usual crew and I sat around over sandwiches and drinks. It was a while before we noticed that Jim had left us.‘Hey, Jimmy,’ we yelled. No response… The next thing we knew there was a hell of a racket out in the street, complete with horns blowing and people yelling. We ran to the window and opened the venetian blind. There, in the middle of the street, sitting cross-legged in my chair, smoking a cigarette, was our boy, holding up traffic. As we flew out the front door, we looked beyond the chair and saw a long string of headlights and people getting out of cars. Marty and I grabbed Dean from the chair - and also from a tall, angry-looking guy with big hands who looked ready to pummel him. Jim acted like a rag doll when we pulled him from a chair, his arms and head flopping around, the rest of him just dead weight. Bob and Billy picked up the chair. Once inside, we all looked at the grinning Dean. ‘God damn it, Jim,’ I yelled… After I calmed down, I asked him, ‘Why, Jim, why?’ He took a fresh cigarette and sat in the chair that had been put back in its place. He lighted up and looked at all of us. ‘Don’t you sons of bitches ever get bored? I just wanted to spark things, man, that’s all.’ He got up and began bonging the side table. ‘Look at you. Before I did it, we were all sitting quietly eating and drinking, and outside a lot of nine-to-fivers were going home to their wives, like they do every night. Now you’re all juiced up, and so are they, man. They’ll talk about it for years.’
- Roy Schatt, James Dean: a Portrait