Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Unmade Movies: Movies James Dean would've Done if he had lived

                                                         Unmade Movie Ramblings 

James Dean
I've been fascinated with the legendary actor JAMES DEAN since I was an awkward teenager. He was someone I could identify with during high school, an outsider & loner, which is how most teens feel during this period. Trying to fit into a new social structure, but not knowing how to go about it. I would watch all 3 of his movies (EAST OF EDEN, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, & GIANT) in late night movie marathon weekends  & read autobiographies about him by RONALD MARTINETTI (THE JAMES DEAN STORY) & DONALD SPOTO (REBEL).

Donald Spoto's Rebel
I became fascinated with DEAN's future plans.

I read that JAMES DEAN's agent, Jane Deacy had just signed him a new deal with WARNER BROTHERS for 9 movies over the next 6 years worth over $ 1 Million. It also allowed him to do any TV work he wanted.

In the Fall of 1955 two TV projects were planned. A dramatization of EMLYM WILLIAMS' THE CORN IS GREEN with British actress JUDITH ANDERSON on NBC set for late October. DEAN would play Morgan Evans, the young Oxford-bound coal miner's son. The part would be later taken over by actor JOHN KERR, who played a psychiatric patient in VINCENTE MINNELLI's THE COBWEB, a part 1st offered to DEAN.

Judith Anderson

John Kerr
The Cobweb 1955
The other show was A.E. HOTCHNNER's adaptation of the HEMINGWAY short story THE BATTLER for PLAYWRIGHTS '56, in which DEAN would play Ad Francis, a battered prizefighter. PAUL NEWMAN would later be casted as DEAN's replacement.

Newman in the Battler Oct. 1955
Newman in The Battler Oct. 1955
Newman as the Battler Oct. 1955

WARNER BROTHERS went right away looking for future movie projects for their new hot young star, but in the mean time they announced that they would loan out JAMES DEAN to MGM to play middleweight boxing champion ROCKY GRAZIANO in a film adaptation of his best selling autobiography SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME , scheduled to shot in January 1956. DEAN read GRAZIANO's book & liked it alot.

Rocky Graziano
JAMES DEAN - "What a guy. One day when he was in the Army, he got tried of it and just got up...walked out...went over the hill. The army never forgave him...You've got to admire that kind of nerve".

The movie would reunite him with his REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE co-star SAL MINEO and ex-girlfriend PIER ANGELI, who would play his wife.

Dean & Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause 1955

Dean & Angeli 1954

Mushy and Dean on the set of Rebel
DEAN was already training with boxing instructor MUSHY CALLAHAN, whom he worked with during REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, & planned on using his part in THE BATTLER as away to prepare for the role, but when he died the producers were stuck with no star. But the producers lucked out when they saw DEAN's replacement for THE BATTLER on TV, PAUL NEWMAN (What! That Guy Again!) and cast him in the lead.

Newman & Graziano
Much like NEWMAN, DEAN was compared to the then "Master of the Method", MARLON BRANDO in acting style. It's not unreasonable that the same comparisons would be made yet again if DEAN decided to do a straight impersonation of GRAZIANO like NEWMAN did. BRANDO himself used GRAZIANO's voice & mannerisms for his portrayal of Terry Mallone in ON THE WATERFRONT. 

Brando & Dean 1954
MGM decided to shoot the film in black & white instead of colour to save costs, not sure if NEWMAN could bring in a audience like DEAN would have. JAMES DEAN would've became a much bigger star at the time than PAUL NEWMAN, so I'm sure MGM would've increased the film's budget & shot the film in colour with the expectation of that new teenage audience would rush to see DEAN.

Dean & Angeli 1954
On the set just imagine what would've happen with DEAN reuniting with PIER ANGELI. Would their past romance translate on to the screen?
It's known that Pier was rushed into an unhappy marriage by her controlling mother to singer Vic Damone.
A Hollywood Urban Legend had that during ANGELI's Wedding Day DEAN sat on his motorcycle outside the church revving the engine loudly in protest. 
Dean on his motorcycle

Pier Angeli
Somebody Up There Likes Me Movie Poster
Could a passionate love affair on set reignite again between the two? The Gossip columnists would have had a field day.

If DEAN worked out as well as they had hoped, MGM had him in mind for the role of "Brick" in the big screen adaptation of TENNESSE WILLIAMS' hit Broadway play CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF with actress GRACE KELLY co-starring as "Maggie the Cat". 
Sexy Grace Kelly
Other actress considered included LANA TURNER and CARROLL BAKER (who co-starred with DEAN in GIANT).
Sexy Lana Turner in the Prodigal

Sexy Carroll Baker
 Newman & Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The roles would be later played by PAUL NEWMAN (I'm starting to see a pattern here) & ELIZABETH TAYLOR.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof movie poster
 With HAYS CODE censors of the 1950s, the suggestion of Brick's homosexuality was toned-down for the film, much to the dislike of it's playwright WILLIAMS. But one could think how DEAN would've tried to get away using subtle nuances for the character of Brick, much like his Broadway performance as the homosexual Arab houseboy in THE IMMORALIST. 

Dean and Page on Broadway in the Immoralist

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF wasn’t the only TENNESSE WILLIAMS adaptation talked about. A 1952 revival of WILLIAMS' 1948 play SUMMER & SMOKE launched actress GERALDINE PAGE NEW YORK stage career as a Southern spinster hoping for one last chance at love. Soon after talks of a movie version were in the works. PAGE would meet DEAN as her co-star in the 1954 stage production of THE IMMORALIST. Sadly the idea of them co-starring in a film version never got past the “just talking” stage.
1961 Movie Poster

PAGE did get the chance finally to star in a film version of the play in 1961, but with LAURENCE HARVEY & was directed by PETER GLENVILLE.

Meanwhile at WARNER BROTHERS, they look at DEAN playing a young CHARLES LINDBERGH in THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, having just payed a wopping $1 Millon for the book rights.

25 year old Charles A. Lindbergh

Lindbergh was just 25 yrs. old at the time of his famous Atlantic flight in 1929, Dean was just the right age to play him instead of the miscast 46 yrs.old James Stewart who would eventually make the film with director Billy Wilder.

47 year old James Stewart as Lindbergh

The Spirit of St. Louis movie poster
But the one that always interested me the most was the one where JAMES DEAN would've played legendary New Mexico outlaw & "the original rebel", BILLY THE KID.

The Real Billy the Kid
Looking for new properties for JAMES DEAN to star in, WARNER BROTHERS bought the screen rights to GORE VIDAL's well received teleplay "THE DEATH OF BILLY THE KID", which originally aired on THE PHILCO TELEVISION PLAYHOUSE on NBC at 9:00 - 10:00 EDT Sunday July 24, 1955 starring a PAUL NEWMAN as BILLY THE KID.

TV ad

Gore Videl

 In it GORE VIDAL crafted a story of William H. Bonney, better known as 'BILLY THE KID', who befriends a man known as 'The Englishman'. His friend is murdered by corrupt businessmen. Bonney's plan for revenge, hunting down and killing all responsible, endangers not only his surviving loved ones, but the international peace set up for the entire territory.

James Dean ... Gunslinger
DEAN said he would only do the movie if he could do it honestly by playing Billy as a "ruthless Bastard, a cold blooded killer", instead of a romantic lead like past movies had him portray as.

James Dean's Quickdraw
On the set of GIANT, DEAN would practice his quickdraw & other cowboy skills in preparation for the role.
James Dean Outlaw
But when DEAN died, WARNER BROTHERS was without it's star for their "Big Western Movie".  They decided to cast WARNER BROTHERS contract player PAUL NEWMAN as BILLY THE KID, having originally appeared in GORE VIDEL teleplay (and who just happened to finished another movie in which he also replaced the late JAMES DEAN, SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME for MGM). For the rest of the cast actress LITA MILAN was cast as BILLY THE KID's sexy love interest Celsa, who I'm not sure was based on BILLY THE KID's real life love Paulita Maxwell. JOHN DEHNER, a former WALT DISNEY animator turn actor who played many western villains on TV was cast as PAT GARRETT, the man destined to shot BILLY THE KID in the back.

Paul Newman as Billy the Kid

Sexy Lita Milan

Newman & Milan

But still WARNER BROTHERS. thought the movie not worthwhile without JAMES DEAN's star power attached. So WARNER BROTHERS cut the budget, lowering it to B-Movie status, having it shot in black & white instead of the 'Glorious Technicolor', originally set for the JAMES DEAN picture. The sets for the town of Medaro were actually left over from WARNER's 1939 epic JUAREZ. Although they were in state of great disrepair, parts of them were salvaged for use in the movie.
Since the budget was cut, WARNER BROTHERS didn't want to hired any big name Hollywood director for the movie, so they looked at TV directors who worked cheap and hired ARTHUR PENN (who would later go on to direct such movies as BONNIE & CLYDE and LITTLE BIG MAN) for his 1st big screen movie.

Arthur Penn
LESLIE STEVENS (future creator of the cult TV series THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-65) was hired totally rewrite VIDEL's brilliant teleplay, which pissed him off for years. GORE VIDEL would later remake the movie with a young VAL KILMER as BILLY THE KID which aired on TNT in 1989 titled GORE VIDEL"S BILLY THE KID. It got better reviews from critics than PENN's 1958 movie.

Gore Videl's Billy the Kid 1989

Released totally unnoticed in 1958 as THE LEFT HANDED GUN. A title referring the belief that BILLY THE KID was left handed, a false conclusion drawn from the well known reversed photograph that existed.

Left Handed Gun 1958 poster

NEWMAN I thought was miscast as BILLY THE KID, at 33 was a bit to old to play the 21 year old outlaw. His performance comes across as JAMES DEAN impression of a misunderstood 1950s youth. DEAN was closer to BILLY's age and was at the time the personification of youth angst, in my opinion would have been more accepted by movie audiences, thus becoming more memorable & iconic, the role of BILLY THE KID was tailor made for JAMES DEAN.

Paul Newman's Brooding
It's not unreasonable to think that PAUL NEWMAN's movie career would've been definitely retarded by JAMES DEAN's continued career, since both actors would be up for same roles. NEWMAN might have been stuck appearing on many early 1950s TV shows, showing up in such WARNER BROS. produced western TV shows like MAVERICK, CHEYENNE, & COLT.45. Not getting a break until years later, if  he was lucky.  

Dean & Newman 1954
Other movie roles linked to JAMES DEAN according to IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) include the part of  "Joesph Dufresue" in THIS ANGRY AGE (1958), played by ANTHONY PERKINS (of ALFRED HITCHCOCK's PSYCHO fame) & would've pair DEAN with EAST OF EDEN (1954) co-star JO VAN FLEET, in another of her aging women roles.

This Angry Age with Perkins & Van Fleet
GUN FOR A COWARD (1957) in the JEFFREY HUNTER role (famous for being the Captain of the USS Enterprise before WILLIAM SHATNER & for being the best looking movie screen JESUS in THE KING OF KINGS). DEAN would've been paired up with actor FRED MacMURRAY.

Gun for a Coward with MacMurray & Hunter

Hathaway & Monroe on the set of Niagara

Another interesting note, in the 1955 director HENRY HATHAWAY attended the New York premiere of EAST OF EDEN were actress MARILYN MONROE was an guest usher. After filming NIAGARA in 1953, HATHAWAY wanted to work again with MONROE and came up with the idea of doing an adaptation of W. Somerest Mauham's 1915 novel OF HUMAN BONDAGE. After seeing DEAN on screen he thought the two would be perfect together. Now that's an Idea! Just imagine those two screen legends together. 

Dean & Monroe

Unfortunately  HATHAWAY’s plans never came together. DEAN died, MONROE’s studio at the time, 20th CENTURY FOX didn’t want her doing any serious roles, giving her instead such shitty scripts like HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR & THE GIRL ON THE RED VELVET SWING.

The film was eventually made in 1964 with actress KIM NOVAK & LAURENCE HAVERY (of THE MANCHURIAN CANDITATE fame) with director KEN HUGHES taking over after HATHAWAY dropped out after only weeks of shooting the picture. I guest he thought it wasn’t worth it with out his original leads.

Dean Reading
 JAMES DEAN also talked about forming his own production company, working with WARNER BROS. as an independent producer, with one of the projects being the film adaptation one of his his favorite books, THE LITTLE PRINCE by ANTOINE de SAINT-EXUPERY. DEAN would often quote the book to friends. I can't see DEAN playing the part of the young boy from space, but I could see him as the stranded pilot he meets in the desert (whom was based on the writer himself).

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

An American-British Co-production did get made though as a musical in 1974 by Producer-Director STANLEY DONEN, with screenplay & lyrics by ALAN JAY LERNER,  music by FREDERICK LOEWE, starring STEVEN WARNER as the title character & RICHARD KILEY as the Aviator after actor RICHARD BURTON turned it down.

Fredric March in the classic 1932 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

 I Also remember reading in author DAVID DALTON's biography about DEAN, THE MUTANT KING that he wanted to do an adaptation of the classic ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON's 1886 novella THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE.

Dean as the Frankenstein Monster

Dean had always an interest in Horror Movies, having once played the FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER as a teenager in an amateur high school play called “Ghoul with the Wind”, and was known to hang out with the Late-Nite Horror Movie Hostess MAILA “VAMPIRA” NURMI of "PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE" infamy.

Sexy Vampira
 Makes me wonder if Dean had apart in mind for her in any future horror movies he considered?

Bill Bast in the 1950s
 As well as starring, Dean had planned to make this his directorial debut in his new production company, asking his friend screenwriter Bill Bast to help write it under the working title THE DARKSIDE OF THE MIRROR: A JEKYLL & HYDE STORY. DEAN planned to deal with more of the psychological aspect of a duel personality, not just the horror.

Hamlet Art

DEAN would also talk about returning to the stage in a production of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE's HAMLET. Feeling that the definitive telling had yet to be done. Saying that when an older actor plays the part something is lost, they didn't get the characters sense of youth.

A production of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE's ROMEO & JULIET would've of been the perfect choice at the time, maybe teaming him up with PIER ANGELI, whom he had romance relationship with in the past. Iconic images of tragic romance between 2 doom lovers would reflect towards the audience. Setting in a more modern setting who add to the visuals as well. It did wonders for LEONARDO DiCAPRIO & CLAIRE DANES’ 1996 movie. But maybe it would get to many comparison to the 1950s musical WESTSIDE STORY, which was set in a contemporary NEW YORK CITY.

DiCaprio & Danes in 1996 Romeo & Juliet movie

Westside Story

Jimmy Piersall
Another part that interested DEAN was that of BOSTON RED SOX baseball center fielder JIM PIERSALL, who’s autobiography FEAR STRIKES OUT: THE JIM PIERSALL STORY was published in 1955, a candid telling of his struggle with mental illness and his breakdown in 1952.

1st Edition of Fear Strikes Out

DEAN himself was somewhat of the High School athlete, playing on the High School Basketball & Baseball Teams. This would not only test his acting skills, but this athletic prowess as well.

Dean & the Fairmont Baseball Team
FEAR STRIKES OUT made it to the little screen when it was adapted to TV in August 18, 1955 on the CBS anthology series CLIMAX! (Season 1, Episode 37). It starred a WARNER BROS. contract player who at one point was up for the part of Jim Stark in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, TAB HUNTER as PIERSALL & actress MONA FREEMAN as his supportive wife, co-directed by ANTHONY BARR & DON MEDFORD with the teleplay adaptation by ROBERT M. FRESCO, SHELDON STRAK, & BEN STAR.

Hunter & Dean

Mona Freeman

 The Teleplay was well-received & Hunter had high hopes that the studio would snap up the rights to a feature film version with him as the star. WARNER BROS. studio head JACK WARNER saw it as more for DEAN, thinking HUNTER not having the acting chops for such a dramatic role. Neagotations for the screen rights stop shortly after DEAN died with the property going over PARAMOUT for $50,000 with the film being made in 1957 by director ROBERT MULLIGAN.

Perry Wilson, Antony Perkins, Norma Moore, & Karl Malden in Fear Strikes Out

TAB HUNTER lost out the role to then boyfriend ANTONY PERKINS, who got the part due mainly for his Oscar nominated performance in FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956) the year before. 
Rounding out the cast, veteran actor KARL MALDEN, who had won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his work in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) and had just been nominated for his work in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), as JIM PIERSALL's demanding father. To play Mary, PIERSALL's wife, was 21-year-old Norma Moore who was primarily a television actress.

With James Dean on the scene maybe his two screen idols Marlon Brando & Montgomery Clift would step-up their game so to speak. Not wanting to be out shined by this newcomer, or to be forgotten by movie audiences.
Marlon Brando, Fred Zinnemann, & Montgomery Clift on the set of From Here to Eternity (1953)

One could only Dream what one life & their possibilities it could of had.

~ Raja Devilman74

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