February 8, 2014
James Dean and Dennis Hopper came to visit my father’s studio that he shared with Bob Alexander on Sawtelle Boulevard. Dennis and Jim were shooting “Rebel Without a Cause” and became tight buddies at the time. Mostly due to their mutual love for the writings by English aesthetic John Ruskin. Their director Nick Ray, suggested that to get into their ‘roles’ in the film they should read Ruskin’s “Selected Writings, ” which is sort of the Sees Candy Sampler of his numerous essays regarding poetry, architecture and of course painting. Nicholas Ray had a deep interest in architecture as well as painting. Some have commented that the famous outfit James Dean wore in “Rebel,” was the colors of the American flag.
Bob had some connection with Dennis, which led his introduction to Wallace, my dad. At the time, Hopper was a great deal into the arts and was just starting to get his collection together. He didn’t have that much money at the time, but he would buy art from the artist, and pay them a weekly payment. Dennis and Wallace had an immediate understanding of each other. It got to the point that if Wallace started a sentence, then Dennis would finish it. James Dean caught the flow of their conversation, and it has been stated that he brought this to the film set, specially his scenes with Sal Mineo. Articulation in language is important, but Dean and Ray also know that what is not being said is equally significant as well.
At this meeting, Dean was quiet, but was totally soaking the experience in. Wallace’s first words to him were “Do you want a beer?” Dean said “yeah’ and Wallace went over to his work table and took a can that was attached to a six-pack, which was not cold and threw it over to Dean. He caught it in his right hand. The moment brought to bear in mind my dad and Dean’s love for baseball. As a kid, Jimmy was a fine player, and before the acting bug got to him, he was daydreaming of being in a professional team. Wallace, on the other hand, even though good at playing baseball, never ever thought of being a professional athlete. The thought of working under someone was unbearable to him. On the other hand, he did admire the sport of playing pool or cards. Here one can master their own destiny of sorts.
Jimmy and Dennis came to the studio by driving their matching Triumph motorcycles. Wallace and Bob were both impressed with the machines. Never trained as an engineer, or the skills of being a mechanic, but nevertheless Wallace had a profound appreciation for machinery and what it can add to one’s life. Jimmy asked Wallace if he was willing to take a ride with him. He said “sure. ”
Wallace got on the back of the bike, with Jimmy in the front. He held Jimmy’s waist, and off they went. Dean drove up to Sunset Boulevard and was going pretty fast around the sharp curves. What surprised Dean was Wallace yelling in the air, like it was an amusement ride on Coney Island. This made Jimmy happy, because he always wanted to be in a position or with someone who appreciates the moment. Not its past or future, but now.
They eventually wound up at the Griffith Observatory. Jimmy and Wallace looked over the distance and both were quiet. Dean mentioned to my dad that tomorrow they will be filming up here, and Dennis will be in the scene as well. Jimmy never told anybody this, but before shooting a scene at a location, he liked to visit that specific place before work starts. A day or two days before the shoot is ideal for him. It is not only the script and the other actors or director that’s vital to him, but also place. He took into account the fact that a location can change, or have its meaning changed when sharing it with other people.
Some months ago, he invited a photographer friend of his to go with him back home. In Dean’s mind, they would do a photo shoot of all his hang-out places when he was a kid or student at high school. What surprised him was the fact that just bringing a photographer with him, regardless of the fact that he was a great friend, it somehow changes the place into something new. Dean can look like he’s in the past, but the fact is he’s very much into the ‘now. ' Going back to the past, was just an illusion. Film can make the big lie that one is going back to a specific time, but the fact is the audience is watching the film ‘now. ’
Dean didn’t have to explain any of this to my father. In fact, they said basically nothing up there at the Observation and looked at the vast landscape in front of them in total silence.