Quote of the Day: A Walking Contradiction

The Jam 

‘Nick Ray, at thirty-five, had worked with me in theatre and radio. Our collaboration in film was about to begin. He was a stimulating and sometimes disturbing companion: garrulous and inarticulate, ingenious and pretentious, his mind was filled with original ideas which he found difficult to formulate or express. Alcohol reduced him to rambling unintelligibility; his speech, which was slow and convoluted at best, became unbearably turgid after more than one drink. Yet, confronted with a theatrical situation or a problem of dramatic or musical expression he was amazingly quick, lucid and intuitive with a sureness of touch, a sensitivity to human values and an infallible taste which I have seldom seem equalled.

‘From his year’s apprenticeship as a scholarship student with Frank Lloyd Wright, Nick had acquired a perfectionism and a sense of commitment to his work which were rare in the theatre and even more rare in the film business. But in his personal life he was the victim of irresistible impulses that left his career and his personal relationships in ruins and finally destroyed him. He was a handsome, complicated man whose sentimentality and apparent softness covered deep layers of resilience and strength. Reared in Wisconsin in a household dominated by women, he was a potential homosexual with a deep, passionate and constant need for female love in his life. This made him attractive to women, for whom the chance to save him from his own self-destructive habits proved an irresistible attraction of which Nick took full advantage and for which he rarely forgave them. He left a trail of damaged lives behind him — not as a seducer, but as a husband, lover and father.’

~ John Houseman in Unfinished Business.

Ray of light

Whew! Considering how little space Ray then occupies in Houseman’s narrative (there’s a great account of the first day’s filming of THEY LIVE BY NIGHT, then almost nothing) this is an excessively detailed and passionate account, also possibly the first published work to suggest Ray’s bisexuality.

(Mis)quoting from memory, there’s also a nice passage in Chuck Heston’s memoirs about Nick R. About to embark on the disastrous 55 DAYS AT PEKING, Charlton asked a friend’s opinion of the director. “Well, he’s very smart. Talented, imaginative. But… I’ve played poker with him, Chuck. And Chuck… he’s a loser.


3 Responses to “Quote of the Day: A Walking Contradiction”

  1. If you want to know about Nick Ray read Gavin Lambert’s Mostly About Lindsay Anderson, because the part that isn’t about Anderson is about Nick Ray — and Gavin’s affair with him. Ray was a brilliant, wiley manipulative bisexual, given to carrying on simultaneously with both sexes. During the shooting of Rebel Without a Cause he was enjoying the pleasures of both Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.

    Houseman is a fine one to talk about anyone being a “potential homosexual.”

  2. Dennis Hopper has been known to imply that Ray enjoyed James Dean too, but Hopper is “not a reliable witness” according to the judge in his lawsuit with Rip Torn.

    I read and loved the Lambert book (oddly unpopular among Anderson acolytes). Lambert was sharing Ray with Marilyn Monroe… I Was Interrupted is also a superb account of (parts of) Ray’s life. I’ll probably quote from it later.

    Ray also turns up briefly in David Sherwin’s extraordinary memoir Going Mad in Hollywood — he was Sherwin’s first choice to direct If… but turned it down because he felt the director had to be British.

    The extent to which Houseman goes into detail about Ray before falling silent suggests to me the possibility of an affair.

  3. Ray may have wanted Dean but there was never a chance of his getting to first base with him because they were both “Tops.” Besides Dean’s boyfriend Jack Simmons was all over the place. He plays one of the gang members who memorably hands Dean the knife in Griffith Park Observatory scene. Dennis Hopper claims that Dean was straight. HAH! Hopper was busy stealing Natalie Wood away from Nick Ray.

    Somebody ought to make Mondo Rebel. There was so much going on during the making of that film!. Read Live Fast, Die Young — The Wild Ride of the Making of “Rebel Without A Cause” for all the dish — including the night that Dean and Simmons tried to pick Jack Larson up for a three-way.

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