Monday, May 4, 2009

The Ghost of James Dean (or an associate)

To me, it wasn't a coincidence.

I looked over at my clock radio early Sunday morning. 5:05 a.m. I decided to finish watching "Me and the Girls," one of my favorite dramatizations of a Noel Coward short story about George Banks, a gay entertainer looking back on his life being in charge of a collection of dancing girls with whom he toured. The ending is particularly poignant, and by it, I'm convinced that Tony Soprano was indeed killed, despite the other side of the argument. I'm late enough for that train that I've fallen face-first onto the track. I know. But it came to mind when I watched George believe that Mavis was going to come see him again in his hospital room.

I finished it, and went to my DVD player to eject disc 6 of "The Noel Coward Collection," a DVD set I will hold so close and so dear to me, as it's a steady source of inspiration. Whenever I need assurance that the mountains of words in the English language can still be fascinating, I need only to put on one of these discs and I'm smiling again, mulling over the words I hear, sounding them out, spelling them in my head, fascinated at how an "l" and a "y" can co-exist without any trouble between them.

Now, my room is stacked with DVDs and books, and old issues of The New Yorker, and a bunch of writing magazines given to me by a former editor simply because he had them stacked on one shelf of his bookshelves at his desk, and I had been eyeing them for some time. Those are on the floor nearest the one window I have in my room, a window I can't open because there's no screen in front of it and there's no point in getting one now, what with the hope of moving out soon, provided Las Vegas comes calling and my parents can sell this place, which has the hopeful financial benefit of a gate at the start of the front-door walkway (no other front-door walkway in this small area has one), and a large patio which overlooks the community pool.

I use old moving boxes for shelves. There was talk of getting actual furniture for this place, but since Mom never stopped disliking this place, the thought fell away. She's right in many ways, but those ways are better saved for another time so I can actually get to the point.

I didn't even intend to look to my right. I wasn't even thinking about it. But my head drifted over, and my eyes were pointed at the tops (really the sides, but now serving as the top) of two boxes where I had stacked issues of The New Yorker that I had bought for cheap from my local library (10 cents an issue), as well as "Pandora's Clock" and "Medusa's Child" by John J. Nance, the hardcover first edition of "Walt Disney" by Neil Gabler, and DVD box sets, such as the complete run of A&E's "Nero Wolfe," "The Stanley Kubrick Collection," and a nicely made-up special edition of "La Dolce Vita." What was sitting on top of that is what caught my eye. A three-DVD box set. I turned it over and it was the James Dean DVD box set that was sent to me so long ago, and I only got as far as unwrapping it and each 2-disc DVD set.

I laughed, because clearly the ghost of James Dean had been here, a little impatient at that moment. He is one of the actors I'm going to write about in that book, "What If They Lived?" But since I'm working in chronological order and am currently at work on Robert Harron, Larry Semon, Mabel Normand, and Fatty Arbuckle, he'll have to wait for a while longer, but from suddenly finding that box set, he doesn't want to wait. I have been thinking about his life, though. This powerful young actor gone, but revered, remembered, and never forgotten. I don't intend to try to answer the "why" of that, because there's no one answer for it. There's many answers. I want to find my own. It's like how silent film actor Robert Harron is praised in many books for his performance in "Intolerance," directed by D.W. Griffith. I don't want to use "Intolerance" in my writing for what would surely be the 394th time. I watched "True Heart Susie" on Saturday and was amazed how he could look like a young, not very intelligent boy living simply, and with a girl who loves him but he's reticent about returning the affection. He goes to college on the money the girl's collected for him, but makes him think that a philanthropist who visited his town put up the money for him to go to college. He comes back, sporting a mustache, and he looks like a man. There's no more of the boy there. It's a remarkable transformation, and not one that's as big a deal as actors today make of their own transformations in film. He appears as this grown man, and that's that. But that Harron was able to be utterly convincing as this boy and then the man is what made him a great actor of that time.

I like these ghosts. As shown with me suddenly noticing that DVD set, they want their lives to be known again. Maybe Dean, or an associate, feels that I could offer something new about his films and his life. Really it's just movie and book-driven research, but there's also the experts and historians to talk to as well. We'll see.

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