Friday, January 27, 2006

Moss Mabry 1918-2006

We were very saddened to learn that Rebel Without a Cause costume designer Moss Mabry has passed away. In Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause we reveal for the first time that according to Mabry he designed the legendary red jacket that James Dean wore in the film. Although other sources claim that the jacket had other origins, no one apparently had ever interviewed him about it before. "Even though the jacket looked simple, it wasn't," he told us. Mabry made three of them. He also told us that years later, while working on the film Continental Divide with John Belushi, Belushi ordered him to fly back to Hollywood and make three more red jackets just like James Dean's, one for him and two for each of his bodyguards.

Although Mabry was nominated for four Academy Awards, he never got credit for what may have been his most famous design until we talked to him for our book. Mabry also told us about a special bra he designed for Natalie Wood, which became known as the "Natalie Wood bra," though he declined to reveal the secret of its design. After Rebel Mabry worked on Giant, earning his first Academy Award nomination. Although we are very sad about his passing, we are happy we gave him the opportunity to tell his story, especially about the red jacket. Here is his obituary from The Los Angeles Times:

Moss Mabry, 87; Costume Designer Was Nominated for 4 Academy Awards

By Dennis McLellan, Times Staff Writer

Moss Mabry, an Academy Award-nominated costume designer whose credits include "Giant," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "The Way We Were," has died. He was 87.

Mabry, a former West Hollywood resident who retired two decades ago to Vista in San Diego County, died Wednesday at a hospital in nearby Oceanside after a long illness that included respiratory and heart problems, said longtime friend Gary More.

In a career that spanned more than 80 films between 1953 and 1988, Mabry worked with such stars as Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, Goldie Hawn and Liza Minnelli, as well as leading men such as Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Dean Martin and Robert Redford.

"I was really so sorry to hear about Moss because he was such a dear, sweet man," Doris Day said in a statement to The Times on Thursday. "He designed my clothes on many of my films, and we always had laughs and a great time working together."

Mabry earned four Academy Award nominations -- for "Giant" (with colleague Marjorie Best), "What a Way to Go!" (with Edith Head), "Morituri" and "The Way We Were" (with Dorothy Jeakins).

Among his other film credits are "The Bad Seed," "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962 version), "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," "Move Over, Darling," "Cactus Flower,"

"Butterflies Are Free," "King Kong" (1976 version), "The Shootist," "Continental Divide" and "The Toy."

"He was a totally delightful, witty and tremendously energetic personality,"
former Times movie reviewer Kevin Thomas said Thursday. "I always felt that as a designer, he had tremendous flair and imagination. And when it called for glamour, he could really deliver."

Mabry often said that his most difficult assignment was designing the clothes for Elizabeth Taylor in "Giant," the sprawling, Texas-set 1956 epic that also starred Rock Hudson and James Dean.

"The script called for 42 [clothing] changes, starting in 1924 and coming up to 1954," he once said in an interview. "George Stevens, the director, did not want to show any dates on the screen but let the clothes and hairstyles show the passing of time.

"It goes without saying, Miss Taylor's beauty is almost impossible to disguise under the worst clothes, and styles in 1924 though 1930 were pretty bad, but careful planning and her magic won me an Academy Award nomination."

Mabry said wardrobe tests can be "discouraging" because they are the first time the producer and director have seen the clothes, and "from the sketch to the real thing can come as a shock or a pleasant surprise," he said.

When he dressed Kelly for the first time -- for wardrobe tests for Alfred Hitchcock's "Dial M for Murder" -- it was a more than pleasant surprise.

"She 'sold' those clothes like I didn't dream possible, and it was actually difficult to decide which ones she should wear in the film," he said. "Miss Kelly knows exactly how to stand, how to sit and how to walk, and you have no idea how these three things can 'make' or 'kill' a beautiful dress."

What may be Mabry's most famous piece of costumery was more mundane than
glamorous: the red jacket worn by Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause."

Although one source reportedly claimed that an inexpensive red jacket was bought at a Hollywood men's store for use in the 1955 film, Mabry told Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel -- the authors of the recent book "Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making 'Rebel Without a Cause' " -- that he made three of the jackets from a bolt of red nylon and painstakingly worked on the size of the collar and the placement of the pockets.

"Even though the jacket looked simple," Mabry said, "it wasn't."

Born in Marianna, Fla., in 1918, Mabry earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Florida and began his professional life as an engineer.

But he had designed costumes and built scenery for high school plays, and his interest in clothing design lured him from a job with the Florida State Highway Department to Hollywood.

After attending the Chouinard Art Institute, he worked for renowned designer Don Loper for three years. That, in turn, led to his signing a contract with Warner Bros.

Mabry advised young people aspiring to a designing career to "find out all you can about fabrics, silk, taffeta, chiffon, how they wear, how they drape, etc. Then get a job with a manufacturer downtown; get exposed to the making of clothes."

A memorial service for Mabry, who had no immediate survivors, will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 18 at Buena Vista Baptist Church, 145 Hannalei Drive, Vista.,1,3011544.story

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Shelley Winters Has Died

Shelley Winters, one of the most unique talents in the movies, has died. Winters was a friend and lover of Nicholas Ray and in Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause we tell the story of how she and Marilyn Monroe ended up one night in a game of chicken with James Dean. Here is an excerpt from her New York Times obituary:

Shelley Winters, Tough-Talking Oscar Winner in 'Anne Frank' and 'Patch of Blue,' Dies

Shelley Winters, who once described her life as a "rocky road out of the Brooklyn ghetto to one New York apartment, two Oscars, three California houses, four hit plays, five Impressionist paintings, six mink coats and 99 films," died yesterday. She was 83, although some sources says she was 85.

Ms. Winters died of heart failure at the Rehabilitation Centre of Beverly Hills, her publicist, Dale Olson, said. She had been hospitalized in October after suffering a heart attack.

A major movie presence for more than five decades, Shelley Winters turned herself from a self-described "dumb blond bombshell" in B pictures to a widely respected actress who was nominated four times for Academy Awards.

Her first Oscar, for best supporting actress, was for her performance in "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959) as the middle-age Mrs. Van Daan, one of eight Dutch Jews hiding from the Nazis in an attic.

She won again for best supporting actress as the vicious mother of a blind girl in "A Patch of Blue" (1965).

After a series of bit parts, Ms. Winters received her first big break as the waitress who was strangled by Ronald Colman's jealous actor in "A Double Life" in 1947.

Four years later, she dyed her hair brown, rubbed the polish off her fingernails, and convinced the director George Stevens that she could play the mousy factory girl who was made pregnant and then drowned by Montgomery Clift so that he could marry the rich Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun." She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress for that performance.

Tough-talking and oozing sex appeal, Ms. Winters was blowzy, vulgar and often pathetically vulnerable in her early films. In movie after movie, she played working-class women who were violently discarded by men who had used them.

Read the rest of the obituary here.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New York Times Book Review of "Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause"

New York Times Book Review
January 8, 2006
By Stephanie Zacharek

Nicholas Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) is often considered a movie of symbols, all of them keyed to our feelings, and memories of youth as well as to our never-resolved disappointments: James Dean stands for youthful rebellion; Natalie Wood for the seemingly disparate appetites for wildness and tenderness; and Sal Mineo for the unpredictability, and the danger, of sexual desire. Sometimes it's easier, to grapple with what characters mean than with what they do.

But reducing "Rebel Without a Cause" to symbols only undermines its enduring vitality. It is really a movie of gestures, as Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel grasp in their lively and intelligent "Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making 'Rebel Without a Cause.'"

When James Dean's Jim Stark returns home, exhausted and troubled, from a game of chicken that has killed one of his classmates, the first thing he does is go to the refrigerator for a drink of milk. He holds the bottle to his forehead, then to his cheek, a movement so smooth and simple you almost miss how elemental it is. Frascella and Weisel trace this small moment to an improvisatory session between Ray and Dean, in which Ray challenged the young actor to find a way to cut to the scene's essence. "It was a startling yet entirely natural move," Frascella and Weisel write. "It possessed an electric charge that carried directly into the film, where it would read as completely true to the sensibility of the milk-fed American teen, caught between maturity and childhood."

So many making-of books seem like deadly procedurals, with the authors stuffing in tons of minutiae just to show how much research they've done; whatever affection they feel for their subject gets buried under all the paperwork. But "Live Fast, Die Young" reads as if Frascella and Weisel took a good look at the movie in front of them and simply asked how and why. That's the reason we learn the story of the milk bottle, as well as the several theories about the origin of the red jacket Dean wears so memorably in the film. Although one source claims the jacket was bought on the cheap at a Hollywood men's store, the movie's costume designer, Moss Mabry, says he made three of the jackets from a bolt of red nylon, carefully working out the size of the collar and the placement of the pockets. "Even though the jacket looked simple," he explains, "it wasn't."

The apparent simplicity of that jacket sums up the difficulties Ray faced in creating what might have been, in less capable hands, just a throwaway teenage melodrama. Frascella and Weisel suggest that Ray was probably motivated to make "Rebel" at least partly by his strained relationship with Tony, his own son from his first marriage.

At 13, Tony slept with Gloria Grahame, then Ray's wife. But the charismatic, temperamental Ray wasn't above scandalous behavior himself: he began an affair with the young Natalie Wood in 1954, when she was 16 and he was 43. Almost immediately after she took up with Ray, Wood also started sleeping with Dennis Hopper, whom Ray had just cast in "Rebel." When Ray learned of Wood's infidelity, months later, he punished Hopper by giving nearly all his lines to another character. (Even so, Hopper reconciled with Ray many years later, getting him a teaching job when he really needed work.)

But the director's truest love affair, though not a carnal one, may have been with Dean himself. The most fascinating sections of "Live Fast, Die Young" deal with Ray's relationship with his mercurial, seductive, frustrating star, a cosmically gifted performer prone to self-indulgence and erratic behavior. Immediately after meeting Dean (who had just completed "East of Eden" with Ray's mentor, Elia Kazan), Ray knew he wanted him for "Rebel." But the courtship wasn't quick or easy. "We sniffed each other out, like a couple of Siamese cats," Ray said. And even after Dean signed on to the film, the tension between actor and director never dissipated.

Although Dean is rightly considered one of the greatest Method actors, he often abused some of the Method's tenets. Dean was injured by one of his fellow actors, Corey Allen, after insisting that real switchblades be used in the movie's knife-fight scene. When Ray instinctively stopped the camera, Dean was furious: "Can't you see this is a real moment? Don't you ever cut a scene while I'm having a real moment!" Dean would sometimes curl into a fetal position before beginning a scene, or keep the other actors waiting as he holed up in his dressing room, preparing. "What the hell does he think he's doing?" one crew member grumbled. "Even Garbo never got away with that."

Had Dean lived longer, his obsessiveness might have become unbearable to his peers and everyone else. But he left so few perforamances behind - and such great ones - that we can allow him a few indulgences. In "Live Fast, Die Young," Corey Allen explains how Dean helped redefine Hollywood's idea of masculinity: "These days, we talk about vulnerability very easily, partially because of people like Dean who were willing to put it on the line." On the set, Dean may have gotten away with indulgences that wouldn't have been granted to any other actor. Then again, not even Garbo was James Dean.

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