James Dean

James Dean in New York

The Immoralist

James Dean in Gide's The Immoralist

      (James Dean arrived in New York City in October 1951. He arrived in the city with a few hundred dollars in his pocket given to him by his family and by Rogers Brackett, a radio director. Until Dean left for Hollywood to film East of Eden in 1954, he called New York home. Almost from his arrival, Jimmy was able to land bit parts on television shows--weekly dramas that were shot live at NBC and CBS, an era now regarded as television's Golden Age. Later, Dean appeared twice on Broadway and had the lead in numerous live television dramas in which he was widely compared to Monty Clift and Marlon Brando. But in his early days in New York, Jimmy struggled for recognition--and direction.

      In 1951, Hal Hackady was a young TV writer fresh out of Wesleyan University. Later, Hackady turned to composing and wrote the lyrics for a Broadway play, Minnie's Boys, based on the Marx Brothers. Here, in an exclusive interview with American Legends, Hackady recalls his encounters with a struggling actor and would-be playwright named James Dean.)

AL: How did you meet Jimmy?

HH: I was writing at NBC and Jimmy was in another show at the studio. One day I was sitting in the downstairs coffee shop where we all hung out, and Jimmy came over and introduced himself. He knew I had something in rehearsal, and he asked me to read a play he was working on.

AL: What was the show Dean was in?


It was a bit part. He told me he was playing an elevator boy. I remember he told me that he had one line of dialogue. Something like: This is the lobby.

AL: The show was probably Ten Thousand Horses Singing. John Forsythe and Catherine McLeod were in the cast. The Museum of Television & Radio in New York has a print.


Anyway, Jimmy said, "I am writing a play," and "I have written the first act." He told me it was about bullfighting and asked if I would read it to see if it was any good.

AL: Bullfighting was one of his passions. He had a cape that supposedly had belonged to an American-born matador. Dizzy Sheridan said that Dean used the cape as an extra blanket his first cold winter in New York.


I gave Dean my telephone number, and he called to give me the script. It was written in ink, in longhand, in one of those lined notebooks the school kids use. Across the top of the first page, Jimmy had written the title: Toreador.

AL: Did you read it?


Yes. I read it the next day. It was about a matador who had been gored by a bull. He became frightened and had to overcome that fear. I told Jimmy that it showed promise and gave the script back. I wish I had saved it.

AL: You didn't have the sense that he was headed for fame?


Actually, Dean was very ambitious. One time when we were having coffee he said: "I am going to make it. I am going to be famous. I don't care what I have to do to get there." I do remember that quite clearly.

AL: Did you follow Jimmy's career?


Well, I saw East of Eden when it was released. I was amazed. I recalled him as being just like the boy he was playing. He had that quality few actors have: to be who you are and not seem to be acting.

AL: Did you ever discuss Dean's work with him?


I remember, once, when he was in Gide's The Immoralist we talked about the play over a sandwich at one of those New York places, like Schrafft's, that no longer exists.

AL: Dean played Bachir, the blackmailing Arab boy. Louis Jourdan and Geraldine Page were in the cast.


Dean was not very happy playing the young Arab. He didn't like the plot. I also believe he didn't like playing a homosexual on Broadway. He felt uncomfortable.

AL: Some biographies suggest that James Dean was a homosexual.


I never heard anything like that.

AL: Did you stay in touch with Jimmy after he left for Hollywood?


No. But I know he returned to New York occasionally for TV work. I remember I was walking along Broadway one afternoon, and I saw Jimmy go by on his motorcycle. He waved and kept going: zoom, zoom. And he was gone. That was the last time I saw him.

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