A Home for Nicholas Ray

Nicholas Ray with James Dean on the set of Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Image courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center.
The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has announced that it has acquired the archives of director Nicholas Ray (1911–1979), best known for his 1955 film, Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, and much admired by French New Wave directors, including Jean-Luc Godard, who declared “cinema is Nicholas Ray” in his review of Ray’s 1957 film Bitter Victory.

Ray’s early mentors included Frank Lloyd Wright, Elia Kazan and John Houseman, and he went on to work with actors Humphrey Bogart, Richard Burton, Joan Crawford, James Dean, Dennis Hopper, James Mason, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, and Natalie Wood.

The  Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at the university, is to take possession of material spanning more than 35 years including Ray’s work on They Live By Night (1949), In A Lonely Place (1950), Flying Leathernecks (1951), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Run for Cover (1955), Bitter Victory (1957) and 55 Days at Peking (1963). The holdings include original treatments, annotated scripts, photographs, journals, notes, audio reels, video recordings, and film that provide an account of Ray’s working methods and ideas, according to a Center announcement.

Also included are materials from Ray’s teaching career, which he began in 1971. He taught film directing and acting at Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University, New York University, and the Lee Strasberg Institute. Between 1973 and 1976, he made an autobiographical experimental film, We Can’t Go Home Again, with students at Harpur. A version of it screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973, but Ray continued working and editing the film until his death. Materials relating to the project include hours of edited work print, rushes, cut negative, editing notes, and journal entries. Ray’s wife, Susan, is planning to release a restoration of the film based on Ray’s notes at this year’s Venice International Film Festival in honor of the centennial of Ray’s birth. EYE Film Institute Netherlands and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive assisted with the restoration, which repaired deterioration to sound and picture and clarified the soundtrack by returning to original recordings and augmenting it with Ray’s narration.

The Center said that among items of particular interest in the collection are the Rebel Without a Cause 64 storyboards, as they sketch an ending different from that of the released film. Originally, Plato (Sal Mineo) was to be shot from the dome of the planetarium.

The archive also includes Ray’s work on uncompleted projects, including a film about the Chicago Seven trial, a collaboration with James Jones for the treatment “Under Western Eyes” (1963), a script written in collaboration with Norman Mailer titled “City Blues” (1976), and a script in progress called “New York After Midnight” or “One Dollar Bill, Baby,” written in Ray’s hand. Ray’s work with German director Wim Wenders on “The American Friend” (1977) and “Lightning Over Water” (1980) is well represented.

“Every frame of a Nicholas Ray film is expressive of the whole,” said Steve Wilson, curator of film at the Ransom Center. “From his inspired compositions to the subtlety of meaning and emotional richness he elicits from his writers, designers and actors, Ray created a body of work that has had a profound influence on generations of filmmakers who came after.”

The Center was proud to become the custodian of Ray’s papers, particularly his teaching materials. Outside of his films, said Wilson, those are “the richest and most abundant expression of his life and ideas to be found anywhere.”

Once processed, cataloged and housed, the collection will be available for research in the fall.

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