Raymond Nicholas Kienzle had quite the reputation for his talent & quite the sexual appetite.
Re-named Nicholas Ray, he directed his only Broadway production_ the Duke Ellington musical Beggar's Holiday, in 1946. He directed his first film in 1947- They Live By Night. An impressionistic, tender take on film noir, it was interesting because of the extreme empathy for society’s young outsiders, a recurring theme in Ray’s films. It was influential for the start of run of films of the sub-genre of 2 young fugitive lovers on the run from the law: Gun Crazy, Bonnie & Clyde, Badlands, Thieves Like Us, Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia.
Ray's most productive & successful period was the 1950s; his sympathy for society's outsiders & rebels pre-dated the 1960s counter-culture. It was in the mid-50s that he made the 2 films for which he is the most known: Johnny Guitar (1954), an influential, feminist western (François Truffaut called it 'the beauty and the beast' of the western)., & the iconic Rebel Without a Cause (1955). This film’s legendary status was much influenced by its star James Dean’s death soon after the film’s completion. 55 years later, Rebel Without a Cause still holds the essence of Ray’s cinematic vision: an empathy for those who struggle to fit in to mainstream society.
Rebel Without a Cause was Ray's biggest commercial success, & was a breakthrough in the careers of child actors Natalie Wood & Sal Mineo. Ray engaged in a tempestuous love affair with James Dean, & awakened the homosexuality of Sal Mineo. Mineo's role of Plato is possibly the 1st real gay teenager to appear on film. During filming it was rumored that Ray also had an affair with Natalie Wood, who at age 16 was 27 years younger than him. He apparently slept with most of the young cast of this film except Dennis Hopper, who was also involved with Wood at the time. This situation caused much tension between Hopper & Ray, but they were reconciled later in life. He married actress Gloria Grahame in 1948. They divorced in 1952, after Ray discovered Grahame in bed with his son, Tony, who was then 13 years old .Grahame & Tony Ray would marry when he turned 21.
Ray made many other films in multiple genres, films made with professionalism & talent, that are comparatively minor works, often suffering from unwanted, meddling studio interference.
Ray was an unabashed bisexual & heavy into drugs & alcohol. He was increasingly shut out of the Hollywood film industry in the early 1960s. After collapsing on the set of 55 Days at Peking (1963), he would not direct again until the mid-1970s.
From 1971 to 1973, Ray taught film making at Harpur College- State University of New York. He & his students produced We Can't Go Home Again, an ambitious autobiographical film employing split-screen images. An early version of the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973, but Ray, never satisfied with the project, continued editing it until his death in 1979. He died of lung cancer on June 16, 1979 at the age of 67 in NYC.
Nicholas Ray’s immense influence on a younger directors cannot be overstated. French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard held Ray in highest regard. Wim Wenders' films are indebted to Ray, from the casting of Rebel Without a Cause's Dennis Hopper & the expressionistic use of color in his own film- The American Friend, to the title of the film Until the End of the World, which were the last spoken words in Ray’s biblical epic King of Kings.
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