Friday, January 14, 2011

Raymond Massey on James Dean (and Jo Van Fleet)

Cover illustration from the book: East of Eden.

Raymond Massey comment from: Films of the Golden Age. Number 61. Summer 2010. Raymond Massey: The Transatlantic Actor. An interview by James Bawden.

Question by James Bawden: "How often do people ask you about Jimmy Dean?"

“Raymond Massey: In every interview! At every party! That movie [East of Eden] has a life of its own but Jimmy was dead by the time it went into release. Did he give a coherent performance? No! He was studying The Method which might have left him as mixed up as Monty Clift if he’d lived longer.

"The success of that film is due to director Elia Kazan. He’d add some bit of unrehearsed business to a take, to surprise Jimmy, and presto, we have our scene. Jimmy couldn’t do the same take twice because he had no training. He couldn’t match long shots with close ups -- that was still beyond him. There is a great performance buried in it – Jo Van Fleet as the mother, she's a force unto herself. In scenes with Jimmy, she just blows him away.

"In that scene where he rushed into the train car to toss down the lettuce, Jimmy went up and we just stood there for the longest time. Then Burl [Ives] turned to me and said, ‘Guess Jimmy’s got to hate that ice’.”

Films of the Golden Age is an illustrated, fan-based film quarterly magazine produced by one of the fold. Bob King, a very sincere and enthusiastic fellow, is the Editor. He includes a mix of articles that cover a balanced cross-sampling of stars and much lesser-known players. Pieces on the latter group are often quite lengthy and helpful when light is cast in shadowy corners not ordinarily probed.

Mr. King also includes letters, moviegoers’ memories of their past and a regular contribution on character actors. Rather a noble endeavor in an age when film blogs abound and many in the magazine/journal industry are hoping that Mr. Brink stays up in the old apple tree.


  1. Very interesting reflections on Dean. His short career/tragedy often begs the question what might he have achieved, but this neglects the other possibility that he might very well have burned himself out.

  2. Thank you Meredith. I posted this because I like most of Massey’s work, particularly for Powell. I was a few years younger than Dean when he came upon the scene, which was a very big deal among the young. Many of those in my age group idolized him. I was young but not convinced. But, as I remember, I was in a distinct minority. Also, to be fair, Massey is just one side from a fellow actor. But I have read a goodly number who remarked upon Dean’s unprofessional attitude. David Thomson, whom I admire, and I, are in totally different camps on Dean. Finally, I am not anti-method -- being an admirer of Montgomery Clift, and early Brando. It is interesting to speculate on where Dean might have gone. But a penchant for fast cars and speed, when you are not in a movie, may lead to an absence of a second act. Best. Gerald.

  3. Brilliant quote! Another for my winter store... and such a relief to read.

  4. Matthew: I have to stop going on about Dean but I cannot help myself. Gerald