13 Wild Facts About Rebel Without a Cause

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

In 1955, director Nicholas Ray had a vision of a film about juvenile delinquents unlike any other in the subgenre. Rather than focusing on poor kids from an inner city, he envisioned a Romeo and Juliet-style tale about affluent teenagers who couldn’t relate to the lives of their parents, and who were looking for any outlet to release their disillusionment and anger. To achieve this vision, he consulted with experts, pushed for realism at every turn, and found a collaborator in a rising young actor named James Dean.

More than six decades after its release, Rebel Without a Cause remains the quintessential film about juvenile delinquents, fueled by Dean’s intense performance and Ray’s bold direction and given further mystique by the young star’s premature death just weeks before the film was released. Dean’s death made the film a must-see, but the making of the film made it a classic that endures today. So, from real fights among cast members to switchblades that really cut, here are 13 facts about the making of this landmark film.

1. IT’S BASED ON A REAL TEEN CRIMINAL.

The story of the making of Rebel Without a Cause actually goes back nearly a decade before it arrived in theaters in 1955, to a book of the same name by Dr. Robert Lindner. Published in 1944, the book was a case study of a young man named Harold who was then an inmate at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Sensing the topical appeal of the story, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to the book in early 1946, and it went through several writers (more on that in a moment) before going dormant. Then, in the 1950s, black and white films about rebellious teens—including The Wild One (1953) and The Blackboard Jungle (1955)—spiked in popularity. Director Nicholas Ray noticed this trend, and became interested in the idea of a film about juvenile delinquents.

In 1954 Ray brought his idea, in the form of a treatment called The Blind Run, to Warner Bros., who bought the idea and ultimately asked Ray to merge it with their existing ownership of the Rebel Without a Cause book. Ray ultimately took plenty of liberties with the story, and veered away from other hit delinquent films of the time, and their stories of teen criminals who only came from lower income areas. Ray wanted to focus on disillusionment and anger among even teens from seemingly comfortable, stable homes. With that goal in mind, work on what would become Rebel Without a Cause began.

2. AN EARLY DRAFT WAS WRITTEN BY DR. SEUSS.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In the years before Ray came aboard with his own pitch for The Blind Run, Rebel Without a Cause went through Warner Bros.’ development process, which included several writers taking a crack at adapting Lindner’s nonfiction book into an acceptable screenplay. Shortly after Warner Bros. bought the rights to Lindner’s book, Jacques Le Mareschal produced a treatment, and over the next several years writers Peter Viertel, H.L. Fishel, and Lindner himself would try their hand at producing a script. The most noteworthy name to emerge from these early stages of the writing process, though, comes in the Warner Bros. script archive listing of who did the first draft: Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known today as Dr. Seuss.

3. IT WAS ALMOST A MARLON BRANDO VEHICLE.

Warner Bros. went through several drafts of this early version of Rebel Without a Cause between from 1946 through 1949, and while the film never got off the ground during that period, the studio did at one point feel they were far enough along in the development process to consider a star for the project. In 1947, they took a chance and screen tested a young New York theater actor to play the rebel at the heart of the story, then envisioned as a much more psychopathic criminal than the disillusioned teen that Jim Stark ultimately became in Ray’s film. That actor was Marlon Brando, who was then enjoying Broadway success as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Of course, this version of Rebel never entered production, so Brando would have to wait for his big film break. It would come four years later, in the movie version of Streetcar, which earned him an Oscar nomination and made him into a rising icon. In 1953, he got the chance to play a rebellious young man after all, starring in The Wild One.

4. THE SCREENPLAY HAS AN INTERESTING MIX OF INFLUENCES.

As the writing process for the Rebel Without a Cause screenplay (the studio ultimately insisted on that title instead of Ray’s preferred The Blind Run) got underway, Ray and Warner Bros. butted heads over who should collaborate with him on the project. Ray wanted Clifford Odets to work on the script, but he was unavailable, and the studio instead hired Leon Uris, whose take on the project never quite meshed with what Ray was hoping for. Irving Shulman, who received a credit for the adaptation on the film, stepped into replace Uris, adding the Southern California setting, the first scene at the planetarium, and the “chickie run” car sequence based on real incidents he and Ray had read about. Then Stewart Stern came in, and though he may have initially been hired to collaborate with Shulman, later drafts became Stern’s alone as his sensibility and Ray’s merged.

With Stern on board, the film’s key influences emerged. Ray, hoping for a classic, timeless tone to his story, claimed Romeo and Juliet—“the best play written about juvenile delinquents”—as an inspiration, while Stern would later recall that he considered the film to be in some ways a new take on Peter Pan, with the crumbling mansion standing in for Neverland, Jim standing in for Peter, Judy for Wendy, and Plato for The Lost Boys. Perhaps most importantly, though, both Ray and Stern drew on their own lives, and Stern in particular took inspiration from his own relationship with his parents.

“[Ray] had terrible pangs of conscience about himself as a father, and I had terrible fury about myself as a son, and we both knew that that was a stream that was both shared in different ways,” Stern recalled.

5. NATALIE WOOD HAD TO FIGHT TO PLAY JUDY.

Natalie Wood and James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955)
Warner Home Video

When it came to begin casting, Ray struggled to find an actress to play Judy, the girlfriend of a gang member who finds Jim and his disillusionment alluring and relatable. Among the top contenders at the time were Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, Lois Smith (one of the studio’s choices), and Jayne Mansfield, who Ray reportedly actively resisted casting. One actress who was not a contender at first was Natalie Wood, who Ray was hesitant to consider because of her early career, and thus public reputation, as an innocent child star.

Wood finally won the role after she was involved in a car crash that also included future Rebel Without a Cause co-star Dennis Hopper, with whom she was romantically involved. When she was in the police station after the crash, Wood called Ray to pick her up, and when he arrived she informed him that one of the officers had referred to her as a juvenile delinquent.

"Now do I get the part?" Wood asked.

Ray relented, and Wood was ultimately nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

6. JAMES DEAN GOT THE PART BECAUSE ELIZABETH TAYLOR GOT PREGNANT.

Though the studio apparently considered Tab Hunter for the role of Jim at one point, Ray was intrigued by James Dean, who had yet to make his mark on Hollywood but had already shot his role as Caleb in East of Eden, which Ray saw early screenings of. Impressed with Dean, Ray wanted to cast him as the lead in Rebel, but another of Dean’s soon-to-be-legendary films was standing in the way: Giant, which was all set to start shooting at a time that would conflict with Rebel’s production. Then, a fortuitous development in the life of another of Giant’s stars changed everything: Elizabeth Taylor was pregnant, which meant the film had to be delayed until June of 1955. That freed Dean up to take another iconic role, the one that would define his legend more than any other.

7. RAY MADE THE SUPPORTING CAST GET INTO A REAL FIGHT AS AN AUDITION.

The pursuit of realism continued to the supporting cast, which was chosen from somewhere between 300 and 500 young actors who came to the Warner Bros. backlot with their own cars in an attempt to earn a spot in the film. Eventually, once that number was whittled down to a few dozen, Ray pushed the authenticity even further, and asked the actors to start a fight as if they were really in a gang.

“So we fought and some cars were smashed, some people were really hurt, and then Nick said cut, and that was that,” Jack Grinnage, who played Moose, recalled.

Later during production, Grinnage remarked to a co-star that he’d really love to see the footage Ray had gotten of the fight that day, and his co-star replied that there had never been any film in the camera.

8. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE SHOT IN BLACK AND WHITE.

A poster from 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955)
Warner Bros.

It’s hard to imagine Rebel Without a Cause in anything but color now, in part because it’s hard to imagine seeing Dean without that striking red jacket he’s wearing on the film’s posters, but that wasn’t always the plan. Ray and Stern both believed that the film should be shot like a B movie, with a grittier style that was perfectly suited to black-and-white, and Ray even began production by shooting this way. Rebel Without a Cause was also being shot in the widescreen format CinemaScope, though (which frustrated Ray, who couldn’t figure out how to fill the frame), and it turned out there was a clause in the CinemaScope licensing agreement which said all CinemaScope films must also be color films. That, plus Warner Bros.'s desire to invest more in the film as juvenile delinquent pictures became even trendier, led to the switch.

9. A CO-STAR CONSULTED ON ALL OF THE GANG SCENES.

Ray and Dean’s drive for realism led them to various places, including police and psychiatric professionals, for consulting assistance on the film, but perhaps their most valuable resources came in the form of Frank Mazzola, who played the gang member Crunch. Mazzola, a graduate of Hollywood High School, was also a member of The Athenians, a gang that Mazzola himself referred to as a “social club” that was nonetheless very tough and territorial. After he joined the cast, Mazzola began remarking upon various “phony” elements of the script, as well as the wardrobe, the cars used, and more. Ray asked him if he could provide an example of real gang life, and Mazzola knew just where to look.

“So what I did is I called an Athenian meeting,” Mazzola recalled.

Mazzola gathered his friends and had them actually hassle Ray and Dean (who was not yet famous) as if they were really making a move on Athenian turf. Ray got the point rather quickly, and gave Mazzola an office next to his during production. From then on, Mazzola consulted on the script, the wardrobe, the cars (Dean’s 1949 Mercury was his idea), and the lingo. He even helped choreograph the knife fight based on a real encounter he had with another gang member.

10. RAY ENCOURAGED DEAN TO IMPROVISE.

By the time filming on Rebel Without a Cause began, Ray and Dean had more than a typical director/star relationship. Ray worked hard to get to know his young lead, hanging out with Dean in New York, getting drunk and smoking pot together, and then ultimately holding lengthy rehearsal sessions at Ray’s Chateau Marmont bungalow. As production began, Dean’s passion for Method acting led Ray to give him an extremely large share of creative control over each scene, to the point that it was often Dean who would dictate that pace and tone of a scene to the other actors.

"Jimmy did most of the directing. He gave us our lines; he dominated the entire thing,” Ann Doran, who played Jim’s mother, later recalled.

11. DEAN WAS INJURED MORE THAN ONCE DURING FILMING.

Ray and Dean both placed a lot of emphasis on the realism of each moment in Rebel Without a Cause, and Dean’s Method acting meant he wanted to place himself in the most authentic situations possible. Because the film is sometimes violent, that meant Dean often engaged in real physical violence for the part, and sometimes didn’t make it out unscathed. For the scene in which Jim drunkenly pounds on the desk in the police station, Dean apparently actually got drunk and then pounded the desk as hard as he could, breaking bones in his hand and leaving Ray forced to shoot around the bandages.

Then there was the switchblade fight between Jim and Buzz (Corey Allen), which was done with real blades, though certain precautions were taken (Dean can be seen in production stills placing padding under his shirt). At one point while shooting the fight, Allen reached out and actually cut Dean. Ray, alarmed that his star had been injured, called cut, and Dean was furious.

“Jimmy gets furious and grabs Nick and says ‘Don’t ever, ever say cut. Don’t ever, ever say cut to me. I’ll say cut if something’s wrong. Don’t you ever cut the scene,’” co-star Dennis Hopper later recalled, and noted that Dean wanted to preserve the realism of his injury for the camera. Dean was apparently so angry over Ray’s decision to stop the scene that he walked off the set in a rage and had to be coaxed back to filming.

12. DENNIS HOPPER AND NICHOLAS RAY NEARLY FOUGHT OVER NATALIE WOOD.

At the time she was cast in Rebel Without a Cause, Wood was romantically involved with Hopper, who was also set to co-star in the film. During the production, though, Wood also struck up an affair with Ray, and one day Hopper apparently discovered them together. The young actor challenged the director to a fist fight, and Ray’s preference was to simply fire Hopper and keep him away from the set. Warner Bros. wanted the young star to stick around, though, and so Ray settled for giving Hopper a smaller role, with no lines. That, the story goes, is why Hopper played Goon instead of Crunch (Mazzola’s eventual role) in the film.

13. ALL THREE LEADS MET TRAGIC EARLY DEATHS.

Thanks to East of Eden’s success that spring and early screenings of Rebel Without a Cause, by September of 1955 James Dean was on the verge of mega-stardom. The former film earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and the latter was good enough to convince Warner Bros. to offer him a long-term contract to lock his star power down. Then, on September 30, Dean tragically died in a car crash at the age of 24, less than a month before Rebel Without a Cause arrived in theaters.

Sadly, Dean was not the only member of the film’s cast to suffer a tragic early death. On February 12, 1976, Sal Mineo was murdered outside his Los Angeles apartment at the age of 37, and Natalie Wood famously and mysteriously drowned in the waters off Santa Catalina Island on November 29, 1981, at the age of 43.

Additional Sources:
Rebel Without a Cause: Defiant Innocents (2005)

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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