Jim Stark’s (James Dean) family has just moved to a Los Angles suburb and Jim is starting his first day at his new high school. He meets Plato (Sal Mineo), a gay wimp on a motor scooter and Judy (Natalie Wood), a really hot teenage babe. Not bad for the first day. But, he spends the rest of Rebel Without a Cause being challenged and hassled by the school’s tough guys, his parents, and finally the police. He was just trying to fit in with this new crowd.
I wanted to be just like James Dean or was it Jim Stark. I’m not sure which, but I wore a red wind-breaker, a white tee shirt and low-slung Levis while I desperately tried to look as cool as Jim Stark.
I fell in love with Judy/Natalie, maybe it was it Natalie/Judy. Natalie was an alluring older woman of seventeen when I was a mere thirteen. Thirteen with a cowlick, raging hormones, zits, and a serious (and I mean serious) crush on Natalie Wood. I’ve loved her ever since.
Time was not good to my teenage idols. Here are three dates in history and my view of what might have happened on each of these tragic days.
September 30, 1955
“Want a refill?”
“Yeah, I’ll take one more…thanks.”
The waitress fills the cups of the four young men. She thinks she recognizes the cute one. But she doesn’t know why.
“Okay guys, let’s wrap this up. I want to get on the road.” James says a he takes the last bite of his donut and picks at the crumbs on the table. “Do we all know what we’re doing?”
“You and Rolf will take the Spyder. Sanford and I will follow you in the station wagon with the trailer,” mumbles Bill through a swig of coffee. “That okay with you, James?”
“I thought we were gonna trailer the Porsche.”
“We were, but I think it would be better if you drive. The new engine could use the miles before the race and you need more time behind the wheel.” Rolf says with his authoritarian German accent. “Salinas is just over 300 miles and we should make it in four, four and a half hours. I’ll ride with you.”
“Ja bol Herr Mechanic.” James says as he pantomimes a Nazi salute.
“I can’t believe that asshole trooper gave us a ticket for towing an empty trailer too fast,” Bill bemoans. He’s a Hollywood stunt man and not used to all of these “off-lot” rules.
Sanford, his magazine-photographer passenger responds, “He made it clear that the speed limit for vehicles towing a trailer is 45 whether the trailer is empty or not.”
“Yeah but how the hell am I supposed to keep up with a racecar going 45?”
“I hope James remembers to take the cutoff at route 466. I don’t wanta get stuck in Bakersfield traffic.”
James makes the turn and soon the two cars stop for a quick snack. They are back on the road in a few minutes.
“What the hell does he think he’s doing?” Bill shouts as the Porsche races ahead leaving the station wagon well behind. Bill speeds up but the Porsche is nowhere to be seen.
Bill and Sanford frantically scan the road ahead, searching for the Porsche’s distinctive silhouette. They race down a steep grade and see no sign of the race car. Just as they enter a long straightaway they are startled to see a badly banged up Ford sedan is stalled sideways in their lane a hundred feet or so ahead. Wait, there’s debris all over the road. And smoke.
“There they are, it looks like…like,” Bill screams as he stomps on the brakes. “…like they rolled over.”
Sanford turns and sees the seriously damaged Porsche Spyder upright and smoking in the small gully below. They both dash to the mangled Porsche.
Bill pulls James from the wreck and cradles him in his arms. He’s still alive, thank God. But a few seconds later James’ head falls to one side and Bill hears air leaving his lungs for the very last time.
James Dean is dead at 24.
February 12, 1976
It looks like my career is finally back on track. Finally! I was nominated for two—count ’em—two—academy awards, for Christ’s sake. But roles like Plato and Dov don’t come along that often. Thank God I finally landed a decent part. I’m thrilled to be playing Vito in the West Coast production of P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. I knew I would be back, but I didn’t think it would be playing a gay cat burglar in some Off-Broadway stage production. Sal chuckles to himself at the irony of making his comeback by playing someone gay. We were a big hit in San Francisco. Here’s hoping they love us as much in L.A. He makes a mock toast with his hand as he stares into the dense West Hollywood traffic.
“Where do I turn? Its somewhere along here,” Sal says to himself as he drives west on Santa Monica Boulevard. “I’ve got to learn this city better. Maybe after I get a house and settle down.” Sal is looking for La Cienega Boulevard. His recently rented apartment is on Holloway just off La Cienega.
Damn these rehearsals are tiring. Especially after I played the same part in the San Francisco production. Oh well, I shouldn’t complain. At least I’m working. There it is—La Cienega. And while I’m fantasizing about a new house, how about a decent car. This Chevelle is not in keeping with the image of a movie star at all. Ah well.
He pulls into his assigned carport just below his apartment, shuts off the car, grabs his script, and climbs out into the dark. Just as he’s locking the car door he hears shuffling behind him. He turns and squints into the dark just as this figure lunges forward and shoves a knife deep into his chest, into his heart.
Sal Mineo is dead at 37.
November 29, 1981
“Are we off this weekend?” Natalie asks, Douglas Trumbull, the director of her new movie.
“Yeah but I want you back here bright and early on Monday morning.”
“I’m sooo glad to be home again. We saw more of North Carolina than I ever want to see again. I was…”
Christopher Walken, her co-star, interrupts, “Is she still bitching about the black flies and the humidity on the East Coast.”
“Chris, you got anything going this weekend? Bob and I are going to spend the weekend on our boat. Why don’t you come along? We’ll wander over towards Catalina, have a few laughs, kick back, and get some rest. We’ll be as far away from this slave driver as we can get.” Natalie says nodding towards Douglas.
“I’d like that. We can rehearse that fight scene we’ve got coming up next week.”
“Bullshit, you’re not invited if you bring anything that even looks like a script. Besides, I don’t need any rehearsal to kick your butt,” Natalie says with a giggle. “I call you tonight after I talk to Bob.”
“I’m outta here. I’ve had all of the Brainstorm-ing I can take for a week. See you all on Monday.” Natalie turns and waves to the crew as she heads for the door. “We’re back here on Monday aren’t we Doug?”
“Yeah, have a good weekend. And don’t sunburn that pretty face.”
“That was one helluva dinner, Bob. Natalie never told me you could cook. Can I help with the dishes?” Christopher asks.
“Nah, Dennis will get them.” Robert says indicating Dennis Davern the captain and only crew member of The Splendour. They named their boat after Natalie’s movie: Splendor in the Grass.
“How ’bout anuffer round, hic, Denny-boy, now that you’re, hic, up,” Natalie says badly slurring her words.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough.” Robert says sternly.
“I decide when I haf enufff. Don’t go, hic, gettin’ on my case, yuf asshole.”
“Okay, that’s definitely enough!” Robert says rising from the table and reaching for Natalie.
Natalie struggles to stand, grabs hold of the table, straightens and takes a swing at Robert. She misses and falls back into her chair. Christopher jumps up and helps Natalie get seated. She shoves Christopher away, leans across the table and hits Robert on the side of the face with her closed fist. “You son nah bitch,” she screams as she starts pounding on Robert with both fists.
Robert and Christopher get Natalie back into her chair. Robert holds her shoulders for a few minutes to make sure she stays. “Pretty soon she’ll be swearing in Russian,” Robert says like he’s seen this all before.
Christopher is embarrassed and cannot think of anything to say.
“How about we turn in and leave Natalie here to sober up? Dennis, get Natalie some coffee. Not too hot, I don’t want her to get burned.” He reaches down and kisses her on the forehead. “Good night, Dear.”
“Fuff you, I want anuffer trink.”
Natalie is found floating in the water early the next morning about one mile away from The Splendour. A small inflatable dinghy has washed up nearby on beach.
Natalie Wood is dead at 43.
Rest in peace, Rebels.