NICHOLAS RAY (1911-1979)
Like Dennis Hopper, the openly bisexual Nicolas Ray was very devastated by James Dean’s untimely death in 1955 and fell into a spiral of alcohol and drug addiction. His second wife, blonde bombshell Gloria Grahame, was one of film noir’s finest femme fatales. She’s especially famous for a scene in one of Fritz Lang’s masterpieces, ‘The Big Heat’, in which a gangster throws scalding hot coffee in her face. That hoodlum, by the way, was portrayed by an actor who was only sober when he slept: Lee Marvin.
‘The Big Heat’ should’ve also been Grahame’s nickname! Ray married her on June 1, 1948, the very day of Gloria’s divorce from her previous husband. But by 1950, their marriage was showing some cracks. She was a demanding and difficult handful for poor Nick. When Ray directed her during the filming of ‘In a Lonely Place’, the relationship between them was already full of tension, and the studio actually made her sign a contract requiring her to obey her husband’s demands on the set from nine to six! I can only imagine that by the time 6 pm rolled around, she must have let her pent-up emotions run wild!
Finally, in ‘52, Ray divorced Gloria after finding her in bed with his son from his earlier marriage, Tony. But wait, that wasn’t the only thing that burned the director: Tony was only thirteen years-old! Grahame married Tony in 1960, when he was finally of legal age. That caused a scandal at the time and damaged her star status, but she brushed it off with this simple remark: "I married Nicholas Ray, the director. People yawned. Later on I married his son, and from the press's reaction, you'd have thought I was committing incest or robbing the cradle!"
Around 1955, Grahame’s vanity pushed her to have cosmetic surgery to plump up her upper lip. This decision unfortunately left her with a scar and affected her ability to speak clearly, an impairment that she never really recovered from. Maybe she would’ve been better off had she have lived by the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
By 1960, her starring roles were behind her and twenty-one years later, she died of stomach cancer at the age of 57.
For much more on Gloria Grahame’s dramatic life, try getting your hands on these books. I promise you won’t regret it!
Nicolas Ray sure was a sucker for problems with Hollywood’s real-life femme fatales. Besides his trials and tribulations with Grahame, I’ve got to share this particular story with you about another famous female star he tangled with.
Ray’s 1954 camp classic, ‘Johnny Guitar’, starred Joan ‘Psycho Bitch’ Crawford, whose strong realistic portrayal of a tough woman definitely didn’t require much acting on her part. Ray and Crawford got intimate during the film shoot and she started to despise her co-star, Mercedes McCambridge, who was ten years younger and who shared Crawford’s - and Ray’s - fondness for the bottle. Joan thought that Mercedes got more favorable treatment and more close-ups during the shooting of that acclaimed Western. So, after too many drinks and in an impulsive fit of anger, Crawford grabbed all of McCambridge’s clothes, shred them to pieces, and threw them on the street! Nick Ray didn’t mind the shit-storm between the two ladies one bit, however. He thought that their rivalry made the confrontational scenes between his two female leads more realistic!
In the years that followed, the ravages of drugs and booze eventually took their toll on Ray and, sure enough, Hollywood closed its doors on him. His reputation as a difficult director ignoring producers’ orders didn’t help matters. And even if Jean-Luc Godard wrote that “cinema is Nicholas Ray.”, let’s just say that Nick’s vision had become too ‘far out’ for the studios’ tastes. He became a film teacher: the pothead type who smokes with his students. Europeans embraced him and soon, he was making arty films for them. ‘The Janitor’ from ‘74 is a very bizarre one...
Ray even made a blue movie in Amsterdam called ‘Erotic Dreams’ and I’m sure he enjoyed munching on that city’s Space Cakes while he was at it.
So, exactly where does Nicolas Ray fit in my book on outlandish movie directors and their over-the-top lives? Obviously, Ray’s talent, personality, and hedonistic lifestyle make him a shoe-in for a story in 'Sinemania!', right? Well, I must sadly and regretfully confess that my inspirational muse deserted me there. I’ll have to save a spot for him in the sequel, Son of Sinemania!
Until we soon meet again in this blog, may you follow the lead of Barbara Payton, Dennis Hopper, and Nicolas Ray and support your local drug dealer.