by Vaughn Taylor
(Nothing James Byron Dean did was in half measure. Everything was at full speed and to the extreme: And so it was with those who acted with him. They either loved or hated the experience. To Dennis Hopper, Jimmy was "the most creative person I ever knew... He was twenty years ahead of his time." An early TV director, John Peyser, later said, "If you knew your job, Jimmy respected you and gave no trouble. It was a pleasure to direct him."
But to others, Dean was an anathema. Both Elia Kazan who directed East of Eden, and George Stevens who directed Giant, were almost traumatized by working with Jimmy. Supposedly, midway through Giant, Stevens vowed to Kazan (and others) that Dean would "never be in another picture I do."
Many who worked in television, or on stage, with Dean had a similar reaction. Vaughn Taylor was a veteran actor who appeared twice with Dean on television in the early 1950s. One of the shows was Harvest, an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents--a live dramatic work that starred Ed Begley, as a hard luck Midwestern farmer, Dorothy Gish, one of the famous Gish sisters, as the farmer's devoted wife, and Taylor who played "Gramps," a cranky, outspoken grandfather. Jimmy played Paul, the restless son who longs to leave the family farm.
In later years, Taylor appeared in character roles in Jailhouse Rock and Psycho, among other films. He died in 1983. Here in a letter written to a Dean biographer in the 1970s, and never published before, Vaughn Taylor irately recalls James Dean, impossible icon.)
In spite of the idolatry of James Dean since his death, I must tell the truth about my contact with him in two live TV plays in the Fifties, just before East of Eden. They were Harvest, and an Armstrong Circle Theater show which was done the preceding week. I was with him for two and a half weeks of rehearsals and two performances. He was the most impossible, unprofessional, and aggravating actor with whom I have ever worked. I will mention a few of his puerile, selfish, and inconsiderate actions.
During rehearsals James Dean never did one bit of acting. He delivered his lines in such a low monotone that the other actor in the scene couldn't be sure when Dean had finished his lines-- let alone get some idea of what Dean planned to do. This made it impossible for the other actor to respond effectively and develop his own performance.
Then, when we were on the air (and remember this was "live," before tape, so when you said the word-- that was the exact second it was seen and heard in the homes) James Dean exploded all over the stage in strange new manners. His movements were far removed from the carefully planned rehearsal--creating havoc with the other actors. The director in the booth was forced to frantically readjust the movement of his cameras. The result was pandemonium for every one, except Mr. Dean and his sick ego.
On the day of one show, Dean was almost two hours late for the dress rehearsal, causing panic in a cast and crew who were approaching an air time deadline. So much for James Dean professionally, and I use the term loosely.
In fact, for the entire two and a half weeks, he ranged from surly to rude, except for occasional bursts of self-indulged exhilaration, at which times Dean became quite vulgar. Once, a sweet character actor named Ernest Gossart asked him to please stop using such language because there were ladies present.
In closing, to show how strongly he impressed me, I should mention the first thought that came to my mind when I read of James Dean's death: "Thank God, I'll never have to work with that little SOB again."
(Note: American Legends would like to thank Cindy Stokes and Ky Du Martinetti for providing background research on Harvest and Vaughn Taylor.)