The Glorious Failure of an American Director
By Patrick McGilligan
(It Books, Hardcover, 9780060731373, 560pp.)
Publication Date: July 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
From award-winning biographer Patrick McGilligan comes an eye-opening life of the troubled filmmaker behind Rebel Without a Cause
Nicholas Ray spent the glory years of his career creating films that were dark, emotionally charged, and haunted by social misfits and bruised young people consumed by private anguishfrom his career-defining debut, They Live by Night (1948), to his enduring masterwork, Rebel Without a Cause (1955); from the noir thriller In a Lonely Place (1950), pairing his second wife, the blond bombshell Gloria Grahame, with Humphrey Bogart, to cult pictures like Johnny Guitar (1954) and Bigger Than Life (1956). Yet his work on-screen is more than matched by the passions and struggles of his personal storyone of the most dramatic lives of any major Hollywood filmmaker.
In Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, Patrick McGilligan offers a revelatory biography of Ray, a man whose troubled life was marked by creative peaks and valleys alike. As a young man, Ray personified the rambling spirit of twentieth-century America, learning from luminaries like Thornton Wilder and Frank Lloyd Wright; mingling with future legends like Elia Kazan, Joseph Losey, and John Houseman; and carousing with musicians like Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. Notoriously self-destructive but irresistibly alluringto men and women alikeRay empathized with the broken and misunderstood, a talent that allowed him to create characters of true complexity on-screen.
His youthful association with radical politics nearly killed his nascent film careeruntil a secret agreement to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities saved him. His tumultuous second marriage, to Grahame, was shattered after Ray found her in bed with his teenage son from his first marriage. He romanced stars and starlets, including Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, Joan Crawford, and the teenage Natalie Wood, but never enjoyed a stable home life.
The triumph of Rebel Without a Cause, his masterpiece of teenage angst, led to a burgeoning partnership with James Dean, but Deans untimely death devastated the filmmaker, who fell into a spiral of drinking and drug addiction. Less than a decade later, Rays career was effectively over . . . until the adoration of European critics, and a frantic last-ditch burst of creativity, nearly restored him to glory before his tragic early death in 1979.
Meticulously detailed and compulsively readable, this new biography reconstructs the tortuous journey of one of the most enduringly fascinating figures in American film.
Patrick McGilligans biographies include the acclaimed Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only; the Edgar-nominated Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light; Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast; and George Cukor: A Double Life. The author of several New York Times Notable Books, he has also penned biographies of Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Robert Altman, and James Cagney, along with the oral history Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (with Paul Buhle). McGilligan lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“[A] portrait of a filmmaker who managed over time to upstage the movies that made him celebrated.”
“A clear and balanced portrait of a most complex man.”
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] fascinating, formidable account of a director whose life was as fraught with complications and melodrama as were his movies.…Meticulously researched and gratifying, a biographical page-turner.”
-Library Journal (starred review)
“McGilligan limns the tragic trajectory of Ray’s career with insight and compassion.”