James Dean’s New York City apartment
What’s better than a piece about classic Hollywood Icons and their old pads?
The bull horns and matador cape were of special meaning to Dean. He had read the novel Matador by Barnaby Conrad, and for a while was obsessed with dramatizing it as an internal monologue without words, using just a few props. Dean also loved to play his bongo drum along to jazz records late into the night. He hung with a small, close-knit circle of actor/artist friends. Among them was a young Martin Landau.
At first New York overwhelmed me,” said James Dean. “I was so confused that I strayed only a couple of blocks from my hotel off Times Square, to go to the movies.”
He was twenty in October 1951, and he had spent all but five years of his life in rural Indiana. The only child of a shotgun wedding, the myopic, shy farm boy had come East to pursue his fortunes as an actor. Idolizing the disaffected sensuality of Marlon Brando and struck by the moody ambiguity of Montgomery Clift, Dean longed to transform his worship of those stars into an inheritance of their fame. But all his agent could obtain for him was a temporary job as a rehearsal assistant for the television game show Beat the Clock, for which he tested the zany stunts planned for prospective contestants.
James Dean’s first appearance onscreen, 1952.
Until 1953 Dean was often difficult to locate: He rented a dozen hotel rooms in midtown, none of them for more than a few weeks at a time. There was, he thought, good reason to be elusive, for his private life was often unconventional and messy. At last he settled into a cheap fifth-floor walk-up at 19 West 68th Street, a tiny chamber with space only for a daybed, a built-in desk and a hot plate; there was no kitchen, and the common bath was down the hallway. Guests invariably found his room cluttered with empty beer bottles, half-eaten cans of food, unsleeved records and dog-eared books.