Reading Photographs: James Dean and Brute Force

dead brutThe more I looked at this photograph of James Dean, the more fascinating I found it. It looks like it was shot in New York City, most likely in the early to mid 1950’s before Dean made any of his three iconic films. Unfortunately, I do not know who the photographer is but it could be Dennis Stock, (please see comment below from Peter. L. Winker who clears this up. Peter is the editor of the forthcoming book, The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories From Those Who Knew Him Best, to be published later this year). Stock became a friend of Dean’s early on and was one of several photographers who photgraphed Dean during those early times. The painted ad in the background for the 1948 film Brute Force reflects it’s age.

What’s fascinating I felt was the connection the photo makes between the old Hollywood of Burt Lancaster who starred in the film and that of  an actor on the verge of stardom. Not just any up and coming actor but someone who would come to represent the beginning of the New Hollywood and the Youth Culture that would explode within a few years.

You can read about Brute Force in my e-book Lessons in the Dark available at Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Reading Photographs: James Dean and Brute Force

  1. Dennis Stock took this photo of Dean in New York in early 1955 for a feature story that was published in Life magazine on March 7, 1955. Dean had already finished filming East of Eden but had yet to start Rebel Without a Cause.


  2. Thanks very much Peter! I could not find anything definitive that it was a Stock photo. I noted in my post for folks to check out your comment for clarification.


  3. When the Group Theater (1931-40)–the first American acting company to attempt to put the Russian Konstantin Stanislavski’s principles into action–disbanded, many of the actors who had participated in its revolutionary realistic productions on Broadway (“Awake and Sing” “Waiting for Lefty”) made their way to Hollywood in search of work. Two of them–Roman Bohnen (“Warden”) and Art Smith (“Dr. Walters”)–can be seen in this film. As several of the actors in The Group had been members of the Communist Party or “leftist” organizations, they would soon be blacklisted during the “Red Scare” era of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s search for “subversives” in the entertainment industry, one of whom was the director of this film, Jules Dassin. A year before this film was released, Kazan–who had appeared before the McCarthyite House UnAmerican Activities Committee and “named names”–happened to be in Hollywood and saw a production of one of Tennessee Williams’ early plays, “Portrait of a Madonna”, directed by Hume Cronyn, who plays the sadistic Capt. Munsey in this film. Kazan was so impressed by the work of Cronyn’s wife, Jessica Tandy, that he offered her the role of Blanche Dubois in his Broadway production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” To make an even more strange connection to Kazan, in Dennis Stock’s iconic 1955 LIFE photo essay on James Dean, there is a photograph of Dean standing in front of a faded advert for “Brute Force” painted on a wall in the Times Square area of New York City. Considering the shock that it’s violence created in audiences in 1947, one could conceivably draw a straight line to the exact same kind of reaction when Alan Parker’s “Midnight Express” was released in the fall of 1978, considering it was an equally savage indictment of incarceration in it’s own time.


    1. Thanks very much for the interesting and detailed background information. Wonderfully said, and a nice addition to this post.


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