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Ransom acquires archive of 'Rebel Without a Cause' director

Charles Ealy

The Ransom Center at the University of Texas announced Wednesday that it has acquired the archive of one of the most innovative U.S. directors, Nicholas Ray.

Best known for the James Dean movie "Rebel Without a Cause," Ray helped establish the alienated-youth film genre and had a giant influence on French New Wave cinema, most notably on director Jean-Luc Godard.

"It's a remarkably rich archive," said Steve Wilson, curator of film at the Ransom Center, which also has the archives of Robert De Niro, Ernest Lehman, Paul Schrader, David O. Selznick and Gloria Swanson. "I'm hoping the new archive will provide great opportunities for students and scholars," he said.

The collection includes more than 60 storyboards for "Rebel," including some that reveal a different ending for the 1955 classic — with Plato (Sal Mineo) being shot atop the dome of the Griffith Observatory, rather than on the front steps of the Los Angeles planetarium.

The archive also includes an early version of the "Rebel" script, titled "Juvenile Story."

The Ransom Center acquired the archive through Ray's widow, Susan, who hired film archivist Michael Chaiken and New York rare-book dealer Glenn Horowitz to help make the materials available.

The Ransom Center paid $400,000 for the archive, with the majority of funding coming from endowments. Payment for the archive will be made over three fiscal years, the center said.

Wilson said the heart of the collection focuses on the latter years of the filmmaker, who died in 1979 of lung cancer. "First, there are his teaching notes, his views of filmmaking," from when Ray taught at Harpur College at the State University of New York in Binghamton in the early 1970s. "It's fascinating stuff," Wilson said. "We also have scripts and correspondence from several projects he tried to get off the ground in the 1960s and '70s, including 'Conspiracy,' a film about the trial of the Chicago Seven," who tried to disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The archive also includes a 1976 script that Ray co-wrote with Norman Mailer, "City Blues," with notable roles for Texas actor Rip Torn and porn star Marilyn Chambers.

A lot of the materials from Ray's last years focus on the making of "We Can't Go Home Again," an autobiographical project that screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 but was repeatedly altered by Ray until his death. Susan Ray plans to release a restoration of the movie at this summer's Venice International Film Festival, in honor of the centennial of Ray's birth.

The archive, however, isn't comprehensive. "There's nothing from 'Johnny Guitar,'\u2009" said Wilson, referring to the 1954 gender-bending western featuring a gunfight between Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. "It's odd, and it's disappointing," Wilson said.

Still, the archive shows "that Ray was very creative and really working at continuing filmmaking in his later lilfe, even though he couldn't get a project off the ground," Wilson said. "He was a product of the studio system, and that whole system was changing amid the rise of independent film. So there were all those problems. Not to mention the drugs and alcohol. It's really a shame and makes you wonder about what we missed."

Author Patrick McGilligan addresses Ray's complicated career in a biography released this month, "Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director."

Storyboards from "Rebel Without a Cause" will be on display on the first floor of the Ransom Center, starting today through Aug. 31.

cealy@statesman.com; 445-3931