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November 24, 2011

Drunks Like Us

nicholas ray.jpg

Because the Siren asked nicely, as if she would not do otherwise, I'm going to write as best as I can about the night I spent drinking with Nicholas Ray. I probably should have done this earlier as my memories of almost forty years ago are getting fuzzier on some of the details.

I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time, the first half of 1973. I was spending my time trying to catalogue still photographs at what was at the time called The Northwest Film Study Center, back in its earliest form. I don't remember what month it was but it was somewhere in March or April. Nicholas Ray was touring around with some 16mm prints, and we had the chance to show one of his films at the Portland Art Museum, where screenings were held. Of the films available, I campaigned for the presentation of They Live by Night. My argument was that it was a rarer film to see, and besides which, everyone was familiar with Rebel without a Cause. This essentially the story of my life, great artistic sense, but no instinct for what pays the bills.

I travelled by foot all over Portland, posting flyers for the show. Not as many people showed up as we would hope. It was disappointing to know that many more people flocked to a university showing of a double feature of Claire's Knee and Chloe in the Afternoon, as I was sure that if Eric Rohmer were in town, he'd make a beeline to see Nick Ray's first feature and tell everyone else to do the same. Still, Denise Jacobson, who at the time was head of the center expressed satisfaction with showing a film that might not otherwise have been seen.

There was an after screening discussion with Nick Ray that started at the art museum and eventually moved to someone's house. It must have been about two dozen people altogether. I don't remember what kind of food we ate, but I do remember that we drank lots of beer, probably Olympia or Rainer, or both.

My memories of the rest of the evening would make a one or two minute montage at best, bursts of images and sound bites. Ray talked a bit about the film he was making with his students, at that time titled The Gun Under My Pillow. We did a bit of an acting exercise he did with his students, about airport security, intrusive then, but now seemingly quaint with present day shoe removals and body searches. This was the first time I learned of Ray's time spent with Frank Lloyd Wright. With his interest in folk music, touched on at the end of The True Story of Jesse James, Ray also broke out into song at one point.

Most of the people at the party were mostly students or of college age. There were questions about James Dean and Dennis Hopper. I recall Ray joking to someone that the script for Flying Leathernecks, "still hasn't been found". There were also some discouraging words about Robert Ryan's acting as of late.

Tact and diplomacy were hardly my strong points at the time. I had asked about Elia Kazan and the blacklist, to which Ray responded that Kazan had not named anyone who hadn't been named previously. I had also asked him if there were any current filmmakers he liked. Ray named Robert Altman. Ray was visibly upset when I mentioned that Altman was making his own film version of Edward Anderson's novel, the basis for Ray's film debut.

And that's really all I can remember. Had I been smarter, I would have written something the next day to keep for posterity. As it stands now, it isn't much, but at least I have bragging rights to say, "Fuck yeah! I got drunk with with director of Rebel without a Cause".

* * *

A Google search pointed to a reminder that I did write about Ray in Portland back in 1973. I am mentioned on Page 536 of Patrick McGilligan's book on Nicholas Ray, for a piece written for the Portland Art Museum.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 24, 2011 08:18 AM


Those are serious bragging rights, Peter!

Posted by: Larry Aydlette at November 24, 2011 11:04 AM

Thank you, Larry.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at November 24, 2011 11:57 AM

Not even Kevin Bacon got that degree of close! Thanks for sharing this, Peter!

Posted by: Dennis Cozzalio at November 24, 2011 02:46 PM