|James Dean as Cal Trask in "East of Eden"|
After reading "East of Eden", I ordered a copy of the 1955 film version directed by Elia Kazan. I was simply curious to see how the film interpreted Steinbeck's novel. The fact that James Dean was cast as Cal Trask seemed purely incidental.
So I watched the film and the story it told was surely a very pale imitation of the novel. Adam Trask's history is hardly touched upon and we don't even see the Hamilton and Trask farmsteads in the Salinas Valley. Lee - the Chinese housekeeper and confidante - is notable because of his absence and Kate's brothel is shifted to Monterey - when in the novel it is down by the railroad tracks in Salinas.There can be very few literary films that are as far distant from the original text as "East of Eden".
There was no doubt that the star of the film was James Dean - giving Cal Trask a prime significance that he doesn't really possess within the pages of the book. It was fascinating to look closely at James Dean in action. The part seemed made for him for in real life he lost his mother when he was still a small child and his relationship with his father was literally and figuratively distant.
My Amazon DVD order came on two discs and on the second of these there's an old documentary about James Dean's life called "Forever James Dean". For someone who died so young - only twenty four - he was a fascinating character. He was surly and awkward, lonesome and devilish. He was fascinated by all forms of artistic creativity and tried his hand at painting and sculpture - even when he was a penniless actor, struggling to be noticed in Hollywood. And when he gained his all too brief success one of the first things he did was to buy a fast car. Speed also fascinated him.
Back in Fairmount, Indiana where he grew up, his drama teacher was Adeline Nall. She said of Dean, "I loved that kid and he loved me I know". After a successful high school drama production in 1948, the cast bought Miss Nall a beautiful orchid to say thanks for all her hard work. Dean approached her and asked if he could borrow the orchid for a while. He took it away and made a painting of it - which Miss Nall kept until her death in 1996. Beneath the orchid Dean wrote two words - "Her Pride". I found this story quite touching.
|"Her Pride" - painting of an orchid by James Dean|
If James Dean hadn't been killed on that Californian highway near Cholame back in September 1955, and if he had survived lung cancer through all his cigarette smoking, he would have been eighty four years old last weekend. Though much of his legendary status surrounds the fact that he died so young, there are many who believe that he would have been an even bigger legend if he had lived to old age. There was so much more that this charismatic young man would have given the film industry - both as an actor and probably as a director too.