Winter Premier Auction 2021


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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 4/3/2021

There has never been another actor who has become as iconic and legendary with fewer acting credits than James Dean. In a cinematic career that lasted barely two years and just three featured roles, Dean established a standard for creativity and style that actors today still try in vain to reach. And yet, as this incredible sheet of paper demonstrate, at one time James Dean reviled the very medium which made him a world-wide superstar.

In the early 1950s Theatre World magazine regularly sent out single-page biographical questionnaires to both established and up and coming actors in the New York theatrical scene. Containing all the essentials such as birthdate, education, apprenticeships and credits, these info sheets were archived by the magazine and used as reference when that actor appeared in its pages. In early 1954, a young actor from Indiana named James Dean received one of Theatre World’s questionnaires.

Knowing what we do from James Dean’s life, one can almost envision the funny yet sardonic actor filling out this sheet asking the detail of his life and career. At this time, Dean had been in Manhattan for two and a half years. He had first explored acting at Santa Monica College and UCLA and had a few walk-on appearances in several movies such as “Fixed Bayonets!” and “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” After moving to New York in October 1951, Dean studied at the Actors Studio and embraced method acting as taught by Lee Strasberg. Dean began receiving regular bit parts in early television dramas and roles in live theater. Rave reviews of his performance as Bachir in the Broadway stage adaptation of Andre Gide’s “The Immoraliste” propelled the young actor into the spotlight for the first time.

This questionnaire appears to date from this pivotal point in James Dean’s career. Filled out in blue pen, Dean’s casual handwriting records his home town of “Fairmount, Indiana” and birthdate of “Feb. 8, 1931.” Under “THEATRE APPRENTICESHIP” Dean states “James Whitmore was my teacher” as opposed to the trendier answer of “Actors Studio,” and curiously neglects to fill out the “EDUCATION” section, failing to mention his acting experience at UCLA. He lists his role as “Larry Williams” in 1953’s “See the Jaguar” as his Broadway debut and 1954’s “The Immoraliste” as his other Broadway credit.

The most curious aspect of this early piece of James Dean history is what he writes under “MOTION PICTURES.” At this point in early 1954, Dean had already appeared in a plethora of movies, albeit in small or uncredited roles, including the 1952 Humphrey Bogart picture, “Deadline U.S.A.” Yet instead of listing these films, Dean caustically writes, “Fuck em.” Amusingly, Dean drew an arrow from his statement to the pre-printed line below reading “NOT FOR PUBLICATION” which he also underlined. Completing this insightful info sheet is a beautiful James Dean signature in a flourishing blue script. One can almost see the actor smiling wryly as he signed the page just after writing his brief but dismissive commentary on Hollywood.

The irony is that within months Dean would be cast in Elia Kazan’s “East of Eden” which was quickly followed by “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant,” all three which have gone down in cinematic history as containing some of the greatest acting ever captured on celluloid. Yet James Dean’s Theatre World questionnaire, one would never have guessed he would soon become the most iconic actor ever created by Hollywood.

The circa 1954 Theatre World questionnaire is one-sided. There are two horizontal folds from mailing and toning throughout. Several small tears and missing pieces are found along the edges, most prominently on the bottom left and upper left, though none affect Dean’s hand written answers and signature. An incredible piece of Hollywood history demonstrating the cynical but humorous side of one of its biggest legends.

Originally sold at Christies in 2007 and has been part of the Al Tapper collection ever since.

Estimate: $50,000+

Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $10,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $15,972
Number Bids: 4
Auction closed on Saturday, April 3, 2021.
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