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Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director [Kindle Edition]

Patrick McGilligan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Award-winningfilm historian Patrick McGilligan follows hisacclaimed biographies of Alfred Hitchcock and Oscar Micheauxwith a revelatory look at the life of Nicholas Ray, the troubled director of Ina Lonely Place, We Can’t GoHome Again, and Rebel Without a Cause. McGilligancharts the cerebral struggles, astonishing adventures, and artistic triumphsthat defined Ray’s life, including his Hollywood collaborations with HumphreyBogart, Robert Mitchum, James Cagney, and James Dean;his love affairs with Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, ZsaZsa Gabor, and Gloria Grahame; his partnerships withactivist Abbie Hoffman, pornography starlet MarilynChambers, photographer Wim Wenders;and more. Celebrating, contextualizing, and examining  Ray’s life and work, McGilligandelivers a milestone of film history and offers a captivating look at one ofclassic cinema’s most colorful figures.

Editorial Reviews


“[A] portrait of a filmmaker who managed over time to upstage the movies that made him celebrated.” (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

“A clear and balanced portrait of a most complex man.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“[A] fascinating, formidable account of a director whose life was as fraught with complications and melodrama as were his movies.…Meticulously researched and gratifying, a biographical page-turner.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“McGilligan limns the tragic trajectory of Ray’s career with insight and compassion.” (Booklist)

From the Back Cover

From award-winning biographer Patrick McGilligan comes an eye-opening life of the troubled filmmaker behind Rebel Without a Cause

Nicholas Ray spent the glory years of his career creating films that were dark, emotionally charged, and haunted by social misfits and bruised young people consumed by private anguish—from his career-defining debut, They Live by Night (1948), to his enduring masterwork, Rebel Without a Cause (1955); from the noir thriller In a Lonely Place (1950), pairing his second wife, the blond bombshell Gloria Grahame, with Humphrey Bogart, to cult pictures like Johnny Guitar (1954) and Bigger Than Life (1956). Yet his work on-screen is more than matched by the passions and struggles of his personal story—one of the most dramatic lives of any major Hollywood filmmaker.

In Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, Patrick McGilligan offers a revelatory biography of Ray, a man whose troubled life was marked by creative peaks and valleys alike. As a young man, Ray personified the rambling spirit of twentieth-century America, learning from luminaries like Thornton Wilder and Frank Lloyd Wright; mingling with future legends like Elia Kazan, Joseph Losey, and John Houseman; and carousing with musicians like Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. Notoriously self-destructive but irresistibly alluring—to men and women alike—Ray empathized with the broken and misunderstood, a talent that allowed him to create characters of true complexity on-screen.

His youthful association with radical politics nearly killed his nascent film career—until a secret agreement to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities saved him. His tumultuous second marriage, to Grahame, was shattered after Ray found her in bed with his teenage son from his first marriage. He romanced stars and starlets, including Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, Joan Crawford, and the teenage Natalie Wood, but never enjoyed a stable home life.

The triumph of Rebel Without a Cause, his masterpiece of teenage angst, led to a burgeoning partnership with James Dean, but Dean’s untimely death devastated the filmmaker, who fell into a spiral of drinking and drug addiction. Less than a decade later, Ray’s career was effectively over . . . until the adoration of European critics, and a frantic last-ditch burst of creativity, nearly restored him to glory before his tragic early death in 1979.

Meticulously detailed and compulsively readable, this new biography reconstructs the tortuous journey of one of the most enduringly fascinating figures in American film.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4643 KB
  • Print Length: 565 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060731370
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books (July 12, 2011)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,855 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Engrossing and Perceptive Biography of Nicholas Ray February 5, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Nicholas Rays classic films, such as In a Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Guitar (1954), and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) invariably featured imperfect protagonists struggling with existential crises. Ray himself was one such character, whose storied, notorious life only contributed to the mystique surrounding his oeuvre. "My heroes are no more neurotic than the audience," he said about the characters in his films. "Unless you can feel that a hero is just as screwed up as you are, that you would make the same mistakes that he would make, you can have no satisfaction when he does commit an heroic act. Because then you can say, `Hell, I could have done that too.' "

Ray was brilliant behind the camera, but about as screwed up as you could get away from it. A bisexual, misogynistic womanizer, he was also an alcoholic depressive, drug addict, and compulsive gambler.

As a fellow Hollywood biographer, having written [...], I understand how hard it is to sift through the morass of material about a celebrity and create an objective account of their achievements and failures. So my hat's off to Patrick McGilligan. He has produced an admirably well-researched and entertaining narrative of Nicholas Ray's tumultuous and eventful life and career.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ray Biography March 8, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I confess that it took me ages to get around to reading this excellent book because a part of my cinephile memory was still recovering from Bernard Eisenschitz's exhaustive tome c. 1990. As comprehensive as that book was it lacks the clarity and rigor that McGilligan brings to making sense of Ray's rise and puzzling decline. Ray's appalling career decisions from the mid-50s onward make Orson Welles seem like David Geffen. However, this book is not all about the decline of a complex talent and sensibility, but a careful and compassionate examination of what Ray actually brought to the films he "authored" and why, in spite of his difficult personality, he was loved and admired by his collaborators - as varied as John Houseman, Dennis Hopper and Philip Yordan. In the end as this biography ably reminds one, we have the classic films - They Live By Night, In A Lonely Place, Rebel Without A Cause, The Lusty Men and Bigger Than Life - that show how the same brilliant, but fragile creative talent became subsumed in troubled European co-productions like 55 Days in Peking or stretched apart by personal demons in You Can't Go Home Again, Ray's equivalent to Welles' long-in-the-works-likely-never-to-be-released Other Side of The Wind. Ray's reach often exceeded his grasp, but what a reach it was. McGilligan finally makes sense of a life that often seems to have lacked focus and purpose, but was certainly a life lived to not just the limits of the self, but to the edges of what was possible in classical Hollywood filmmaking.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved This Book! March 1, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a page turner if I have ever read one, and I was surprised, too. Well written, interesting and thoughtful. I knew so little about the man, but I can't say that now. His life story was tragic in many ways, and it appears that he never did get over the death of James Dean. Highly recommended!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars McGILLIGAN SUCCEEDS AGAIN November 13, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Author,Mister Patrick McGilligan,has once again written an excellent film biography,about Mister Nicholas Ray's life and that life within his work as a film director in Hollywood successful but filled with discontent and heartbreak of mostly never being able to complete his creations as intended. As with Messers James Cagney and Fritz Lang Mister Gilligan writes of his subject with deep respect.

God Bless,
Eric Galati
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