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Ray, Nicholas (1911-1979)  
 
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Although Ray avoided explicit depictions of homosexuality in his films, which would in any case have been impossible for most of his career because of the industry's production code, he, nevertheless, eloquently conveyed the power of same-sex love and desire and envisioned alternative family structures, most notably in Rebel without a Cause but in several others as well.

Furthermore, he opposed restrictive gender stereotypes by representing women with the strength and independence typically associated with male characters in films of the 1950s. Conversely, he often endowed his male protagonists with supposedly feminine qualities of tenderness and vulnerability.

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In addition, Ray challenged the highly gendered conception of film subjects by fusing sentimental romance, normally intended for female audiences, with masculine genres such as film noir and westerns. Thus, such films as In a Lonely Place (1950) defy generic classification.

Early Years

Ray was born on August 7, 1911 in Galesville, Wisconsin, a village 24 miles from the city of La Crosse, where his family moved in 1919. Initially named Raymond Nicholas Kienzle, Jr. after his father, a locally prominent builder, he legally changed his name in 1931 to Nicholas Ray, which he considered sophisticated and distinctly American.

Both his grandfather and father were heavy drinkers, and Ray claimed that he began drinking alcohol at the age of ten. When his father did not come home on the night of November 10,1927, Ray found him passed out in a hotel room, where he had been left by his mistress. Ray carried his father home, but despite his tender care for him, he died the next day. Throughout the rest of his life, Ray referred to this incident as a devastating experience.

While in high school, Ray revealed his theatrical interests through participation in the drama society. Between 1926 and 1927, he wrote and produced various programs for a local radio station, including a version of George Bernard Shaw's Candida. Submitting the latter play to an interstate radio competition, he won a scholarship, which he used to attend La Crosse State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin at La Crosse) from 1929 to 1931, while he worked as a radio announcer.

In the fall of 1931, Ray moved to Chicago and enrolled in classes at the University of Chicago, but he dropped out after only one semester. He wandered around the United States and Mexico until 1933. During 1933, Ray spent six to eight months at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Fellowship in Green Springs, Wisconsin, but he left abruptly after quarreling violently with Wright. The causes of their dispute remain uncertain, but, according to Jean Evans, Ray's first wife, the moralistic Wright expelled Ray because of his involvement in homosexual activities.

In spite of this quarrel, Ray was profoundly influenced by Wright's artistic theories. More specifically, the director's use of architectural settings to enhance narrative and his preference for emphatically horizontal compositions are significant indicators of Wright's strong impact on his films.

New York City, 1930s

By the fall of 1933, Ray settled in New York City, where he soon met Jean Abrams, a lively young writer, usually known by her pen name, Jean Evans. They quickly became lovers and moved in together. They married in 1936. A son, Anthony, was born on November 24, 1937. By the late 1930s, Ray's behavior became increasingly unpredictable because of his alcoholism, and he occasionally acted violently towards Evans. She separated from him in April 1940 and divorced him in December 1941. As Lambert did, Evans remained a close friend until his death.

By 1934, Ray joined the Workers Lab, later renamed Theatre of Action, a radical theatrical group that gave performances on picket lines and at factories and union halls. In keeping with its socialist goals, the Lab expected members to pool all resources and to live communally. As committed to artistic excellence as to leftist political ideals, members adhered to a rigorous schedule of training and attended daily classes, given by established theatrical professionals. Through the Theatre of Action, Ray established friendships that would endure throughout the rest of his life, including with Elia Kazan, who inspired his commitment to improvisation, and playwright Clifford Odets, who later wrote several screenplays for Ray.

Determined to perform in "legitimate" theaters as well as factories, the group commissioned in 1935 a full-length play The Young Go First, which criticized Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps as excessively militaristic. In May 1935, Ray acted in this play, which was directed by Kazan, at the Park Theatre, his first appearance in a mainstream venue. Because of its increasing financial problems, Ray and many other members abandoned the Theatre of Action in 1936 and joined the Federal Theatre Project of the Works Project Administration (WPA).

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