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Ray, Nicholas (1911-1979)  
 
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Nicholas Ray was one of the most significant and influential American movie directors of the twentieth century. In films such as Johnny Guitar (1954) and Rebel without a Cause (1955), he created characters and situations that continue to resonate with viewers.

In his films, Ray explored the lives of lonely outsiders who refuse to conform to the demands of mainstream society. Although many of his protagonists fall victim to social pressures, he avoided simplistic "good versus evil" plot lines.

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Preferring a collaborative style of direction, Ray worked intimately with actors, fostering complex, subtly nuanced characterizations. While he typically incorporated naturalistic details into his movies, he also endowed scenes with symbolic meanings through highly stylized handling of such diverse elements as color, camera angles, and architectural settings. In his films, form and content are intertwined.

Often as rebellious as the characters in his films, Ray frequently was at odds with movie executives. Increasingly regarded as unreliable, he effectively was ostracized from major American studios after 1958. Although Ray's career in the American film industry was cut short in that year, the eighteen motion pictures that he directed between 1947 and 1958 constitute a very impressive legacy. Between 1959 and 1977, Ray directed only three full-length films intended for mainstream distribution, one of which was completed by another director.

Coinciding with the decline of his commercial fortunes, Ray's critical reputation plummeted in the United States. However, avant-garde European critics and filmmakers discovered and honored his work. In particular, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and others involved in the Nouvelle Vague movement in France during the 1950s and 1960s hailed Ray as an inspiration to their own creative endeavors.

Ray's Significance for Queer Cultural History

Ray also deserves to be acknowledged as an important figure in queer cultural history, partly because of his own bisexuality but primarily because of the queer perspectives in his films.

Although the case for Ray's bisexuality is overwhelming, some friends and family members have attempted to deny it. Ray's mentor, director Elia Kazan; his fourth wife, Susan Ray; and other close friends and family members are among those who have insisted upon Ray's heterosexuality.

However, another close personal friend and professional collaborator, John Houseman, noted Ray's sexual interest in other men. In his memoirs, Housman described Ray as "a potential homosexual with a deep, passionate and constant need for female love." In his recent book on gay men and lesbians in Hollywood, William J. Mann also characterized Ray as a deeply closeted homosexual.

Because homosexuality was strictly illegal in the United States during the early and mid-twentieth century, it is difficult to find definitive proof of homosexual behavior by prominent Americans of the era. Nevertheless, throughout Ray's adult life, there were widespread rumors concerning his bisexuality. For example, many of his associates, including actor Farley Granger and writer Gore Vidal, who resided at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood while Ray lived there during the mid-1950s, claimed that he simultaneously conducted affairs with Sal Mineo, James Dean, and Natalie Wood during the filming of Rebel without a Cause. Furthermore, acquaintances reported seeing Ray dancing with other men at the Chateau.

The fullest published documentation of Ray's bisexuality is provided by Gavin Lambert in Mainly about Lindsay Anderson (2000). Lambert met Ray in February 1956, while he was in England, publicizing Rebel without a Cause. In the midst of seducing Lambert the night that they met, Ray declared to him that he was not really homosexual or even bisexual because he had slept with more women than men. Nevertheless, Lambert was literally swept off his feet by Ray's passion and accepted his invitation to follow him back to the United States.

Ray secured employment for Lambert at Twentieth Century-Fox as a screenwriter and production assistant, and he also used his influence to expedite the processing of a visa and work permit. Arriving in Hollywood in March 1956, Lambert lived with Ray at the Chateau Marmont until November.

Lambert characterized Ray as an erratic but very possessive lover. In November, Lambert ended their affair because he had wearied of Ray's alcoholism and his tendency to ignore him for extended periods while entertaining a seemingly endless stream of starlets. Despite this break, Lambert remained a friend and strong professional supporter.

In remarks made in Roy Connolly's television documentary James Dean: The First American Teenager (1975), Ray may have provided the clearest public indication of his own sexuality. In response to questions about Dean's bisexuality, Ray asserted, "He was normal, which may mean bisexual." In contrast to this view of bisexuality as normative, Ray often represented exclusively heterosexual relationships as unstable and repressive.

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