Bongos, fights and Europe-dreaming: Take a look into James Dean’s last home

Reported as a narcissist character who loved to be desired on set and as an actor with a natural gift for improvisation, James Dean met many difficulties on the set of The Giant- doomed to be the last film to star Dean.  The only peace he could find in the summer of 1955 was in the safe harbour represented by his Hollywood pad.

Take a tour of James Dean’s eclectic Hollywood pad with The Sir’s Corner:

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Designed as a hunting lodge – with hunt scenes-patterned curtains and wooden walls – and located at 14611 Sutton Street, Sherman Oaks, the apartment was the Hollywood equivalent of James’ New York home. It was rented from Nico Romanos, maitre at James’ favourite restaurant Villa Capri.

Sherman Oaks is where James sheltered after bursting into fights with The Giant’s director George Stevens, who – as an old-school Hollywood director – could hardly stand James’ inclination for improvisation. The pad is also where James was reported to host strangers, giving parties with loud music until the early hours of the morning. Also loud were James fights with actress Ursula Andress. These were so intense to the point Dean wanted to take German classes to be able to fight with Ursula Andress in her mother-tongue.

The pad hosted an assortment of oddities making it a reflection of the tenant’s eclectic mind. Spanish corrida posters, a reel-to-reel tape player, a hangman’s noose used on set, a bronze eagle, a white bearskin rug, a 16mm movie cameras and James’ beloved bongos he had been playing for years.

In these Sherman Oaks days the only thing which apparently could calm James’ restless spirit was Marcus, a Siamese kitten bought him by The Giant set-fellow Liz Taylor. The actress’ decision was motivated by James’ love for Sanford and Beluah Roth’s cat Louis.

In that year the couple became a sort of adoptive parents for James’, who admired them for their European past. Sanford Roth, in the previous years, had been photographing many European artistic personalities such as Picasso, Braques, Chagall,  Stravinksy, Cocteau and Leger. The Roths represented James’ ambitions to travel and expand his cultural and artistic horizons. As recalled Sanford Roth: “He wanted to walk down the Boulevard Montparnasse, he wanted to study sculpture in Paris, buy crazy sweaters in Capri, and meet Cocteau and Mirò.”

It seems that in these days James wondered about quitting acting, as considered not creative enough. It was Roth himself to introduce Dean to sculptress Pegot Waring, who accepted the actor as a student.

These august days in Sherman Oaks have been James’ last memories before finishing to film on The Giant’s set on Sempteber 22nd and before finding a tragic death just a week later of September 30th.


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