“Conquering your fear. That’s the point. Fear and death is what it’s all about.” ~ James Dean
Not long before I’d ever heard of James Dean, I’d been crushed by a loud argument between my mom and her latest live-in boyfriend. He wanted her to send me away. She became very emotional, crying that she would if she could but no one wanted me. The reasons for the constant rejection I suffered — from the time my parents split up when I was four, then moving several times a year because of Mom’s erratic love life — explain why James Dean would become so important to me.
Before Jimmy, I was a lost soul. I’d had no role model and no guidance to prepare me for life. I had no one to turn to but myself. Other people competed in games of conformity that counted me out. So I found refuge in my own inner realm of imagination. I’d been a loner until Mom started doing customers at home. She always called them “customers.” One day I served her favorite customer a cup of coffee. We sat at the kitchen table below Mom’s upstairs bedroom. Only fourteen, I never knew what to say to these guys waiting their turn for a massage. But sometimes it got embarrassing when the customer she was taking care of started moaning and groaning. This was one of those times. The guy upstairs gasped out in a loud voice, “Oh, God! Yeah!”
The waiting customer and I both looked up at the ceiling, then at each other. I guess the puzzled look on my face broke the ice. “You’re going to be like James Dean in East of Eden,” he said. “You know, when your mom opens her massage parlor. She’ll be like his mother in the movie. Except your mom’s more — well, let me show you what I got her.” From a paper sack he withdrew a large book with a cover consisting solely of Marilyn Monroe’s beautiful face in color.
My mom lived for Marilyn Monroe. It began when she was twelve. A boy brought her to see the movie Don’t Bother to Knock, which starred Monroe, and he pointed out how much Mom looked like her. My future mom had already developed a shapely figure. Yet their resemblance seemed more than coincidental. Mom’s name really is Marilyn. Plus she’s a blonde, has similar eyes (though bluish-green) and an actual beauty mark in the exact same place as Monroe. The synchronicity was perfect. Mom, a very lonely, only child, needed a role model. Her parents were always working, providing everything to her but their time and love.
Being compared to Marilyn Monroe made it possible for her to vicariously live through the star. This is why the closest I ever felt to my mother was when, on our black-and-white TV, we watched Monroe perform in the live broadcast of President Kennedy’s birthday gala. In fact, Mom liked to tell people that she got pregnant with me around the time Monroe was pregnant, though the movie star lost her baby. Then, when I was four, the death of Marilyn Monroe broke up our family. Mom left my father and never went back to him. He used to refer to her as “My Marilyn Monroe.” They both were devastated. Anyhow, there are many reasons why, in my mind, no other star existed except for Monroe.
So I had no idea why this customer of Mom’s compared me to an actor in some movie I’d never seen. In fact, I’d totally forgotten his words until the beginning of my senior year in high school. I’d begun hanging out with the guys who smoked cigarettes in front of the school’s chain-link fence. All I had to do was ask for a cigarette. A strike of a match would strike up instant rapport and deal me in their circle of cool. I’d begun “social” smoking at Hoover High after we moved from the Fresno High school district — where I’d managed to complete my entire sophomore year.
At the beginning of my senior year, while smoking marijuana with my party pals, a red Mustang pulled up at the curb across from us. Joe Pruitt cupped his hand to hide the joint we toked. That September was summer hot. But not as hot as Melody — one of Mom’s girls, fired for cheating on the parlor’s money — looked scooting out of that car and pushing its door closed with her curvaceous behind. That must’ve stung her cheeks, since only half her buns weren’t covered by her tight pink shorts. Strutting her stuff across the lawn, the sun her spotlight, Melody put her hand above her big green eyes to see. “Hey J.P.,” she said. “I hear your mom’s opening up a new place.”
This made me nervous because my “J.P.” identity was top secret. But Melody didn’t give a fuck. And as the guys ogled her large breasts — threatening to break free of the thin material of her halter-top — her thick, glossy red lips parted a mischievous smile. She fluffed her thick auburn hair with her long fingernails and jiggled her freedom-loving boobs. “You think you could talk her into giving me a second chance?”
“Sure,” I said.
Joe held the joint out to her and said, “I’d give you a second chance.”
As she bent down, with her rump to the guys, Terry Thurman teased: “Sweet cakes!”
She looked back over her shoulder, “Like it?”
Stoned and grinning, Rex Aston tried for a laugh. “Ever sit on a happy face?”
“For the right price,” she said, taking a toke off the joint. After a pause, she exhaled the smoke in my direction. “Remind your mom about my regulars, J.P. She knows they come where I go.”
“Why does she keep calling you J.P.?” asked Mike Tom.
Before I could answer, Melody said, “Junior Pimp!” Then she told them how the girls nicknamed me that for helping my mom manage our massage parlors. That sure left me on the spot. I’d only managed to fit in with these guys by keeping quiet. Now they wanted me to talk. So, to avoid ending up an outcast again, I responded to each question with a subtle “yeah” to confirm what Melody said was true.
The next day, Terry Thurman insists his older brother wants me over to their house to watch that movie, East of Eden. It was being shown on TV the following Tuesday night. When it became clear that I couldn’t get out of it without consequences, I forced myself. Terry’s big brother treated me like some kind of celebrity. I didn’t know why. But I did manage to hide my fears of fucking up behind an easygoing, silent act of composure.
Terry’s brother greeted me with the words, “This is the anniversary of his death.”
“Whose death?” I had no clue.
Leading us to his bedroom, where a large color television showed commercials, he said, “James Dean’s.”
“Oh,” I said, having forgotten the name. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
As he sat on the foot of his bed, which faced the television, he looked at me as if I were being sarcastic.
Terry seated himself on the carpet, leaned back against the bed and said, “You know who James Dean is.”
“He’s a great actor,” said Terry’s brother. “The star of this movie.” East of Eden was about to begin. “He died twenty years ago today.”
Terry indicated for me to sit next to him and quickly got me to admit I knew nothing about James Dean. He said his brother was a major fan. Then a musical score roused us to focus on the screen.
When the star’s name appeared, Terry’s brother pointed out how cool it was for me to be introduced to James Dean on TV. “Jimmy’s career began on TV,” he said.
Terry and his brother stared at me when the character portrayed by James Dean asked, “Any law against following around the town madam?” This made my skin crawl. It was clear that the so-called “town madam” was scorned for running a business like my mom. Until this moment, I took a lot of pride in Mom’s success. She’d gone from one parlor to a chain of parlors throughout the city. And, thanks to getting my driver’s license, I’d been helping her run the parlors since my sixteenth birthday. It never occurred to me that our business was seen as shameful.
Although James Dean did impress me, it was the movie itself that had the most impact. Especially when the son, Cal, is beat up by one of his mother’s thugs when trying to talk with her. I’d been going through that with my mom’s live-in thug. Most of all, I suffered Cal’s pain in regards to his father favoring his brother over him. My dad, who never forgave himself for having loved my mom, favored my stepbrother over me. I think my churchgoing father saw my mother as evil and believed I was evil, too.
What confused me, however, is how my being “Junior Pimp” made me popular at school. All kinds of kids I never knew started saying “Hey, JP!” when they saw me. Word had spread. Even a few jocks on the football team took an interest in me. What they really wanted was for me to bring them to a parlor. One weeknight, when the girls wouldn’t have much business, I brought the jocks to Massage Center (our best parlor). The girls didn’t dare accept a cent from or do anything with my new pals, calling them “jailbait.” They were under the legal age for sex. At least Melody flirted enough to make up for their not getting off. This proved her gratitude for Mom giving her a second chance.
My popularity soon led to dating a pretty blonde named Kathy Maas. Her father was dying of cancer when she introduced us. I wanted to help her through the pain of losing her dad. If not for what we called “The Red Light Raids,” I would’ve been there for her when he died. The district attorney’s task forced closed down our parlors on the Wednesday night of November 19, 1975. This interrupted my relationship with Kathy around the time she lost her father. Mom needed my help more than ever. Thanks to her lawyer proving that our busiest parlor, Massage Center, was located a couple feet beyond the Fresno city limit, we were able to reopen that one. And I had to be there every spare minute to check license plates (the vice squad had an E on their plates). So I’d alert the girls when a customer was an undercover cop.
Massage Center brought in a fortune, being the only parlor open in the area. With the money made there, Mom sent this guy she promised to marry out to Miami, Florida. For their future together she promised to join him (Bob Ramsey) out there for a new start. Her real goal, though, was to have Bob send money from the secret parlor to make up for the closed ones.
In early January of 1976 Kathy and I began dating again. Things got so serious between us that, on the following Valentine’s Day, I asked her to marry me. She said, “Yes.” Little did I suspect my involvement with Kathy, as well as the parlors, would soon result in James Dean becoming my mentor.
Before James Dean gave purpose to my life, it was like trying to finish high school in the midst of the Apocalypse. Mom had been arrested for pimping and pandering on the final evening of March. What followed was constant news coverage about her being a notorious madam. Then, one day in April, a student counselor calls me into his office. He has an overloaded file on his desk near the chair where he offers a seat. My name is on the file. Leaving the office, he suggests I read through my school records. I sure went to a lot of different schools. What caught my eye were handwritten notes by various teachers. All showed concerned, yet no one ever spoke with me or tried to help. From my earliest elementary schools onward: teachers remarked about my being a neglected child in need of help, a child from a broken home, and a troubled child with no friends. The more I read from these past teachers, the more I hurt inside. Then the notes began repeating how much I needed a father figure, a role model and direction. I couldn’t continue when a teacher expressed concern that my mother didn’t seem to care about me. I closed the file and waited for the guidance counselor. I hoped he’d give me the guidance I’d needed all my life. Instead, he came back and asked if I’d finished. I nodded yes. Then he dismissed me.
While out on bail, Mom worried about Bob not having sent a cent from the Florida parlor. “If only,” she said, “I had someone there I could trust.” Here was my chance to make her proud. I volunteered to run the secret parlor. Her eyes lit with hope. “What about graduation?” Promising to finish my senior year of high school there, I gave her my word that she could count on me.
Mom bought a brand new Monte Carlo sedan for the drive to Miami, Florida. Part of my job would be keeping this beautiful car like new for her. After her trial, she planned to move to Miami. So, subsequent to my personal guarantee that I’d take perfect care of her car, I was allowed to borrow it until she was able to take over in Florida.
Illegal as it was for her to leave Fresno, Mom began the drive with two of our girls in the backseat and me up front to take turns at the wheel. Wired on Mom’s supply of amphetamines, we arrived within three days. The parlor’s reception area felt as cozy as someone’s living room. Dim lighting, provided by a floor lamp, caressed two couches with coffee tables, an easy chair and a stereo console. The entire parlor, with its three massage cubicles and mirrored restroom, had wall-to-wall carpeting. Best of all, our girls in sexy outfits would consider me the boss. I had it made.
Putting on my sunglasses, I followed Mom out into the bright sunlight and climbed into the passenger side of the Monte Carlo. As she drove she lectured me about keeping her car brand new. Our next stop was the bank, where she signed the parlor’s business account over to me. Then we met Bob Ramsey in the manager’s office of a tall building. There, a lease was made in Bob’s name for an apartment we’d share. I didn’t care for this idea, but had no say in the matter. Mom wanted to convince Bob how serious she was about marrying him — which she wasn’t. What she really wanted was to avoid any trouble from him.
In the morning I drove Mom to the airport. Her dismissive silence diminished me to nothing more than her chauffeur. I wanted to be appreciated. I wanted to matter. I needed to feel she cared whether I lived or died. Yet she didn’t say a word until we entered the terminal. Giving a cursory hug, she said: “Don’t let me down.”
“You can count on me.”
I reached out for a better hug, only to be left reaching out to her walking away. I stood waiting for her to turn and wave or at least give a parting glance. Nothing. She left me as if I’d never existed.
Determined to prove myself worthy of her love, I began doing all I could to be a successful pimp. And, from that month of May until August, our secret parlor made plenty of money that I did send to Mom. I also kept in touch with Kathy. We missed each other so much that I asked her to join me in Florida and live together. The only obstacle was Bob. He got drunk on beer night after night and, emotional over a huge framed photo of my mom that he’d hung above the TV, would carry on about how she was his life. He had doubts, though. Maybe because she’d taken the parlor’s account out of his name and put it in mine. I think that’s why he started asking the wrong question. “She’s so beautiful,” he’d slur. “Tell me the truth, does she really love me? Is she going to be my wife?” And worst of all, he’d ask: “How do you feel about me being your step-father?”
Now I knew I had to get rid of him before Kathy arrived. I mean he got drunk every single night. It got unbearable answering those same questions with convincing lies. About a week before Kathy arrived, I dared do the one thing my mother taught me never to do — I told the truth. “You’ll never be my step-father, Bob.” You’d think I’d punched him in the face. His tears stopped as he sat up and narrowed his eyes on me. Even if it meant his kicking my ass, I had to tell him: “My mom’s been using guys ever since I can remember. She used to punish me for telling the truth because it messed up her love life. That’s why I’ve been afraid to tell you. She wants to keep you in love with her, so she can use you. That’s all.”
He just stared at me. This is the most I’d ever regretted telling the truth in my life. In fact, I got scared and apologized. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Is it true? She doesn’t love me?”
I looked at her huge photo on the wall. “I wish I could say she did.”
“Okay,” he said. “Thanks for the truth.”
When I awoke the next day, Bob and his belongings were gone! Kathy and I would have the apartment to ourselves. A couple of weeks before Kathy got to Miami, though, the parlor had been ripped off. My great mood, when I got there, fell to the floor where the telephone sat, with its long cord coiled like a snake, in the middle of our now empty reception area. All furniture had been stolen, including from the three cubicles — except for the massive massage tables. Then none of the girls showed up for their shift. By nightfall I knew all the girls had quit. Telling Bob the truth had been a terrible mistake. “Now I’ll never succeed as a pimp,” I cried. “My life is ruined.” Phoning Mom, I broke the bad news. She suggested Patricia Hamren — the exotic beauty who’d first given her a job as a “masseuse” and now worked for her — coming out from Fresno to help keep the parlor going. This gave me hope.
Patricia arrived a few days later. She’d gone from wearing makeup like Liz Taylor in the movie Cleopatra to no makeup at all. Instead of the sexy outfits she used to wear, she was in a man’s T-shirt, jeans and oil-stained sneakers. Her usual bouffant hairstyle was now an Afro. And her once seductive, feminine manner had hardened into a kick-ass masculinity. With a lit cigarette dangling from her lips, Pat put out her hand and said, “Hey, man.” I was so happy I hugged her. She looked at the empty parlor and said we could get some junk furniture at Goodwill for a low price. And what we got did the trick. Then she started hustling rush-hour traffic. I couldn’t believe it, but she did bring in customers.
Patricia M. Hamren
Everything had come together by the end of August. Pat got me to not only place a “masseuses wanted” ad in the Miami Herald newspaper, but a “$5 dollar off” coupon to stir up business. We’d be the only massage parlor in town to offer a discount. On the day the ad appeared, we hired two new girls. That evening Kathy stepped off a Greyhound bus in Miami. Now we could live happily ever.
Happily ever after lasted two weeks. Our goal to marry after high school began to unravel at Coral Gables High. Because administration didn’t believe street-tough Pat was Kathy’s legal guardian, Kathy couldn’t enroll. She’d have to wait until she turned eighteen. So I began the new semester without Kathy. Next the new girls quit over the $5-off coupons. They didn’t want to look cheap. So Pat says to bring Kathy to the parlor. I sat in the front entrance area for an hour while Pat spoke with Kathy in the furthest cubicle from me. Afterwards, I took Kathy out for dinner. She’d never been so quiet. In regards to working at the parlor, she looked at her coleslaw and shrugged, “Maybe?”
We returned home to find the locks had been changed. The landlord wouldn’t even let us get our belongings. He said that was for Bob Ramsey to do, since his name was on the lease. This about killed Kathy. I had to break down a side door to the apartment’s kitchen. A neighbor lady screamed she was calling the police. We had to get our stuff fast.
On the morning of September 30th, Kathy left me. We’d been on the run, bouncing from one motel to another before each check bounced. Pat, I trusted, knew what she was doing when she had me hand over the checkbook and began checking us into motels. She’d be gone most of the time with my mom’s car, too. For Kathy and me, it was like a honeymoon. But she’d had enough of this “Bonnie and Clyde routine.” I was so crushed I wanted to quit my classes at Coral Gables High. Everything had fallen apart.
That night Pat surprised me with a good marijuana joint. As we got stoned, all my pain turned into a determination to become somebody so famous that no one would ever leave me again. “And I want to be remembered after I die. I mean, really remembered.”
“So you want to be a legend,” she said. “Like James Dean.”
She went on to tell me it was the anniversary of his death, twenty-one years ago, and people still remember him. I knew nothing about becoming a legend, but now I wanted to figure out how to make it happen. Pat suggested I get a biography on this movie star killed in a car crash.
James Dean: The Mutant King, by David Dalton, was the first book I ever bought. I began reading it as soon as I returned to the parlor, where I had to live. Pat was living there, too. When I read that Dean began growing as an actor in high school, I wasted no time joining the theatre department at Coral Gables. Even if I did fail to be a successful pimp, I would make it up to my mom by becoming a legend. What the book made clear was how Dean lived for his art. And that gave me something to live for.
Sleeping on a narrow massage table is risky business. You could break your neck if you forgot how far up you were from the floor. Pat knew what to do. She searched the newspaper for a room I could rent by the week. The one I liked most was above an elderly woman’s house. She’d had the staircase sealed to create a separate studio apartment. Outside stairs led to its front door. Her name was Emma Lou Oesterle. She saw me drive up in my mom’s brand new car and smiled. Mrs Oesterle liked the idea of a young man with a nice car renting the place. She let me move in that day.
By not placing another discount coupon in the paper, Pat managed to hire several girls for the parlor. As customers left — relieved and pleased — they got a laugh out of a sign we put on the door: “Thank you for coming!” Meanwhile, I devoted myself to school plays as well as keeping up with my classes. I was determined to grow as an actor, graduate and somehow make my way to Manhattan — the city where James Dean made his dreams come true. Running the parlor, though, proved more and more of a problem. Pat had forged my name on so many bad checks we no longer had the business account. So I had to be there as much as possible to collect the cash needed to survive. My pimping career was in the way of my goal, but I kept doing what I had to do. And it helped to read that James Dean had worked different jobs while pursuing his goal.
On the last night of November our newest girl showed up before the others did for the shift. Things were looking up. Right after she arrived, she got a customer. Soon two more customers entered. I greeted them and was just about to say more girls were on the way when a badge was flashed. Our new girl came out in handcuffs. She’d solicited the undercover vice cop for more than a massage. Then she said I was the boss. These cops tried not to laugh as one read me my rights, handcuffed me and took the two of us to jail. I’d been arrested for pimping.
Pat got a friend to bail me out. The other girls wouldn’t risk coming back to work. We were discussing what to do when in walks a tall, steely gentleman wearing an expensive suit. Pat turned on her professional charm to get what she could for us out of this fortune cookie. But his indifference made us nervous as he pulled a document from his coat pocket. “This is from the FBI,” he said. “I’m going to have to evict you starting now.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
He said, “The landlord.”
After spending ten hours in a jail cell, I was glad to finally be free of that parlor. This meant I could devote all of my time to becoming like James Dean. His words kept giving me courage no matter how bad things got. In fact, I got through those claustrophobic hours behind bars contemplating his quote: “An actor must interpret life, and in order to do so must be willing to accept all the experiences life has to offer.”
My first real act of daring came when I agreed to drive Pat to a condemned building in Miami’s most dangerous ghetto. She warned me to hide down low in the car, doors locked, while she went to buy her fix. But I insisted on going with her. James Dean was my spirit guide, leading me to seek out more of life than life puts at my feet. My courage impressed Pat. “You’ve got balls,” she said, entering the building. Darkness engulfed us.
“Stick close.” Pat hurried up concrete stairs echoing the slightest scrape of our shoes. “You’re about to meet the most powerful dealer in Liberty City,” Pat whispered. “She thinks I’m an albino, so play along.”
After a labyrinth of passages and more stairs, it was a relief to reach a turn where light seeped through a doorframe. On the other side was a bright-lit corridor. Pat knocked on the last door to the right. An elderly black woman with a gray Afro let us in. “This is Mama Louie,” Pat said.
I put out my hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Is this JP?” Mama Louie grasped my hand and brought me to her living room sofa. She said Pat had told her all about my mom and me. Then she took Pat by the arm. “We’re family,” Mama Louie declared. “My skin be Bible black but we got the same color blood.”
The sofa faced the kitchen area where Mama Louie and Pat got out there works at the table. As they prepared to shoot up, Pat complemented Mama Louie on how clean she kept her place. Mama Louie lit up with pride. “You won’t find a cockroach here,” she said. “How about a pinch of summer snow?” She sprinkled a touch of white powder into Pat’s spoon of heroin brew. After they lit matches under their spoons — using clean cigarette filters to block impurities — they filled the syringes and turned their kitchen chairs toward me. Mama Louie, pointing her ready fix at me, warned: “This shit’s a trap. Don’t even try it.” Then she aimed the needle down, as if it were a cross, and sadly shook her head. “A syringe crucifix.”
Pat wasted no time sticking her needle in her arm. Mama Louie, watching this, looked embarrassed. I thought she was about to apologize for being in her nightgown. Instead, she told me all her veins had collapsed. All she had left was her jugular. As she cocked her head to the side, bringing the point of the needle to her neck, she watched my reaction.
I gave an understanding smile. I felt compassion for her.
“If anybody here messes with you,” she said. “Tell them you’re a friend of Mama Louie.” Then a ruby-red drop of blood ran down her neck.
After we hugged Mama Louie and left, a car crashed into Pat’s side of my mom’s new Monte Carlo. It was too dangerous to do anything but get the hell out of Liberty City. But I was freaked about my mom’s car being wrecked. I’d promised to take good care of it. So the very next day I dropped it off at a shop for repairs. They assured me they could get it looking like new again.
My mom, having been convicted of pimping and pandering, wrote to me from prison. In all her letters she wanted to know if I’d been keeping her car like new. It was bad enough I’d lost the parlor. So I humored her. I wrote back saying what she wanted to hear. But, while her car was in the shop, I had to hitchhike to the only legitimate job I could get. I’d dropped out of Coral Gables High to survive as a busboy at a fancy Italian restaurant called Graziano’s. Trying to earn enough to get Mom’s car out of the shop seemed impossible. Still, I asked and was allowed to work double shifts.
My luck changed, however, when my outstretched thumb stopped a middle-aged man in a rented car. He introduced himself as “Wally” and said he was from New York City. As we headed in the direction of Graziano’s, I told him how much I wanted to live in Manhattan. I told him I wanted to do what James Dean did. He seemed impressed by the mention of James Dean. So impressed, he offered me the equivalent of a week’s wages to go for a drink at a place called the 8000 Club. Delighted, I asked him to pull up at the next pay phone. I called in too sick to work.
The 8000 Club — named for its address on Biscayne Blvd — housed a gay hotel, swimming pool area, a gym, restaurant, piano bar and the Stonewall Too Disco. Wally led me through the lobby to the pool area where we made a sharp left and entered the disco. Since 18 was the legal drinking age in Florida, I ordered a beer. And Wally kept the beers coming. As the beer kicked in, Wally asked if I’d ever seen how nice the rooms were at The 8000 Club. He had one with a view of the pool. At that moment this tall, glamorous showgirl interrupted.
“You are too cute!” she said, caressing my face with her large hand. She insisted I escort her onto that stage beyond the dance floor. “Showtime’s about to begin.”
Wally encouraged me to be a gentleman and “honor the lady’s request.”
She took me by the hand and pulled me through the crowd to this dressing room past the bar. Inside she asked my name and told the few other showgirls her plan for me. Her name was Jennifer Raquel. She called me her Prince Charming. “When I’m introduced,” she explained, “hold my hand high as you bring me onstage like Barbara Streisand.”
Disco music stopped outside the dressing room and an emcee announced the show. On cue, I escorted Jennifer Raquel as a spotlight followed us to the microphone. She then kissed me on the cheek. I bowed and returned to my seat.
It struck me strange when, after the music for a song called “Evergreen” began, that Jennifer performed singing the song without any sound from her. It really was Barbara Streisand singing.
Wally saw how bewildered I was by this well over six-feet tall, Cuban type Barbara Streisand up there with a microphone but faking it. No matter how convincing her performance, it just didn’t make sense. Wally leaned close. “You’ve never been to a drag show before?”
“A drag show?”
“They lip sync,” he said. “They’re men imitating famous female stars.”
“Oh,” I responded. Now I felt fascinated by Jennifer’s talent at bringing Barbara Streisand to life for us.
Wally wanted to show me his room after Jennifer finished “Evergreen.” The drapes were closed, so I didn’t get a glimpse of the view. He had me sit next to him on the bed. Staring at my crotch, he put his hand on my thigh. I didn’t know what to do. My cock got hard.
“Looks like you’re up for grabs.” And Wally grabbed hold of it.
What the hell? I kicked back on the bed and thought of Renee, one of our girls I gave a ride home to from Massage Center. She gave me an excellent blowjob as I drove. Now Wally proved he could do better.
After a mingling of excited sounds and relief from pent-up tensions, Wally gave me his phone number in New York. He said if I ever want to move there, he has a friend with a room where I could stay. Then he gave me enough cash to pay Mrs Oesterle what I owed her for back rent.
Emma Lou Oesterle awakened me to a terrible truth. It was bad enough that my mom’s car was in the shop and I couldn’t afford to get it out. But when, while watering her lawn one morning, she saw Pat leave for work, she dropped her hose. Frantic knocks got me out of bed. I opened the door to my seventy-eight-year-old landlady. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I tried to see in the bright sunlight. Mrs Oesterle — the most dignified Southern Belle you could meet — was having a fit.
“Birds of a feather flock together!” she shrieked.
I had no idea why she seemed ready to evict me. Then she mentioned that woman with the Afro. The time had come to open my heart. So we had a long talk on her veranda. I explained how Pat gave my mom her first job at a parlor and had been like family to me since I was thirteen. My honesty, in regards to all that led up to my current situation, moved Mrs Oesterle from total shock to compassion. Compassion for me, that is. Pat had to go. And I had to let go of my mother and all to do with her— especially if I wanted to be as great as James Dean or Elvis Presley. Yes, Mrs Oesterle adored Elvis and believed he should be my role model. “James Dean inspired Elvis,” she said. “And nobody’s greater than Elvis.” Then she emphasized what a good, long life Elvis was living. She claimed he had a special kind of magic in him. “I see that magic in you.” She pointed at my heart, making me promise not to let any evildoers lead me astray.
All I had to do was get the bad influences out of my life. This meant ending things with Pat, as well as putting my mom in the past. But that evening still haunts me. I loved Pat. Locking her out, with her belongings piled below a “don’t come back” note, felt like murder.
It was horrible. Mrs Oesterle had me keep quiet inside her living room behind her heavy, bolted front door. Pat pleaded to me, over and over again, in unbearable anguish. She just wanted to speak with me. But Mrs Oesterle put her finger to her lips and shook her head.
“I know you’re in there!” Pat screamed.
She threw a brick through Mrs Osterle’s front window and every fragment became me, shattered. The fear of winding up with a needle in my jugular, dying on Mama Louie’s syringe crucifix, forced me to turn my back.
For two months I took the bus to my busboy job and practiced singing to Elvis songs. For two months I neither heard from Pat nor wrote to my mother in prison. Mrs Oesterle, however, began giving me a sense of family. She was very kind to me. And the wisdom she shared truly did change my life for the better.
Emma Lou Oesterle & Ian Ayres (May 1977)
Before reaching the end, yet again, of my dog-eared James Dean biography, I got a telephone call from Pat. She asked if I wanted to go back to California with her. The parlor she’d been working at had just been raided. She managed to hide, escaping arrest, and to take all the cash from the parlor’s safe. Although I still kept Wally’s number, returning to earlier days — where the illusion of family love remained strong — proved irresistible. Anyhow, I’d been scared of Wally’s homosexual lifestyle. Like Mrs Oesterle often said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” I didn’t want to flock with Wally. I didn’t want to flock with Pat, either. I just wanted to go home again. So I agreed to meet Pat at a local IHOP restaurant.
A cool song about James Dean came on the radio before I left to meet her. This song, “Rock On” by David Essex, was so haunting that I couldn’t get it out of my head: “And where do we go from here? Which is the way that’s clear? Still looking for that blue-jean baby queen, prettiest girl I ever seen. See her shake on the movie screen — Jimmy Dean — James Dean…” Got me to thinking about Jimmy’s answer to if he were gay. “Well,” he said, “I’m certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back.” Dalton added: Jimmy was collecting experience and wouldn’t be prevented from trying anything.
The idea of getting Mom’s car out of the shop, and returning home with at least the car good as new, now collided with my ambition to become as legendary as James Dean. Wally did say, “In Manhattan you don’t need a car.” It was like being in a three-way. I didn’t know which way to turn.
Pat showed up at the IHOP with this Cuban guy. She confessed that she’d forged my signature on business checks, which could get me arrested if I tried for Mom’s car. Her friend, though, would drive us out to California. Then Pat said how much she’d missed me and hugged me and really got me choked up about how close we used to be.
Before we went to get my belongings, Pat wanted to say goodbye to Mama Louie. So I’m soon back in that ghetto’s condemned building. Except, this time, Pat has me wait in a grimy ground-floor bathroom with her Cuban friend and some junkies nodding out under a sink stained with blood.
I’m sitting on the edge of the tub. A cockroach disappears behind that stinking toilet when this black guy with a handgun gets in. His eyes are bugging out, crazed on crack. Pressing the barrel of the gun to my left temple, he cocks it and readies his finger at the trigger. “I want what you owe me,” he says.
I’d never met him before, but I hand over all I’ve got: four dollars.
“What the fuck is this?” His finger tenses. He orders me to take off my shoes, then my socks. I’m moving fast to prevent a bullet from splattering my brains all over those ghetto walls. Just a flex of his finger and I’d be dead. And he’d get away with it, too. “White boy ain’t got no business in a black junkies’ ghetto.”
He tells me to take off my shirt. But when he says to take off my pants, I stare into his eyes. The photo of James Dean sitting up in a coffin flashes through my mind. My temple throbs against that gun barrel pressed. A simple flex of his finger and — Oh, God, help me! Till something inside me clicks and I know my mother in prison will forget me. My mother, blocking out truth, tuning in to comedy or changing the channel and it’s just the news showing an eighteen-year-old, white male corpse under a sheet in a condemned building — forgotten the second commercials begin.
I promise God that if this guy doesn’t squeeze the trigger, I’d put everything into being as great as James Dean. I’d make my life matter to people. Then I remember what Mama Louie said.
I tell him, “I’m a friend of Mama Louie’s.”
He pulls the gun away from my head, uncocks it and leaves.
The Cuban guy’s old station wagon resembles a hearse in the dark parking lot. Locking myself inside, I scoot down low in the backseat and cling to an illusion of safety. Soon enough I hear Pat telling her Cuban pal to let her drive. She climbs in behind the steering wheel and, as he’s getting into the passenger side, adjusts the rearview mirror to see me. “Why didn’t you wait in the bathroom?”
I didn’t expect her to go berserk when I told her how close I came to having my brains blown out.
“Motherfuckers!” She starts his car, slams into another car and causes more damage as she curses and maneuvers our escape. All these thugs come after us. Gunshots are fired as we make a screeching left from the driveway onto the street. Several cars chase after us. A tropical downpour hits. More gunshots are fired. Pat screeches his station wagon round every turn she comes to. Then we’re on the expressway. She speeds, switching lanes in a panic. We lose them. Maybe the downpour saved us.
As soon as I get back to Mrs Oesterle’s, I run up to my rented space and lock the door. I go sit on the edge of my bed in the dark. If he’d squeezed the trigger — with the slightest tensing of his finger — I’d be dead right now. Or maybe I am? Maybe I’m a ghost haunting the very world I’d lived in — a ghost returning to my studio apartment at the top of Mrs Oesterle’s sealed staircase. Trembling from the trauma, I switch on some light and grab my biography on James Dean. I begin reading from where I’d left off. And I’m a ghost and Jimmy’s my guide to the Other Side. And I read and I read until I repeat the fifth paragraph before the last.
David Dalton wrote: This was the fulfillment of Jimmy’s mission and his innermost wish. “I think there’s only one true form of greatness for man,” Jimmy said to James De Weerd, “if a man can bridge the gap between life and death. I mean if he can live on after he’s died, then maybe he was a great man…to me the only success, the only greatness, is immortality.”
If Mrs Oesterle hadn’t warned me to avoid Pat, I would’ve told her how I almost got killed. I probably would’ve returned to my busboy job, too. But, knowing I could be dead, I didn’t bother. Instead, I found my way back to the 8000 Club. I needed someone who wouldn’t judge me. I felt Jennifer Raquel might understand. And she did.
Jennifer listened as if my existence mattered.
After relating all that had happened, all that brought me back to her there — in her room, seated next to her in front of a mirror — I announced my decision to take my chances in Manhattan. “James Dean was told to go to New York City,” I said, “if he really wanted to make it. So he went there and he knew he had to make it fast.”
“Running for your life will get you some place!” Jennifer used her eyeliner to gesture an exclamation mark in the air. We both laughed.
Once she finished with the eyeliner, she jumped up in her sparkling sequined gown and went to her record player. “Let’s put on Jimmy’s favorite song.” She replaced a Barbara Streisand album with a 7” single. Turning on the player, she switched the speed to 45 rpm and lowered the stylus to the revolving vinyl. “This is La Vern Baker,” she said, transforming into a sort of jazzy performer. “Singing ‘Tweedlee Dee’ for you, baby.” Jennifer starts doing a dance she calls, “The Twist!” And as La Vern Baker sings, Jennifer lip-syncs every word to perfection: “Mercy, mercy, pudding pie.” She points at me, “You’ve got something that money can’t buy…”
I’m applauding as she shakes her big boobs at the end of the song. She stops the record player. “Sweetheart,” she says. “I’ve got something for you.” Getting a book out of her large purse, she hands it to me. “I’ve had this since I was a boy,” she gives a girlish giggle. “It’s The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.”
My confusion is obvious.
“I used to be the star quarterback on our football team,” she explains. “My school years were my greatest performance. I was being what other people wanted. Then this book gave me the courage to be true to myself. Now I’m almost the real me. Been doing the hormones. All that’s left is enough shows to afford the final operation.” She looks down. “It’s going to take a lot.”
“But why give me your book?”
“Because James Dean lived by it,” she says. “And I want you to succeed.”
I begin turning pages. Drawings of a boy with curly blond hair keep catching my eye. “Looks like it’s for kids.”
“It’s about compassion,” she says. “The little prince is an explorer. Exploration of the unknown is what counts. His constant questioning and open-mindedness lead to understanding. He’s imaginative, open-minded and aware of and sensitive to the mystery and beauty of the world. He learns the important things are visible only to the heart. All true meanings are hidden. What’s essential is invisible to the eye.”
Knowing I was dead, or could be, gave me guts. After escorting Jennifer to the stage, I called Wally collect on the lobby pay phone. My going up North depended on a single word.
“Yes,” Wally said.
And the bit of cash I’d saved toward Mom’s car made it possible for me to soon be Greyhound bound.
Wally welcomed me at the Greyhound Bus Station in Jersey City on the early evening of July 13, 1977. By 9 p.m. we were on the bridge from Jersey as Wally, driving us in his car, pointed out Manhattan twinkling its magnificent lights. My first impression was of approaching a giant crown with stars for jewels sparkling in the night. Adrenaline electrified my excitement as I imagined Broadway. I felt determined to achieve my own enduring fame. I wanted to be even greater than James Dean.
Within a half hour we were seated at a Chinese restaurant in the China Town district of New York City. Wally got a kick out of my thrill and daring to order squid and octopus because I’d never tried it. A pretty Chinese waitress had just taken our orders when everything went dark. “It’s a blackout,” said Wally. I thought it a bad omen, being my first twenty minutes in the Big Apple. But, because manual cash registers and gas stoves were still used, candles allowed us to have dinner while glass crashed outside and looters kept rushing past the main window with television sets, stereos, store mannequins in expensive clothes, couches, beds, and everything else. We worried about the power being out in Jersey and whether we’d be able to make it back. I was feeling pretty depressed, forcing myself to eat the squid and octopus, until I opened my fortune cookie. It read: Your destiny is to be famous.
In search of a job I wandered among the many Broadway theaters. In Times Square I got lucky at Jimmy’s Music World, a big record store where they hired me to be a cashier. This pleased Wally. I began work right away, paying part of the rent and for my own food. My life was finally on the right track. And I wasted no time in going to Lee Strasberg’s Theatre Institute to see what it would take to start acting classes there. I kept calling Lee’s third wife by the name of his second, Paula. But Anna was her name and she seemed to like me. She allowed me to do volunteer work in exchange for classes. And she often had me deliver things to the apartment in a building across from Central Park where she lived with Lee.
Then the serial killer known as “Son of Sam” struck again on the last night of July. He would appear out of the dark with a gun aimed at his victims and shoot. This triggered off the trauma I went through with the gun to my head. Working amid the vinyl albums and 45s at Jimmy’s Music World got scary after sunset. Each night I feared the “Son of Sam” would murder me. Even after he was caught ten days later no one was sure the random murders would stop.
On the afternoon of August 16, 1977, while I was working my shift at Jimmy’s Music World, our DJ announced Elvis Presley’s death. In his honor we began blasting Elvis Presley songs into Times Square from opening to closing time. The Elvis music and our mirrored walls attracted all kinds of guys dressed up like Elvis Presley. They’d come in and perform in front of the mirrors. Now I knew the impact of James Dean’s death. And it was sad and strange and, knowing my mom had known Elvis, led to my calling her. We hadn’t spoken since right before she went into prison. When I told her I was living in Manhattan, taking acting classes and working a real job, she asked me to come home. But I told her I was determined to become a movie star. I’d even bought a huge Roy Schatt poster of James Dean. I kept it hung on the wall facing my bed to keep me focused on my goal. I’d wake up to Dean looking down, with his head cocked to one side, as if challenging me to learn his secret to legendary fame.
Nicholas Ray, who had directed James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, began teaching a workshop at Lee Strasberg’s Theatre Institute. I figured since I’d been able to talk Lee’s wife Anna into letting me do volunteer work for classes, I could work something out with Nicholas Ray. I remember him sitting across a desk from me in a small office where we discussed my joining his workshop for film acting. Although his pure white hair and pallid skin made it difficult to ignore the black, pirate-like patch covering his right eye, I avoided looking at it. I was too determined to work for him in lieu of the thousand dollars his workshop would cost. He spoke in a quiet, top-secret sort of voice. “It wouldn’t be fair to the others,” he said, “if I let you in on the volunteer thing. Maybe you can borrow from your parents or someone.” Leaning forward, it was as if he examined my soul with his left eye. At last he leaned back, tilting his head to one side. “You’ve got the gift.” The gift, however, wasn’t worth a cent when it came to getting into his workshop. My continued efforts to talk him into letting me join without paying seemed to make him grow sad.
“Just give me a chance,” I said. “I’ve got talent. And when I make it, I’ll pay you double.”
He leaned back in his office chair, peering into my very soul. I thought he was going to say okay. But, in a hushed voice, he confided, “I’m doing this for the money. I need it now.”
Later I learned that Nicholas Ray only did the workshop because of hospital bills. He’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. But I took it as a sort of rejection. I mean, if he thought I was as amazing as James Dean, he would’ve wanted me in his workshop no matter what.
And so, discouraged, I returned home to a hurt, angry family. Although Mom was out of prison, prison still possessed her soul. Prison killed the love in her. Some sort of evil force surrounded what I’d hoped to consider home. I had no one to turn to but James Dean. I went in search of another book on my hero. At a shop selling used books I purchased a beat-up copy of the first biography ever written on Dean, by his ex-roommate Bill Bast. Reading that book reignited my determination to make it in the movies. I drove from Huntington Beach to Hollywood and read every name on every star on the Walk of Fame, even after paying my respects to James Dean’s star. Then I came across the West coast branch of Lee Strasberg’s Theatre Institute. It was on Hollywood Boulevard in 1978.
Anna Strasberg had mentioned that Lee would be teaching in Hollywood. This was my chance. To make the money needed to study with Lee, I had to deliver packets of cocaine to various locations for my mom. She’d already bought me a cheap, purple Volkswagen Bug for driving her call girls to their assignations. (Yes, she’d started an escort service and made me feel so guilty about leaving her new car in Miami, that I felt obligated to work for her.) So I saw this fast money as my only hope to grow into an actor as great as James Dean. And Lee Strasberg did help me reach depths of emotion and fuse past experiences to create different realities instead of just performing. Now it made total sense to do as James Dean did — seek out more experiences than life puts at your feet.
After studying with Lee, I enrolled at Orange Coast College and devoted myself to the theater department. During this time I met a slim young guy with straight brown hair who followed me through South Coast Plaza, the biggest shopping mall in Costa Mesa, California. I’d bought a daring biography, The Real James Dean, by John Gilmore. This was one to keep hidden. On the front cover, below Jimmy’s photo, were the words: “As he actually was — a lover of men as well as women.”
When I stopped and turned toward the guy, he grinned. I figured he was a lost soul, as I’d been before James Dean. So I introduced myself. His name was Troy Myers. I asked if he’d like to get a cup of coffee. He said, “Sure.”
Once the waitress served our coffee, I told Troy about James Dean. Told him I’d been reading biographies on Dean that made me want to become famous, die young, and be a legend, too. “Most people,” I said, “are forgotten after they die. It’s like they never existed at all. It’s not just James Dean that makes me want to be famous, though. It’s because this black guy out of his mind on drugs held a gun to my head, his finger on the trigger, and all he had to do was squeeze.”
Our coffees sat there, steam rising less and less, slowly giving up on luring us with the scent. Troy’s eyes were into mine. Finally, my repeating “the fear of forgotten” led up to: “What about you? Don’t you want to live on after you die? You know, find a way to conquer death by living on in the minds of future generations?”
His eyebrows gripped their ridges of skull. He reminded me of murder victims in movies — when the knife first goes in, or the bullet hits, that moment of realization, that moment of “Oh, shit! Death is real.” Maybe the fact that he will indeed one day die — “You never know when you’re time is up,” I’d told him, playing the Grim Reaper personified — or the idea of being forgotten, as if he’d never even existed at all, or the ambition of making a name for himself, or all of this combined, was sinking in.
The coffee’s cool reflection of light catches my attention. Breaking our visual beam, I reach over to the sugar packets, rip one open and pour sparkling white into the round of blackness mirroring my face. I look up at Troy and stir. His eyes swirl with the black liquid in my cup. Never for a moment do I think he’ll wind up the famous one of us to die young.
Troy asked me to drive him home, which was on the other side of the freeway overpass from South Coast Plaza. Before he got out of the car, he kissed me on the lips. That was the beginning. Troy became my first male lover and I became his. I began spending all of my spare time with Troy and his family. We kept it discreet, like we were best friends and nothing more — until his dad caught us kissing. Although his dad owned a beauty salon and was open-minded enough, he still had trouble accepting his son’s sexuality. I was struggling with a lot of shame about the gay label, too. Labels are sticky things. What kept me from ending the relationship, though, was the courage I got from another James Dean quote. It’s in the fourth biography I was reading on Jimmy: The James Dean Story, by Ronald Martinetti.
“If a choice is in order,” James Dean claimed, “I’d rather have people hiss than yawn. Nothing can be more deadly than boredom, and this applies if one is either the cause of it or its victim.”
As if having a same-sex lover wasn’t freaking me out enough, I am soon faced with a dare impossible to hide. Troy leads me into his bedroom while his parents, little brother and little sister watch TV in the living room. He tells me that his father has agreed to bleach our hair blond for free. That may not seem like a big deal these days, but back in early 1979 it was a taboo for guys to dye their hair — let alone bleach it. Of course, Troy pointed out that James Dean said to never say no to any new experience. Take it to the edge, and beyond.
Anyhow, I wanted to rebel against prejudice. Prejudice was wrong, so why should I let it run my life? Plus, more important to me, Troy was doing it. And I’ll never forget his father’s mischievous grin in the mirror at certain moments during the process. It was fun, though. We did it at night, after the beauty shop had closed, which left the entire place to ourselves. I was surprised when, after the bleaching job was done, Troy suggested I have my hair put in a perm. I remember he’d asked his dad if he should do it but his dad said to try it out on me, first. People were shocked by the drastic change in hair color on me, especially with the perm.
Ian Ayres & Troy Myers (aka porn star Jeremy Scott)
This was long before it was acceptable for guys to ever color or bleach their hair. Troy’s bleaching looked almost natural on him. My golden curls were a shock to everyone, including me. But the curls did inspire a new look for Troy. I was his guinea pig before he’d wear his hair the same way when he became a porn star.
My whole family was laughing at me. They couldn’t believe I’d allowed anyone to bleach and curl my hair like a girl’s. Back then it was considered something only women did.
Well, since I dared do this with Troy, it was his turn to dare drive out to James Dean’s grave in Fairmount, Indiana, with me. Part of it was that I wanted to get out of town with the way I looked. The other part was to test my courage and to learn more about human nature from people’s reactions. Yet I was stunned by the proof I was getting at how shallow people can be. How they fail to realize that every human being has feelings just like they do. How out of touch they are with knowing that what truly matters is what’s in a person’s heart.
In early April of 1979, Troy and I enter Park Cemetery where James Dean is buried. At the grave of James Dean, Troy points out that I look like “the little prince” with my curly blond hair. I find that to be an interesting coincidence. And he snaps a blurry photo of me at Jimmy’s grave. There are two large bushes, one on each side of his scarred tombstone. Desperate fans have chipped at his name, leaving barely discernible letters.
Then Troy’s eyes lit up with more than magic hour’s golden hues when I read aloud, as if by incantation, Dean’s famous quote: “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”
And so we had our goal. We promised each other we’d devote our lives to recording our existence as much as possible in order to somehow inspire future generations. In our hearts, though, it was more a matter of making our existence matter. An icy breeze stirred, as if souls took fright, when we pointed out all the names on all the flowerless graves. We’d never know how meaningful their now meaningless lives were to anyone.
There were flowers where we stood, though. James Dean had done it. He’d managed to reach beyond the beyond and into the hearts of future generations. Neither Troy nor I had even been conceived when Dean died. But he made his existence matter to us enough to drive almost clear across the country to visit his grave. And, on the largest bouquet at our feet, we found a note from the president of a James Dean fan club. He’d included his Fairmount address and phone number, encouraging visitors to contact him. I wrote down his name and number.
The icy breeze grew stronger as dusk threatened to leave us in total darkness. What was left of the setting sun created a beautiful crimson glow on the horizon as we departed the dear departed to call the fan club president. Driving my purple Volkswagen Bug, we soon found a pay phone on Main Street.
This James Dean fan club president turned out to be a student at the local Fairmount High School. He’d invited us over and into his room at his parents’ house. He was a good person who’d never judge anyone by how they looked. His walls were covered with photos and posters of James Dean. He had an album of James Dean dialogue mixed with music from Dean’s trilogy of movies. We listened to that entire album together, an album I later bought and listened to many more times. What thrilled me most, however, was when he offered to call the aunt who’d raised Jimmy after his mother died. He asked Ortense Winslow if she felt up to a visit from a couple of Dean fans from California. I could tell that this last minute request from strangers was too much to ask. I totally understood. Still, he insisted how welcoming Ortense was to visitors. He said that she suggested we telephone her sometime in the future.
So Troy and I returned to California with Ortense Winslow’s phone number. And, after Troy’s dad dyed my hair back to an almost natural color, I worked up the nerve to make that call. Ortense answered the phone. I told her about my recent visit to Fairmount and that the president of a James Dean fan club had given me her number. Then I asked her the big question: “What do you think was Jimmy’s secret to becoming such a great legend.”
“He was a genius,” Ortense said.
Her response left me at a loss. All I could do was agree and thank her for being kind enough to speak with me.
Genius. He was a genius. So I had to become a genius to achieve what he achieved. How do you become a genius? What is genius? The best I could do was to put everything I had into my acting classes at Orange Coast College and audition for every community theater production in the area. I did have a lot of luck getting cast in plays. And Troy started having a lot of luck earning extra money. He’s the one that managed to get us our own apartment. We were finally living together. And I was pursuing my dream. But Troy started trying to talk me into becoming a porn star. His use of James Dean quotes didn’t work this time. I knew for a fact that Dean never would’ve jeopardized his chance at becoming a great actor. All of his quotes had to do with being true to his art, not destroying everything he’d devoted his life to. So I told Troy there was no way I’d ever ruin my chances by doing porn. That would be a big mistake.
Then I found out that Troy had been making his money by having become a porn star under the name of Jeremy Scott. That’s when I left him and moved back to my mom’s house. It’s also when I returned to dating women. And I fell deeply in love with a community theater actress by the name of Leanne Brown.
One evening, when I returned from the rehearsals of a play I was in, I entered Mom’s house to the shock of guns pointed at me. A man yelled, “Freeze!” It was a raid. Those undercover cops searched every part of Mom’s house but never found where she’d hid her hoard of cocaine. Still, they stole money from me and jewelry from her, among other valuable possessions. You see, when the police get permission to raid your home they can steal you blind and get away with it. They also arrested my mom, putting her in handcuffs and taking her to jail. She ended up serving a much longer prison sentence for pimping and pandering again. It would’ve been worse, though, if they’d found all that cocaine hidden in the motor of the meat freezer in the garage. I would’ve ended up in prison, too, if they did.
Enough was enough. I found a way back to New York City, where I managed to make a life for myself. And I continued to grow as an actor. Then, in September of 1985, an actor friend by the name of Jeff Grossi talked me into driving out to Hollywood with him to get into the movies. I agreed under the condition that we stop in Fairmount, Indiana. Jeff understood that I considered James Dean to be my mentor.
The plan was just to visit Dean’s grave. I wanted a better picture there, since the one Troy took turned out too blurry to even read the stone. At one point, as Jeff was photographing me with a good camera, an attractive young woman saw me in the air (during a jump shot) and came over to say she’d just been visiting the grave of Reverend James DeWeerd. She brought us to DeWeerd’s grave. It was at the far back, left edge (when you enter) of the cemetery. She spoke of how Reverend James DeWeerd was the local youth pastor who became Jimmy’s mentor and gave the sensitive and lonely boy the attention he craved. At DeWeerd’s grave we stared sadly at the stone. He’d be among the forgotten if not for her. She placed a flower upon his grave.
Then she gave me the phone number of Jimmy’s high school drama teacher, Adeline Nall. And she encouraged us to call Adeline. So I told Jeff: “Let’s go with the flow.”
From a pay phone on Main Street, probably the same I’d used on my last visit, I made the call. Adeline welcomed us like family. I loved her from the start and always will. Adeline Nall said she believed I’d make it in Hollywood. She said she felt it. She just knew I’d have an impact, too. I’m not sure what she saw in me. No one can have the impact that Jimmy continues to have. I was just pursuing what Jimmy made seem worthwhile. And I love him for that. He made life worth living. I wanted to soar to the heights and die young, like he did — doing what’s impossible, being remembered long after the neck has snapped, the skull’s smashed and blood’s let loose on the insides.
Anyhow, during this enjoyable visit with Adeline, she called Ortense Winslow about meeting us. We went to Ortense’s house and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with her, her son Mark Winslow and her grandson Chuck Winslow. The artist Kenneth Kendall was there when we arrived. Then Mark Winslow said we were welcome to visit the Winslow farm, where Jimmy lived as a boy. There we met Mark’s wife, Marylou, who was most gracious in allowing us inside the house. Such wonderful people!
Ian Ayres & Adeline Nall
Before we left Fairmount, I purchased a copy of the 1955 Special Edition “In Memory of James Dean” newspaper and read it whenever it was Jeff’s turn to drive. Reading that on the way back to Hollywood really shook me up. Meeting his loved ones made him more than a spirit guide or mentor to me. It made him a fellow human being. It made him like family. And for the first time I mourned his tragic death. He died way too young. He had so much more to bring to this world.
When we crossed the border into the Golden State, I was driving and drove us to the exact spot of James Dean’s fatal collision on that two-lane stretch from Paso Robles to Cholame once known as “Blood Alley” for its large number of car crashes. There wasn’t a car in sight when I pulled the car over to where Jimmy’s Porsche Spyder landed beside the shoulder of the road, northwest of the junction. I asked Jeff to photograph me leaping as if Jimmy’s spirit from the point of impact. This moment meant more to me than getting into the movies. It helped me feel closer to Jimmy and less alone in this world. He’d always been there for me. That was my way of being there for him.
In Hollywood Jeff got us an audition with a casting director named Pennie DuPont at Columbia Pictures. We’d rehearsed a scene together for several weeks before performing it for her. I was just doing Jeff a favor, really, because I’d begun questioning whether or not I really wanted to be an actor. I’d only been pursuing it because of James Dean. But James Dean was pursuing it because acting truly was in his heart. Acting was his genius.
So, as unfair as it is in life, the actor who could care less captures the interest of a casting director more than the actor who cares the most. Pennie DuPont pointed out that I was the one with the talent. This seemed kind of cruel. I mean, she could’ve shown some sensitivity to Jeff’s feelings. After all, he was the one who set up the audition.
Jeff didn’t let it get to him, though. He went on to get a leading role in a cult classic film called Slaughterhouse (1987). Jeff never gave up.
I returned to Manhattan and got a job as a chauffeur driving those big, beautiful old Rolls Royce cars for successful artists in the SoHo area. I was living with a Wall Street stockbroker who read the daily newspapers, especially the Wall Street Journal. I preferred real literature by fascinating writers. My stockbroker friend, Gerry Lescatre, would often share interesting news from his daily paper. One day he told me about a special James Dean event that would take place on September 30th of that year of 1986. That caught my interest. I still felt there was more to learn from James Dean. I didn’t know what it was, but he’d already brought so much to my life.
When I turned up for the event at the address provided, a man named David Loehr introduced himself and welcomed us to a James Dean tour. It began with a special screening of a film honoring Jimmy on what was the thirty-first anniversary of his fatal collision. Then David Loehr took a group of us to all these places that had been a part of Jimmy’s life in New York City. The place that I made a point of returning to was the apartment of Roy Schatt. We just stopped in front of it, while David told us about Dean spending so much time there and how some of his most famous photos were taken there by Roy Schatt. What fascinated me was the fact that Roy Schatt still lived there and still worked as a photographer.
The next morning I was pleased to find Roy’s number listed in the phone book. I called him and asked if I could do a photo session with him. He checked his schedule, then we set the date for October the 8th, 1986.
Not long before Gerry had mentioned this James Dean walking tour, I had contacted a guy who was living in the very apartment with those round windows that Jimmy had lived in. It surprised me how cool the guy was about allowing me to enter what was now his place and experience what it must’ve been like for Dean. I remember it being at the top of solid wooden stairs with an open rooftop directly across from its door. I could imagine Jimmy hanging out on that rooftop. It seemed like a huge balcony without any railing and surrounded by taller buildings. But it also felt very private, like a world within a world. Inside the large studio apartment, this guy didn’t have as much stuff as Jimmy does in those Dennis Stock photos I’ve seen. But it was a good-sized, practical space. It had two of those porthole windows. What I wanted most, though, was to absorb Jimmy’s essence. I wanted to be a part of his energy in the universe. To be honest, I was still trying to learn from him how to make my existence memorable in this world.
Roy Schatt’s the one who helped me realize my purpose in life. Before we began the photo session, he wanted to get to know more about me. When I mentioned James Dean, he assumed I was just another fan. But I told him that it’s not really that. What I wanted was to figure out how to become a legendary actor like he did. His accomplishment impressed the hell out of me. I was being totally honest with Roy. And Roy gave me this look like I was on the wrong track. He said, “You’re a writer.”
“But I want to live on in movies like James Dean.”
“No,” he said. “Your talent is in writing.”
“How can you tell?”
“I’ve known all kinds of artists. And I know a writer when I meet one. Now tell me about your life.”
As I related many of the things I’ve related here, Roy’s eyes widened and he smiled. He said, “You’ve got a good number of books in you.”
Ian Ayres (by Roy Schatt) 8 Oct 1986
During the photo session he asked me to feel what’s in my heart. Some of those photos capture the moment when I knew. I’d loved words ever since the first I spoke. Words had always fascinated me. Come to think of it, I preferred reading about Jimmy more than watching his movies. Now that’s something I shouldn’t tell anyone. But it did make Roy laugh.
By the end of our photo session, I knew I’d devote the rest of my life to developing my craft as a writer. Just as Roy had devoted his life to developing photographs he’d taken. And it does seem as if it were actually James Dean speaking through Roy Schatt that day. James Dean, my mentor.
Roy Schatt to Ian Ayres