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Laurel Canyon—The Dark Side: The 'Rebel Without a Cause' Curse

Was 'Rebel Without a Cause' cursed? Why did all the actors die mysterious deaths?

Warner Brothers had lots of young, talented actors under contract in the 1950s and fan magazines like Modern Screen had tremendous influence in those days. 

A fan mag could send a reporter to any given studio and demand an interview with top-tier talent.  The studios would often arrange dates for some of their talent.  On any given night in Hollywood one might catch a glimpse of Liz Taylor and James Dean dining at Scandia or leaving Ciro's.  Fans would never know that bitter rivalry existed between studio bosses or that one studio might try to sabotage another's product.

Prostitution has always been a thriving business as well. Scott Richfield Gas Station at the corner of Fairfax and Hollywood Boulevard purposely hired young, good-looking men as gas jockeys. They'd fill your tank, wipe your windshield and give you a private lube job in one of the back rooms. Scotty's filled the needs of the gay community.  For heterosexuals there was a palatial Venetian brothel run by Madam Lee Francis atop the Sunset Strip. She housed a stable of white girls but for her well-heeled Hollywood celebrities she could arrange for any exotic choice the gent might demand.  Cocaine and heroin were readily available—anything to keep the community happy—there was always someone who knew someone who could satisfy the needs of Hollywood players.

Prior to production on Rebel Without a Cause, Nicholas Ray, the director of the film held interviews at his bungalow at the Chateau Marmont.  Natalie Wood wanted desperately to play the female teenage role but Ray had told her she wasn't right for the part.  She persisted and would hang around while he was casting other parts.  One night she went out drinking with a group of friends and they ended up in a fender bender.  The media pounced on the story.  Nat was taken to the hospital and Ray rushed to her side on hearing the news.  She looked up at him and said, "You know what the police called me?  A juvenile delinquent! Do I get the part now?" Nicholas Ray acquiesced and Natalie Wood got the part.

James Dean, Nick Adams and Sal Mineo were all cast in Rebel along with Natalie Wood.  They would all die under suspicious circumstances.  Dean would die before the movie was released -- he also starred in Giant with Elizabeth Taylor another film completed but not released before his life would be taken in a car crash. Nick Adams voice was used for dubbing Dean's in post-production.

On Sept. 30, 1955, James Dean sat in his rented log cabin house in Sherman Oaks (14611 Sutton Street) with his close friend Bill Hickman. Dean's landlord, Nicco Romanos—Maitre D' at the famed Villa Capri—had made a pot of coffee and the three talked about the new car Dean had bought from Competition Motors on Vine Street.  It was a silver grey Porsche Spyder—Dean had the number '130' and 'The Little Bastard' painted on the car. 

He would be driving it up to a car rally in Salinas, California accompanied by his mechanic Rolf Wuentherich.  Hickman would follow driving Dean's Ford station wagon with a trailer for the Porsche.  Photographer Sanford Roth would ride with Hickman. 

Dean loved his log cabin home for which he was paying $250 a month, plus utilities. He was fond of Nicco, loved to eat at the Villa Capri and Googies on Sunset and Crescent Heights.  Now he would enter his new car in a race—life was good.  The Porsche had met with disapproval by several of Dean's friends. 

had warned him not to buy the car.  Alec Guinness had said, "If you drive that car, you'll be dead in a week!"  Now Dean got behind the wheel, Rolf in the passenger seat and they rolled down to Ventura Boulevard to fill the tank.  Coincidentally he stopped at the same gas station where the Manson Family would one day stop at to wash the blood off their hands after they murdered Sharon Tate.

James Dean had been stopped and ticketed for speeding on SR 46 as he traveled westbound.  Twenty-three year old Donald Turnupspeed was traveling east on the opposite stretch of highway and had pulled out to make a left turn onto Highway 41 when he saw the Porsche coming at him at an extremely high rate of speed.  There was a head-on collision.  James Dean was killed on impact while the others suffered injuries.

The car had a history all its own.  Although it had been severely damaged, a garage owner wanted to buy it for its historical value.  As it was being loaded on a towing platform it rolled backwards, breaking the legs of a mechanic who was helping to load it.  The engine was sold to a doctor who was a racing enthusiast.  He mounted the engine in his own race car—the car went out of control killing the doctor.  Someone had purchased two of the tires—both blew out simultaneously severly wounding the driver.  The car was shipped to New Orleans to be put on display and with no plausible explanation broke apart into 11 pieces.

Nick Adams had met James Dean while both were filming a soft drink commercial in Griffith Park in 1950.  They became friends and were happy to be working together on Rebel.  Nick had been divorced and was father to two children.  Rumors were always rampant in Hollywood.  People had wondered about the sexuality of both men.  Were they bisexual?  Everybody seemed to fall in love with James Dean. 

Did he have affairs with people of both sexes? On the evening of Feb.7, 1968 Nick had a dinner date with his attorney, Erwin Roeder, and when he failed to show up Roeder drove to Nick's home, noticed his car in the garage, broke a window and climbed inside.  He discovered Nick's dead body slumped up against a wall in his bedroom.  We was dressed in jeans, shirt, boots and a phone was well within reach.  Dr. Thomas Noguchi performed an autopsy and listed the death as accidental suicide.  There was paraldehyde throughout his body along with sedatives and other drugs but no needle marks.  Roeder, who was an ex-LAPD officer had spotted some papers at Nick's house which he thought needed safe-keeping and took them home.  One morning, about a month later, Roeder and his wife were gunned down and murdered in the driveway of their condo.

On the evening of Feb. 12, 1976 Sal Mineo was returning from a play rehearsal (PS, Your Cat is Dead) in Westwood.  He pulled his Chevelle into the carport of his apartment on Holloway Drive and started toward the entrance of his apartment (in a building owned by prominent attorney Marvin Mitchelson).  A figure leaped out and savagely stabbed him through the heart.  He died on the spot.

Natasha Zahkarenko was a sweet child who grew up at 3331 Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City.  She would begin her acting career at the age of five as Natalie Wood in 'Miracle on Thirty-fourth Street' and continue working the rest of her life. Her mother Marie would consult a psychic about her talented daughter.  The psychic assured Marie that Nat would become a star—she would be happy, rich and famous but she would die by drowning.  Natalie Wood died on Nov. 29, 1981. While two men who cared for herwere busy fighting over her, she was drowning.

Isn't it strange that each of these talented people died under mysterious circumstances?  It seems inexplicable that these deaths were coincidental.  Was the film cursed or were there other forces at work here?  One brilliant star was abruptly snuffed out in each decade.  The mystery lingers after all these years and we may never learn the truth.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rosemary Carpenite April 26, 2014 at 11:32 PM
"It's a puzzlement".
Irene DeBlasio April 27, 2014 at 01:03 AM
@RosemaryCarpenite Each death occurred about one decade after the last. The investigation into Natalie Wood's death continues with some promising clues having to do with her bladder. I think we're going to hear some explosive news soon. I know Nick Adams overdosed on prescription drugs but there are some unsolved mysteries about his death. As for Sal Mineo there hasn't been anything conclusive in the recent past. I'll continue to update this post from time to time. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Irene DeBlasio April 27, 2014 at 10:51 AM
@LeeRaskin I had no idea that my thoughts were going to be reposted. This was done by Patch or I would have tried to clear some points about James Dean. My husband and I interviewed all of these youngsters for Photoplay and Modern Screen Magazines which were based in New York where we lived at the time. We came to Los Angeles twice a year and stayed at the Chateau Marmont for about two weeks per visit. The studios set up the interviews in those days. We raced from studio to studio. Modern Screen and Photoplay made a list of actors and we interviewed as many as possible. I am not a reporter on the New York Times. I am someone in the community who found it tragic that these lives ended so soon. I don't believe in curses. My whole focus in writing this post years back was actually to focus on the death of Natalie Wood. My husband and I spent a day with Natalie and her mother at their home on Laurel Canyon -- she was a hard-working teenager at the time. Please understand that I wanted to write this to show the connection between these talented people, not as a factual history. At the time of my writing my daughter was dying of cancer and I needed to be at her side. I tried to express my thoughts about the friendship of these fine people. Sal Mineo had in his possession at the time a novel written by my husband. Nick Adams was a close friend of a friend Beverly Linet and we had attended a party with them following the shooting of "Rebel". We had interviewed James Dean during "Giant". I am so sorry if I have offended you in any way. I have great respect for your work and all that you do. My intention was to simply write a blog post that I thought people would enjoy reading. I do a certain amount of research but when writing a blog there are no demands on fact checking. I hope you will accept my deepest apology. I will not write another word about James Dean. I promise. My focus here is on Natalie Wood. The investigation is closing in on facts about her bladder and bruises. We all hope the circumstances of her death will be resolved. I appreciate your taking the time to respond once again to this blog post. I do realize that Donald Turnupseed was making a left turn and probably never saw the tiny Porsche. Tragic.
Eddie Greenberg April 30, 2014 at 06:45 PM
Irene those that want to see a resolution to the Natalie case thank you every day! Marti Rulli's book, "Good-bye Natalie, Good-bye Splendor', helped to decide the authorities to re-open the case in Nov. 2011. Great strides have been made since then and perhaps this year let us hope that the LASD names a suspect. You have kept us informed along the way and that has been indispensable. Thanks for keeping me in the loop. Eddie

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