Sal Mineo, Nick Adams, James Dean and Natalie Wood

Graduating from a Nebraska high school in 1955, I had no idea what would happen to me before the summer was over. Traveling west and meeting Burt Lancaster on the beach at Santa Monica, California soon after my arrival and his introducing me to motion picture director Maurice Kosloff, who suggested a had the look of another John Saxton and registered me for class at the famed Pasadena Playhouse and before I knew it, as an extra in “the Wild Bill Hickok” TV series and later with a bit part in a motion picture starring David Nevin and June Allison in”My Man Godfrey.” Maurice suggested a three month course at the Pasadena Playhouse would soon find out if I had it in me to be an actor. Prior to this I had never heard of it before, as he explained it was a “learning place” for young actors who were serious about a career in motion pictures. Two weeks later I was registered and entering class for the first time were a few faces I recognized immediately, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, James Dean and Nick Adams, always sitting together in a class of eight or ten young actors and actresses. Days would go by with them not in attendance until maybe once or twice in any given week they arrived all together. Sal was in attendance most days when he wasn’t on the lot shooting a picture. salSal was more friendly than the others at the start, sticking out his hand for me to shake and welcoming me to the class. “I’m Sal” he said as he introduced me to the others, “Hey guys this is Johnny Rowe” with the others totally ignoring him I just smiled and sat down on a comfortable living room chair pretending not to be impressed with them either. Departing class Sal inquired where I lived and told me he had an apartment in Hollywood as I suggested on my way from Santa Monica to Pasadena I could pick him up on the way to class. “Great” he said, as he took time to write his address on the back of a professional business card of what I assumed was his accountant. Over the time I attended class I got to know Sal fairly well. He, with his dark Italian looks and the thick accent of the Bronx, New York, was very forward and never at a loss for words, telling me he got his start in show business as a tap dancer and he didn’t miss New York, but did “miss my mama.” nickSal, along with Natalie Wood, James Dean and Nick Adams were already established stars and were a click, always together, away from the others and with the exception of Sal, seemed never to participate in class activities. They often arrived after class had started, sat down and appeared bored while the rest of us took notes and delivered lines of script at the direction of the class instructor. Natalie was a tomboy who taunted Sal with her flashing eyes and while flinging her leg over the stuffed arm of her chair would give him a sexy inviting smile. After a few weeks Sal announced with some excitement that I had just been selected as an extra on the Wild Bill Hickok TV series, receiving a blank stare from Natalie saying, “so he’s a cowboy huh?” In my final week of attending class Sal again announced “Johhny’s got a part in a new June Allison motion picture scheduled for release next year.” Again a bored look from Natalie Wood as she scrunched up her nose, sighed, and asked, “another cowboy flick?” Delivering my lines during class one day I was surprised with Sal clapping and saying “good job” and with the instructor nodding in agreement. Natalie just yawned and turned her head away. jamesJames Dean was almost not there as he silently sat brooding in a chair appearing bored with each appearance in class. He provided no opportunity for friendship or even having a conversation with him. He and Nick Adams were buddies though with James Dean often winking at Nick during class as though they had an understanding that included no one else. During one class a female student began to cry when a director scolded her for not reading a part as intended. “Are you with us or not,” he growled as Natalie giggled adding even more discomfort for the poor girl. Afterwards Sal put his arm around the actress and walked her to an awaiting car, commenting to me afterwards, “she could be a good actress, she certainly has the emotion to be one.” Attending class at the Pasadena Playhouse convinced me that I was not cut out to be an actor and perhaps I should take the advice given to me by Tennessee Ernie Ford in late summer and seek a career in radio, where by then I had learned their were no repeated takes. After just two bit parts my desire was waning on being an actor. Making a scene was so monotonous to me, with just one scene sometimes requiring a dozen takes before being accepted by the director. Sal gave me a hug and wished me good luck, I didn’t tell him that I probably would not pursue an acting career. Two years later I started with my first job in radio at KASL in New Castle, Wyoming, introducing my buddy Eddie Cochran to the listeners and thousands of cows in the area. Sal would be twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Exodus before he was murdered at just 37 years of age, stabbed to death in the alley behind his apartment building in West Hollywood. James Dean, following his tragic death at just 24 years of age in an automobile crash just a few weeks after I saw him at the Pasadena Playhouse. He would be the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his part in “East of Eden.” In “Rebel without a cause” he was joined by his classmates at the Pasadena Playhouse, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.natalie In “Giant” his buddy Nick Adams would appear with him. Natalie Wood with three academy Award Nominations during her career drowned in the cold Pacific waters of the bay at Catalina Island, California at 43 years of age in 1981. Nick Adams received an Academy Award for Best Supporting actor for his performance in “Twilight of Honor” in 1963. He perished from an overdose of prescription drugs at just 36 years of age in 1968. I often think of each of them, especially Sal Mineo a good friend to a young man from Chadron, Nebraska.