Name at birth: Raymond Nicholas Kienzle
Film director Nicholas Ray's biggest hit was 1955's Rebel Without A Cause, a melodramatic classic of alienated American youth that starred James Dean and Natalie Wood. Ray grew up in Wisconsin, and before he started making movies he studied architecture (with Frank Lloyd Wright) and traveled the U.S. studying folk music. He went to New York in the early 1930s and got involved in the theater. With the help of Elia Kazan and John Houseman he got work in the movies and made his directorial debut with They Live By Night (made in 1947 but shelved for two years). Ray made a variety of movies, always managing to put his own mark on otherwise benign studio features, including In a Lonely Place (1950, starring Humphrey Bogart), Flying Leathernecks (1951, starring John Wayne) and Johnny Guitar (1954, starring Joan Crawford). The critics and filmmakers of France's New Wave, especially Jean-Luc Godard, hailed Ray as an under-appreciated genius, and by the 1960s American critics who adhered to the auteur theory of filmmaking were in agreement. But after 1963's 55 Days at Peking (starring Charlton Heston), Ray couldn't get another film project off the ground. He turned to teaching in New York in 1971, and his last years were measured out in booze, drugs and cancer. Ray's public persona, the reckless, macho and emotionally wounded artist, is usually part of any discussion about his films.
He lost the vision in one eye while making a film with students in the ’70s and in his later years wore an eye patch… Ray appears in his friend Wim Wenders’s film The American Friend (1977, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith and starring Dennis Hopper)… Ray was once married to actress Gloria Grahame — she sings “I Cain’t Say No” in the movie Oklahoma!; they were married from 1948 to 1952, and in 1961 Grahame married Anthony Ray, Nicholas’s son from a previous marriage.