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February 8, 2021

James Dean With His Rolleiflex Photographed by Roy Schatt in New York City, 1954

This was James Dean’s Rolleiflex camera that was given to him by his close friend and photography instructor Roy Schatt while he was learning photography. The famed photographer, responsible for the iconic photographs he took of Dean in 1954, including the “Torn Sweater” series, was Dean’s friend and teacher in the last year and a half of Dean’s life. At that time Schatt loaned this camera equipment to Dean and he can be seen with the camera here in one of Schatt’s famous shots of Dean in New York City.

Walking with Roy Schatt and actor/friend Martin Landau, James Dean suddenly jumped over a rail outside the Dakota and began photographing his two friends from an angle he thought no one else would use. And Roy photographed Dean photographing them.

Martin Landau and James Dean got to know each other in the early 1950s when Dean moved from Fairmont, Indiana, to New York City. Landau had been working as a political cartoonist for the New York Daily News since he was seventeen but, like Dean, wanted to pursue an acting career. The two young men both studied at Lee Strassberg’s famous and prestigious acting studio in New York and quickly became friends.

Landau, who was three years older than Dean, recalled years later: “James Dean was my best friend. We were two young would-be and still-yet-to-work unemployed actors, dreaming out loud and enjoying every moment... We’d spend lots of time talking about the future, our craft and our chances of success in this newly different, ever-changing modern world we were living in.”

When asked if his friend had been destined to die young, Landau resolutely answered “no”. “Jimmy never talked about dying. Jimmy talked about living. Jimmy’s only concern was that he would become an old boy, like Mickey Rooney. When Elia Kazan tested actors for East of Eden, Paul Newman and Jimmy auditioned on the same day. Paul looked like a man when he was 20, whereas Jimmy was still playing high school kids at 23. That bothered him a bit. But Jimmy did not want to die.”


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