Ghosts of Halloween Past

         OCTOBER…

celebrates one of my favorite holidays and  my favorite vegetable,

Halloween and Pumpkins!

…can it get any better than that?

James Dean portrayed Frankenstein's Monster in the Oct. 29th, 1948 Fairmount High School production of "Goon With the Wind."

James Dean portrayed Frankenstein’s Monster in the Oct. 29th, 1948 Fairmount High School production of “Goon With the Wind.”

When I was growing up, Halloween lasted about a week (now it runs the whole month or more).  I came from very creative and crafty parents, who often started planning early with a homemade costume for me.   I don’t think I ever had one of those great, kitschy, store-bought Collegeville or Ben Cooper Costumes that came in a box.

At the age of 6, I won FIRST PRIZE in one of their creations as a robot…all I can remember was having to be lifted up on the stage to accept my prize, because I couldn’t see or bend my knees to climb the stairs.  I also fondly remember the years of being shuttled around our small town with my cousins Angie and Bryan, to all the relatives houses for “trick or treat.”  Angie’s mom was an expert seamstress, so Angie always had the flawless costumes!

As I got older, I made my own.  During my high school years, I worked at a magic and costume shop (Dallas and Co., in Champaign, IL).  I have mixed memories about sitting in a room for days sewing thousands of snaps onto plush bunny costumes a month before Easter…or sorting out stinky, sweaty piles of Santa outfits that were returned, before sending them off to the cleaners…demonstrating and selling professional stage and special effects make-up…assisting my talented bosses (Andy and Barb) as they crafted giant parade heads and driving van-loads of those costumes to parades around the State of Illinois.  Halloween, of course, was the “high holidays.”  Good times!

Just a few years back, Alex and I spent one of our most enjoyable Halloweens in Fairmount, IN visiting David and Lenny (of the James Dean Gallery).  Lenny spends his day hanging a giant Lon Chaney werewolf cutout, rigging strobe lights, setting out vintage Frankenstein blow molds, unpacking his skeleton costume, and transforming The Gallery into the creepiest house on the block!  Come sunset, the first of what would be 100s of “trick-or-treat”ers began to arrive.  Alex and I sat on the sidelines watching each of the miniature ghouls hesitate, contemplating if they really had enough courage…just how badly did they really want that candy?  It was hilarious!  It definitely brought back memories of quaint, old-time, small town Halloween customs.

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IN THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON, HERE’S A FEW JAMES DEAN JACK-O-LANTERNS I FOUND LURKING AROUND THE WEB…

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PUMPKINS!

Here in Greece, we don’t get to have Halloween (although we do have a very spectacular Carnival season…so it’s a trade off).  But we do have pumpkins (just not the plethora of varieties that are grown in the States).  The pumpkin that grows here is paler, the flesh is much more watery, and the harvest comes in early to mid-summer.  I usually try to stock up with 5 or 6 large ones, and keep them around until the fall and winter holidays arrive.

I LOVE anything made from PUMPKIN!  Pie, bread, muffins, cookies, soup, beer, lasagne…  I like to saute cubes of pumpkin with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, feta, pine nuts, and cherry tomatoes to serve over linguine…  or mashed as a filling for homemade ravioli with goat cheese and tossed in a sage brown butter…  YUM!

But this blog entry is all about the classic PUMPKIN PIE (and this one’s a definite notch above the rest)!  The recipe comes from Rod Steiger who co-starred with James Dean in the 1954 Tales of Tomorrow episode, The Evil Within.  How perfect and spooky does that tie in?  But wait, there’s more…  Rod plays a scientist who has developed a mind/personality altering drug that causes people to loose all inhibitions and become evil and mean.  James plays his lab assistant, Roger.  In the course of the 1/2 hour TV drama, Rod places his experiment samples in the refrigerator where they accidentally leak into his wife’s homemade PIE!!!  She eats some and…  (well you’ll just have to see for yourself)… you can watch it right here:

 

 

“The fact that he had no discipline was part of the charm of his work. If we’d gone too far with the discipline, we’d probably have ruined him.”

Don Medford, director of The Evil Within, on working with James Dean.

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Rod Steiger, photographed by William Lovelace.

Rod Steiger, photographed by William Lovelace.

ROD STEIGER

Rod Steiger was a diverse and prolific actor.  He was born to a performing family and used his WWII GI Bill benefits to join the Actors Studio in New York.  Among his 5 Broadway and 147 TV and film credits, His most amazing performances were in On the Waterfront (1954, Oscar nomination), Oklahoma! (1955), Al Capone (1959), The Longest Day (1962), The Pawnbroker (1965, Oscar nomination), Dr. Zhivago (1965), In the Heat of the Night (1967, Best Actor Oscar), The Illustrated Man (1969), Waterloo (1970), The Chosen (1981), and Mars Attacks (1996).

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GOON WITH THE WIND

Goon With the Wind, 1948

Goon With the Wind, 1948

On October 29th, 1948, Fairmount High School hosted their annual Halloween Carnival.  The centerpiece of the evening was a 2-hour theatrical presentation, comprised of “many” short, comedic skits (according to David Nall, sophomore at the time, a player in one of those skits, and son of Adeline Nall, the school’s drama teacher).  James Dean, a senior that year, was widely recognized as the student body’s most talented actor and starred in 2 of them.

The first bit, Goon With the Wind, featured Jim (as a villainous “Snidely Whiplash”- type character), David Nall (portraying the “Dudley Do-Right” hero), and Joan Jones (fulfilling the “Nell” character).  (Dudley Do-Right was actually from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which didn’t start until 1969…this was just my characterization of the production.  The style of melodrama presented by the Fairmount High School students was a parody of the “Northern” or Canadian films of the silent era.). The bit ran about 25 minutes long.  It was “locally-sourced,” according to David, which I think he means, written by one of Adeline’s students.  The title (which seems to have little or nothing to do with the content) was either “coined or stole” by the students as well.

James Dean, 1948

James Dean, 1948

“The plot was quite simple…the girl…in this 3 person ‘drama’…had obviously been threatened by Jim’s character and I arrived ‘just in time’ to drive the sullen, Snidely away.  However, his last line clearly indicated the he would return!  (Curtain!),” recalled David.

Later on in the evening, James did a “one-man” act portraying Frankenstein’s Monster.  He wore a paper maché headpiece for the role and the performance “grotesquely ‘scared the wits’ out of the audience,” according to the Fairmount High School class of 1949 yearbook, where these photos were printed.

Pete Beck, classmate of Dean recounted, ” I helped Jim make that head piece. I think Gurney Mattingly (art teacher) gave Jim an all-year pass to the art room and it just happened to be during the same period I was in art class. At the time I had no idea what it was going to be used for. The entire class was making paper maché masks. Jim Spahr made the one I remember most, a ugly pirate with a huge scar going down the left side of it’s face, and half of it’s teeth missing. THOSE WERE THE GOOD OLD DAYS!”

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James Dean as Frankenstein's Monster, 1948.

James Dean as Frankenstein’s Monster, 1948.

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GHOSTS OF FAIRMOUNT HIGH?

The production was held in Fairmount High School’s auditorium.  In the many years since James Dean’s graduation, a new school building was built, the school district consolidated, and the old building sat empty and decaying.  Efforts were made by David Loehr, a fundraiser concert by Rufus Wainwright, and many others to raise the money to preserve and re-purpose the aging landmark.  Eventually the roof and building had succumbed to time and the elements…partially collapsing, and then finally being torn down in this last year.  The collapse was international news…it was sad day for Dean fans around the world.

Fortunate for all of us though, Jake Roth and the Fairmount Lions Club raised the money to salvage the stage (the stage that sparked James Dean’s career), disassembling it piece by piece in August 2010.  It remained in storage until now, when the funds have finally been raised to reassemble it in the public pavilion of Play Acres Park, just blocks away from it’s original location.  Reconstruction is scheduled to begin in April 2017. Click this link to view the project.

(Here’s a few photos of the stage, and of Jim when he returned to the High School in 1954 with photographer Dennis Stock:)

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Orbs on stage. (Click to see larger.)

Orbs on stage. (Click to see larger.)

And now for our Halloween-y ghost story…  There are LOTS of ghost stories involving James Dean, the cursed car (much of which is untrue), strange things that happen at the grave sight after dark, sightings on the highway at Chalome, the high frequency of synchronicities that so many of us Dean fans experience on a regular basis, and on a different level, even Toni Lee Scott’s spiritual visitations that she speaks about in her autobiography…  But in scouting out photos of the old stage, I came across this one FILLED with spirit orbs.  Believers in the paranormal claim that these round “orbs” (that only show up in digital photography), are spirits.

I experienced the orb phenomenon once myself…  While in Athens (Greece), staying at our favorite hotel, Alex went to the balcony to shoot a photo of the Acropolis lit at night.  He shot 4 frames, while asking himself “Where have all the (Greek) Gods gone?”  Looking at the photos the next day, we discovered ONE frame, FILLED with hundreds of orbs!  All the photos had been taken seconds apart, from the same spot/angle, but the frame before and the 2 following are perfectly clean…  Using a program on the laptop, we were able to zoom in VERY close on each spot (and sometimes I like to invert the color or go b&w to see them more clearly)…and we saw all kinds of FACES inside those spots!!!  Many were sort of tormented looking…some had 3 or more faces in a single orb.  In researching spirit orbs on the web, I see that the “faces” in the orbs are a common phenomenon.

(Click to view larger.)

(Click to view larger.)

So I decided to take a closer look at David Mantor’s photo of orbs around the Fairmount High School Stage.  While there are several strange phenomena going on in the picture (the 4 parallel orbs down on the bottom right, the extremely bright one center right), I was intrigued by the blueish one to the right of that bright one.  Zooming in and inverting the colors, there appears to be a skull-like face with some sort of headwear…  It’s also very reminiscent of that silver ring that Jim bought in Mexico at the bullfights and wore…  Whoever they are, they certainly seem to be very theatrical-types!  Try it yourself on the photo above…there’s lots going on in there.  WHO’S HANGING OUT AT FAIRMOUNT HIGH???

Jim's Mayan-styled ring.

Jim’s Mayan-styled ring.

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ROD STEIGER’S PUMPKIN PIE

(Click to view larger.)

(Click to view larger.)

Pumpkin pie is practically EXPECTED at social gatherings from October through Christmas.  This one is a step beyond the classic and exceptionally nice!  The molasses adds a real caramelized depth to the spice flavorings.  Orange rind is the surprise flavor and combines magically with the ginger and pumpkin.  If you’ve never made this pie from scratch (meaning starting with a fresh pumpkin), then I highly suggest you give it a try!  You may just become a convert (like me) and never buy that stuff in a can again!  It takes about an hour longer, but not so much labor.  This recipe works with either fresh or canned…so it’s totally your choice.

If you choose to make your own crust, here’s my nearly fool-proof recipe, detailed in an earlier blog posting.  Pumpkin pie aficionados seem to fall into 2 categories…unbaked crust or pre-baked crust.  Rod Steiger falls into the first category, me the second.  I feel that by pre-baking, you’ll never end up with a soggy bottom.

(click on any of the photos below to see them larger.)

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WATCH HOW EASY IT IS, IN THIS VERY SCARY R4R HALLOWEEN EDITION VIDEO:

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I love getting comments!  It really makes my day! 

If you make this pie, take a pic and send it to me… :-)

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4 Comments

  1. This was such an incredibly fun post! It put me in mind of a matryoshka doll –
    each new layer of the James Dean-Halloween – Pumpkin Pie story bringing more and more delight. And your brilliant video had me in stitches (that’s a poor Frankenstein pun) – but truly it kept me laughing. I am definitely going to give this recipe a try!

    • Thanks Kitt! You’ll love this pie, it’s amazing!
      YOU know (just like on your fascinating blog) how these stories weave from one topic to the next, to the next… The hardest part is stopping. Thanks for the kind comments!

  2. Brilliant post again, Greg. So informative. Oh to have been at Fairmont High in the 40s!

    • Thanks Helen! I had a lot of fun with the video on this one…ended up making the pie twice ( and with help, we ate them both)! It’s a very unique recipe.

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