Hydra Island and 6 Degrees of James Dean

James Dean’s global popularity and enduring legacy (even 60 years after his tragic demise) never ceases to surprise me.  (Most Dean fans have a multitude of “believe-it-or-not” stories of synchronicity.)  So here’s my latest, coming at a time when I’m at the last editing stages of Recipes for Rebels and about to give the printer the final green light…

1957 poster for Boy on a Dolphin

Our good friend flew from the States for a visit (her 3rd visit in 4 years).  This time Alex and I decided to take her to one of our favorite little spots in the country, Hydra (a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea that has no cars or motorized vehicles of any kind.  All transportation is by donkey and little has changed over the years on this timeless oasis).  Several days after making this plan, I realized that Boy on a Dolphin (1957) was filmed on Hydra (we’d been to Hydra many times, but I never had made a James Dean connection to this island paradise)…




Boy on a Dolphin was Sophia Loren’s first American movie, co-starring Alan Ladd and Clifton Webb.  Clifton Webb was a good friend of James Dean and has 2 recipes that feature in Recipes for Rebels.  How’s that for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?  Hydra has a James Dean bacon number of 2!  (The 6-Degrees of Kevin Bacon game started more than 20 years ago and involves trying to connect any actor to Kevin Bacon in as few steps as possible).  You can do this with “James Dean” or anyone else at The Oracle of Bacon…it was an occasionally helpful tool for me while compiling Recipes for Rebels.  AND…I just learned that for the past three years you can type [any celebrity name], followed by “bacon number” into the Google search bar, and it will generate their bacon number and connection.

Clifton Webb was a very interesting fellow.  As it turns out, he was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN, just 69 miles south of James Dean’s hometown of Fairmount, IN.  Clifton left school at the age of 13 to study painting and music.  His mother packed him up and moved to New York where he began his career as a professional ballroom dancer and found early success on Broadway. (When asked about Clifton’s father, his mother replied, “We never speak of him.  He didn’t care for the theater.”)  Clifton is known as the first to perform, record, and popularize Irving Berlin’s song, “Easter Parade.”  He didn’t truly receive widespread national recognition until his breakthrough film role in Laura (1949, directed by Otto Preminger, and as Jenny of SilverScreenSuppers.com will appreciate, co-starring Vincent Price).  Webb is best known for creating the role of Mr. Bellvedere in a series of 3 movies (they became the basis for the 1985 TV sitcom of the same name), and his work in The Razor’s Edge (1946), Sitting Pretty (1948), Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), Titanic (1953), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), The Man Who Never Was (1956), and Boy on a Dolphin (1957).  The character of Mr. Peabody of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-64) was based on Clifton’s real life personality.  He was on the top of Hollywood’s best-dressed list for decades and famous for the legendary parties he threw.  Clifton lived with his mother until she died at 91 (he passed 6 years after that).  He lived a scandal-free, closeted Hollywood homosexual lifestyle, but grieved for the loss of his mother so badly, that even his good friend Noel Coward remarked, “It must be difficult becoming an orphan at 70.”
Clifton and Sophia in Hydra, Greece

Clifton and Sophia in Hydra, Greece

Clifton was a good friend to James Dean, helping him with the ins and outs of making movieland connections, and convincing Hollywood gossip queen Hedda Hopper to see East of Eden.  Hedda had been witness to Dean’s rebellious attitude toward the “Hollywood System” and developed an extreme dislike for him.  She later wrote, “When an invitation came to see East of Eden, nobody could have dragged me there.  But I heard the next day from Clifton Webb, whose judgement I respect, ‘Last night I saw one of the most extraordinary performances of my life.  You’ll be crazy about this boy Jimmy Dean.’  ‘I’ve seen him,’ I said coldly.”

“In the projection room I sat spellbound.  I couldn’t remember ever having seen a young man with so much power, so many facets of expression, so much sheer invention as this actor.  I telephoned Jack Warner, ‘I’d like to see your Mr. Dean.'”
“A day or so later he rang my doorbell.  Spic and span in black pants and a leather jacket, though his hair was tousled and he wore a pair of heavy boots that a deep-sea diver wouldn’t have sneezed at…”  Dean charmed Hopper and he became the darling of her gossip columns.  She later championed the campaign for his posthumous Oscar.

(Julie London’s English language version of the theme song bears no resemblance to the Greek lyrics which Sophia sings in the film, but both are great!)

Clifton and Sophia in Hydra, Greece

Clifton and Sophia in Hydra, Greece

Clifton and Sophia and the shiftless boyfriend...

Clifton and Sophia and the shiftless boyfriend…

In 1957, Hollywood (and Clifton Webb) came to Greece filming Boy on a Dolphin.  The film starred Clifton as an unscrupulous American art dealer, Alan Ladd as the moralistic archeologist, and Sophia Loren in her Hollywood screen debut as Phaedra, the Greek sponge diver who discovers a magical bronze and gold statue at the bottom of the sea in Hydra.  Her shiftless boyfriend (I amusingly first misread a description of him as “shirtless”…but as with most Greek movies, he’s both), wants to sell the statue to Webb, the art dealer whom Sophia is starting to fall in love with.  Ladd convinces her that the statue must remain in Greece (and that she must fall in love with him) and everyone lives happily ever after (except for Webb and the shiftless/shirtless boyfriend).  Clifton Webb’s character is named Victor Parmalee.  Clifton’s birth name was Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck (“My little Webb,” as his mother called him).

Hydra, then and now facing west…

Hydra, then and now facing east…

Hydra, then and now…

Hydra, then and now facing south…

Sophia with the men of Hydra on the cover of a Greek magazine

Sophia with the men of Hydra on the cover of a Greek magazine

Little has changed on Hydra since 1957 (as evidenced in these photos I paired with their current locations).  They only way to get anywhere is walking, donkey, or water taxi (all the residents appear to have fabulous butts…everything seems to be uphill…even the little old ladies have great butts!)  Hydra was once home to a large sponge diving industry, but the processing buildings now are home to boutique hotels and tourism is their main source of income.  A statue commemorating Boy on a Dolphin sits atop a scenic hill just outside the main port town.
an old press, used for processing sponges...

an old press, used for processing sponges…

The Boy on a Dolphin statue in Hydra

Since I’m blogging for the Recipes for Rebels cookbook, I feel compelled to offer up a recipe of some sort…  so here is the recipe I attained for you from Hydra’s world-famous sunset bar called Hydronetta…just a few steps (UPHILL) from the restaurant where Sophia beautifully sings (in Greek!) the theme song to the movie.

A Parthenon pineapple jello mold is not a traditional Greek recipe either...

A Parthenon pineapple jello mold is not a traditional Greek recipe either…

The stories of Clifton and Hedda (and more than 200 others) are contained within the pages of Recipes for Rebels, but this recipe is NOT.  The Mojito is NOT a traditional Greek drink, but it’s refreshing, relaxed, cool taste seems to go perfect with spectacular sunsets and thoughts of a wet Sophia Loren emerging from the sea with her net of sponges, and shirtless (I mean, shiftless) boyfriend, and a magical statue that makes true love and your deepest desires come true.  The mint for the drink is best if picked fresh and is easily grown in pots (I have 3 kinds growing by my back door, ready for any Mojito emergency!  It’s very easy to grow but is extremely invasive, so pots are a good idea).

Hydronetta's Mojito

Hydronetta’s Mojito

The sunset view from Hydronetta

The sunset view from Hydronetta


  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1/2 lime, cut into 4 wedges
  • 2 T raw sugar
  • ice
  • 1 1/2oz white rum
  • club soda

Place mint and 1 lime wedge in a glass and muddle (with a wooden or plastic muddler) to release the mint oils.  Add sugar and 2 lime wedges and muddle again to release juices.  Fill glass with ice, add rum and top with club soda.  Stir and garnish with remaining lime wedge and an extra sprig of fresh mint.

Thank you to everyone who’s shared this posting.  This all helps me to create awareness and excitement about Recipes for Rebels: In the Kitchen with James Dean as the September release date rapidly approaches.  All sweepstakes names will be put in a hat and one person drawn to receive the Recipes for Rebels Greek island surprise package, drawing in about one week after this initial posting.  The winner will be announced on the R4R FaceBook page and privately contacted for a mailing address (and if you don’t win, mix up a refreshing pitcher of Hydronetta Mojitos to share with a friend, and you’ll soon forget all about not winning!).  Good Luck to all!


  1. Sheryl Donnell May 15, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Again, your writing takes me with you on your journey and in tjis case back in time as well. I truly cannot wait for the release of your book. So exciting!

  2. So proud of you and this amazing new venture.

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