In the late summer of 1954, director Nicholas Ray proposed a film about juvenile delinquency to Warner Bros. executive Lew Wasserman, based on the recent box office success of two juvenile delinquency films, The Wild One
(1954) and Blackboard Jungle
(1955). Luckily, Warner Bros. already owned such a property on which Ray could base his film.
Rebel Without a Cause
was initially based on Dr. Robert Lindner's book by the same name, a 1944 true case history of a juvenile delinquent named Harold. Because the case addressed topical issues of interest to the general public like the then-unusual practice of hypnotherapy and teenage sexual mores, the studio bought the screen rights in 1947.
Long before Nicholas Ray's involvement in the film, however, the project was originally offered to Marlon Brando. When he turned it down, the property was shelved.
The Rebel Without a Cause
project began in earnest when Nicholas Ray submitted an original 20-page treatment called "The Blind Run" to Warner Bros., who offered to buy it for $5,000.
After submitting a story treatment, Nicholas Ray sought a collaborator for the screenplay. Novelist Leon Uris was brought on board, but his vision did not gel with Ray's, so Uris left. Writer Irving Shulman then entered the picture and contributed a few bits that remained in the final film, including the planetarium and "chickie run" sequences. But Shulman didn't work out either, so he was replaced by Stewart Stern, the writer who completed the final version of the script by March 1955.
The basic structure of the screenplay was not based on the original book. It's Plato, the Sal Mineo character, and not the James Dean character, who bears the most resemblance to Dr. Robert Lindner's Harold.
by Scott McGee