GOOD MORNING: I wonder if “James Dean” will become an annuity for TNT; Dean has certainly been one for still photographer Phil Stern. Next Monday, a giant billboard of Dean, as portrayed by thesp James Franco in the June 2001 two-hour “Dean” TNT biopic, goes up on the Sunset Strip with the caption, “The Rebel Lives.” (There’s one in N.Y. on 5th Ave. and another one going up Monday at the Port Authority.) But a billboard featuring the real James Dean, as lensed by Stern, has decorated the Sunset Strip over the years. It’s Dean in that familiar (1955) seated pose, one leg up so his Jack Purcell sneakers are obvious in the foreground. The photo was taken at Goldwyn studios where Dean had hoped to meet Marlon Brando, who was filming “Guys and Dolls.” Dean never got to meet Marlon, but Stern snapped the pic which he admits is his “old-age annuity.” In addition to being used by Purcell sneakers, the photo has been reproduced on po$t card$, po$ter$, t-$hirt$ etc. It is only one of Stern’s famous fotos. In the Jan. 2001 Vanity Fair, covered by Catherine Zeta-Jones, the mag also cover story’s “A special portfolio, Shooting Past 80 — Photography’s Grand Masters” and leads off with a portrait of Stern by Herb Ritts. Other, “over 80″ photogs receiving the mag’s tribute include Joe Rosenthal (Iwo Jima flag raising), Leni Riefenstahl, Helmut Newton, Gordon Parks, Yousuf Karsh, Cornell Capa, Cartier Bresson, etc. Stern’s pic of Marilyn Monroe leads off the tribute. Stern lensed Monroe, looking perplexed and lost, in 1955 when she attended a Herald-Express benefit at the Shrine for L.A. Children’s Hospital.

IT WAS EERIE HOW WE really made him look like James Dean,” admits Marc Rydell, who just directed the TNT movie. He knew him well, starting in the ’50s at the Actors Studio. (80% of the cast is from the Studio, where Rydell remains a leader in L.A.). “Dean was tragic, he was gifted,” says Mark. “He was a risk taker; that led to his success as well as his death.” Rydell recalled how he and Dean were walking down Madison Ave. one Sunday when a bus was approaching. “He took off his jacket, like a toreador and ‘attacked’ the bus — which barely grazed him! He had those qualities that TV and movie biographies lack — a point of view. Screenwriter Israel Horovitz has captured them.” Martin Landau, who was also close to Dean in the Actors Studio in N.Y. (and with Rydell today in L.A.), is portrayed by Sam Gould; Rydell says he approved the portrayal and the script. Rydell plays Jack Warner. “I didn’t know who better to play him,” Rydell smiles. How does he play Dean’s WB Studio boss? “Charming, powerful and quite cruel.” Rydell has five scenes with Franco as Dean. “He is a miracle — he looks like and acts like him. I spent a month with him, teaching him Dean’s physical behavior, his unpredictability –his stare at you, his eyes under his eyelids. He really plays the tortured kid.” Yes there are scenes from “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Giant.” But no scenes with thesps playing Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor or Rock Hudson. However Elia Kazan, Nick Ray and George Stevens are portrayed. “James Dean” was originally at WB with Billy Gerber, who has now produced the cabler with director Rydell. The latter admits, “Cable has inherited quality material. It (cable) doesn’t need instant weekend grosses and ratings.” The pic is also being aimed for overseas theatrical release. What’s next for Rydell? He’s talking the Judy Garland story. He knew her and her agents Freddie Fields and David Begelman. “They were my agents, too,” Rydell said knowingly.

AFTER LONG-PENDING negotiations, Oscar-winning producer Arthur Cohn acquired film rights to Nobel Prize-winning author Kobo Abe’s “The Ruined Map.” The thriller, set in the Far East will be scripted by Aussie playwright David Williamson (who works closely with Peter Weir). Cohn just completed principal photography on “Behind the Sun,” directed by Walter Salles (“Central Station”), and filmed in almost-unknown territories in Brazil. Cohn’s “One Day in September” has started its theatrical release by Sony in the U.S. … Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky,” starring Tom Cruise as a disfigured accident victim nursed during his reconstructive period by Penelope Cruz, had its wraparty Wednesday — but will wind next week. Top plastic surgeon Dr. Harvey Zarem consulted on the film. The only other time Dr. Zarem agreed to consult on a movie was for producer Dominick Dunne’s “Ash Wednesday” (1973) starring Elizabeth Taylor as a facelift patient and costarring Henry Fonda. P.S. Zarem is one plastic surgeon who has never talked about who his (famous) patients are … Producer (Prince) Edward Wessex has a charming producing bow with “Once Upon a Christmas,” airing Dec. 10 on Pax TV. The TV’er also boasts a holiday tune, “It Must Have Been Mistletoe” sung by Mary Donnelly Haskell and Marc Corey Lee … Liza Minnelli is making good progress and is hoping to travel from Fort Lauderdale to New York Jan. 29 to personally accept her induction into the Theater Hall of Fame at the Gershwin Theater. Fred Ebb will make her presentation. Fellow inductees will be Mary Alice, Otis Guernsey, Athol Fugard, June Havoc, Jon Jory and, posthumously, Robert Fryer and Nancy Marchand. Terry Hodge Taylor exec produces the annual salute for lifetime achievement in the American theater.

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