Frank Mazzola, who staged famed James Dean fight scene, dies

AP News
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Posted: Jan 22, 2015 3:48 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Frank Mazzola, the real-life tough guy who taught James Dean how to stage an authentic-looking knife fight for the classic 1955 film "Rebel Without a Cause," has died at age 79.

Mazzola, who went on to a long career as a Hollywood film editor, died Jan. 13, Jaime Larkin, a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1unOkEi ). He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

He was by his own account a child actor turned street-tough when he sneaked onto the set of "Rebel Without a Cause" after appearing in a small part in Dean's previous film, "East of Eden."

Mazzola so impressed director Nicholas Ray with his attitude and knowledge of youth culture that he was hired as a consultant and given a small role.

He helped scriptwriter Stewart Stern work dozens of street slang expressions into the film, and Mazzola took Dean to meet the Athenians, the Hollywood street gang he hung with.

Mazzola's group would teach the actor how to fight and walk tough. When it came time to choreograph the famous fight scene, Mazzola showed Dean how to hold a knife in one hand and wrap his jacket around the other like a real street fighter would to keep from being stabbed.

When it came to driving, however, Mazzola once said it was Dean who terrified him, taking him on a wild, reckless ride over LA's steep, winding Laurel Canyon. The actor would make one more film, "Giant," before dying in a high-speed car crash on Sept. 30, 1955.

"My first impression was that Jimmy was like a wild animal out of a cage," Mazzola said of their first meeting. "He was telling people to back away and to not look at him."

Mazzola, who grew up in Hollywood, appeared as a child in such films as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Boy With Green Hair."

After a couple more small roles following "Rebel," he launched a long career as a film editor. His credits include "The Hired Hand," starring Peter Fonda, and the director's cut of "Wild Side," starring Christopher Walken.

Survivors include his wife, Catherine Hader, and four daughters.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/