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William Bast, photo credit: Ron Lyon, 2006
Wauwatosa High School

"Let's get my background details out of the way first: I was born, raised and had my primary and high school education first in Milwaukee, then Kenosha, Wisconsin. I went on to the University of Wisconsin and subsequently transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles.

There I became the close buddy and roommate of the as yet unknown, would-be actor James Dean.

Jimmy when I first met him, playing Malcolm in a UCLA production of "Macbeth".
Me and my mother, photo taken by Jimmy on the deck of our penthouse pad.
Jimmy at a birthday party for our friend actress Beverly Wills.

At one point Jimmy and I were both dating Beverly, an arrangement that didn't work out particularly well for anybody.

In 1952 and fresh out of college, egged on by Jimmy who had already ventured to New York in hopes of furthering his acting career, I gave up a job as an usher at the CBS radio and television studios in Hollywood, and flew East to join him. In New York we became roommates again and devoted ourselves to the pursuit of our separate careers.

I got a job in the Press Relations department at CBS on Madison Avenue. After almost nine months I suddenly, surprisingly, found myself writing for network television on a dare, a dare that paid off. At 23 I was turning out scripts for NBC's television sitcom, THE ALDRICH FAMILY. Heady with my modest early success, I left Jimmy in New York and returned to Los Angeles, which was fast becoming the nation’s principal center of television production. There, after a fruitless period of waiting for the phone to ring, I finally found myself writing for more television series.

Within only a matter of months Jimmy was banging on my apartment door in Hollywood. Elia Kazan had cast him in his upcoming Warner Brothers picture, EAST OF EDEN.

The next year and a half was filled with more television work for me and three feature films for Jimmy, EAST OF EDEN, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and GIANT. Jimmy was on location a lot, but we got to spend time together between pictures. It was an amazing period, Jimmy suddenly a film star, me inching along in television. Then, just as suddenly, it all ended. At least, for Jimmy it did.

Shortly after Jimmy's untimely death I was commissioned to write the story of our five-year friendship. It was published in 1956. However, because of the pressure of the unexpected and often unwelcome notoriety that came with its publication, I began to feel the need to get away from New York and Hollywood. I chose Europe, where, after some months in Paris, I settled in London. While there I was commissioned by Granada Television to write an original ninety-minute drama, THE MYTH MAKERS, inspired by what I had perceived as Jimmy’s grotesque publicity-driven funeral and its shattering effect on his rural American family and hometown, Fairmount, Indiana. My script was subsequently published in Faber & Faber’s collection of television dramas, SIX GRANADA PLAYS. I stayed on in England for another eighteen months and wrote a number of dramas for Granada, ITV and the BBC.

Back in New York, I was approached by the producers of NBC's Dupont Show of the Month to do an American version of The MYTH MAKERS, which was retitled THE MOVIE STAR, and was well received. However, finding little inspiration and less work in the States, I returned to England, where I was commissioned by Granada Television to adapt Jean Giraudoux’s TIGER AT THE GATES. I also wrote several original dramas for the BBC and Independent Television, as well as scripts for various English television series, including the classic THE PRISONER.

Once again, however, Hollywood beckoned me home. This time, television was booming and I was soon writing for many of the top shows, among them PERRY MASON, BEN CASEY, OUTER LIMITS, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, DR. KILDARE, and THE LAW AND MR. JONES.

After a couple of years, armed with a promise of a feature film for Columbia Pictures, back I went to England. Two years and two feature films later, Ray Harryhausen's THE VALLEY OF GWANGI for Columbia Pictures, with James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson and Laurence Naismith, followed by, HAMMERHEAD, with Vince Edwards, Judy Geeson and Diana Dors, I returned to Hollywood.

In 1974 I wrote an original two-hour Movie-of-the-Week, as they were then called, THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN. Bless her, the dearly loved and achingly missed Elizabeth Montgomery read my script and agreed to star, along with the marvelous Katherine Helmond and a dream cast including Fionnuala Flanagan, Fritz Weaver and Ed Flanders. The film received Emmy nominations for editing and music, as well as a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best TV Film in 1976. It also won me the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allen Poe Award for my script.

Subsequently I was comissioned to adapt Harold Robbins' novel THE BETSY as a feature film for United Artists/Allied Artists, also with a cast to dazzle: Laurence Olivier, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duval, Jane Alexander, Katherine Ross, and directed by Daniel Petrie. I also wrote and adapted a number of three, four and five-hour movies and miniseries for television, among them: Hallmark's THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, with Richard Chamberlain, Louis Jourdan, Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm, Vivien Merchant and Jenny Agutter, for which I received an Emmy nomination; THE FIRST OLYMPICS: ATHENS, 1896, with Angela Lansbury, Louis Jourdan, David Caruso and David Ogden Stiers, which won me the Writers Guild of America Annual Award for Outstanding Script for Television Longform Series that year; THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE, with John Gielgud, Michael York, Richard Thomas, Timothy Dalton and Ian Richardson; THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, with Ian McKellen, Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, which garnered an Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Drama Special, and won me a Christopher Award; THE STAR MAKER, with Rock Hudson, Melanie Griffith, Suzanne Pleshette and Brenda Vacarro.

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Jimmy's death, I was approached by NBC to adapt my 1956 account of our friendship as a television movie. Initially I balked at the idea, but it was made clear by NBC that they intended to make the film "with or without" me. So, in the interest of maintaining control over such a personal subject, I agreed. The movie was initially entitled, JAMES DEAN: PORTRAIT OF A FRIEND, although somehow the PORTRAIT OF A FRIEND part got lost by the time it was aired. It featured Stephen McHattie as Dean, Michael Brandon as yours truly, Amy Irving, Brooke Adams, Candy Clark, Katherine Helmond, Meg Foster, Jayne Meadows and Dane Clark.

After that my sometime writing partner - now life partner - Paul Huson and I wrote the pilot for, as well as produced all the episodes of the television series, THE COLBYS, a spin-off of Richard and Esther Shapiro's DYNASTY. It starred Charlton Heston, Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Ross, Ricardo Montalban and Stephanie Beacham. That was great fun to do, a real hoot.

Among other projects, Paul and I also collaborated on the television movie POWER AND BEAUTY for Showtime, which starred Natasha Henstridge as Judith Exner, President John Kennedy's mistress; THE BIG ONE: THE GREAT LOS ANGELES EARTHQUAKE with Joanna Kerns, Dan Lauria, Joe Spano, Ed Begley, Jr.,and Richard Masur; an action-adventure movie for NBC, TWIST OF FATE with Veronica Hamel, Ben Cross, Ian Richardson, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Jessica Parker and John Glover; and THE FURY WITHIN, a paranormal thriller with Ally Sheedy for USA cable network. But far and away the best thing we ever collaborated on, and a script that still makes me proud, was our television adaptation of Anne Rice's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, which I still consider among my - and Paul's - proudest accomplishments. Sadly, because the feature film rights were sold before we could put together a production for NBC TV, the script was never produced.

I can honestly say it’s been one helluva trip; so fantastic, in fact, that I decided to revisit what now appears to have been the most extraordinary time of my life (although I didn't recognize it as such then) in a second book, SURVIVING JAMES DEAN. Aside from filling in some significant details to which I had earlier given short shrift, the new book also gave me the opportunity to correct some inaccurate speculations that had found their way into print about Jimmy and me; this meant including everything that the law and my faint heart hadn’t allow me to commit to print back in 1956. Well, better late than never."