The auteurists' favorite, Nicholas Ray made movies for little more than a decade, but his films are among the most incisive, bizarre, and intelligent of the 1950s. A believer that great directors leave distinctive signatures on their work, Ray's eye for setting, color, and kinetic action merged with a socially conscious interest in personal psychology to reveal a darkness at odds with "normalcy" in such films as In a Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Guitar (1954), and his most famous film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Raymond Nicholas Kienzle Jr. got kicked out of high school numerous times, but he also wrote local radio shows that won him admission to college. Renaming himself Nick Ray in 1931, Ray's eclectic post-high school education included a year at the University of Chicago and several months at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin art colony, where he studied architecture and drama. Moving to New York in 1932, Ray became active in left-wing theater, including acting in Elia Kazan's directorial debut for the Theater of Action, and working on a Joseph Losey production for the Federal Theater Project. Out of the FTP by 1940, Ray worked in radio and was hired by John Houseman to produce radio programs for the Office of War Information.