On the set of Rebel Without a Cause: James Dean as Jim Stark, Corey Allen as Buzz Gunderson: ‘It’s the underlying question of each generation. Here we are: What do we do?’

‘You Gotta Do Something. Don’t You?’
Corey Allen
June 29, 1934-June 27, 2010

“Why do we do this?
“You gotta do something. Don’t you?”

With this exchange, in answering James Dean question with a question of his own, Corey Allen began the most famous scene of his brief career as an actor. Playing Buzz Gunderson, the cocky, leather jacketed, greasy haired leader of a gang of teenage toughs in director Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Allen’s Gunderson was in constant conflict with Dean’s character, Jim Stark, himself a troubled teen whose had moved to Los Angeles, where his parents hoped he could get a fresh start after his troubles elsewhere. Stark had barely settled into his new high school when Gunderson challenged him to a knife fight, in a memorable scene filmed at L.A.’s Griffith Observatory (in which Dean, a Method actor, insisted real knives be used, resulting in him being injured during filming). To further test Trask’s mettle, though, Gunderson proposed a “chickie run,” a test of wills in which two drivers head for the edge of a cliff at high speed, with the winner being the driver who bails out of his car last. Before the run begins, Gunderson and Trask stare out over the cliff into the water below, and Gunderson, softening, says to Trask, “You know, I like you.” (Thus igniting a persistent debate as to whether Gunderson’s disdain for Trask is the product of homoerotic panic or class conflict). Trask’s ensuing query, and Gunderson’s existential response are the last words they speak to each other. After Natalie Wood flags them, the two drivers speed towards the edge. Trask’s eyes dart from the road to Gunderson, from Gunderson to the road. As his car hurtles towards the abyss, he grips his door handle and prepares to jump; Gunderson does the same, but his jacket cuff is ensnared on the handle. As Gunderson struggles to pull free, Trask leaps, rolls and comes up unharmed. Unbeknownst to him, Buzz has airmailed himself into the blue, his car exploding upon impact with the earth at the bottom of the cliff.

Rebel Without a Cause: The pre-race colloquy between Jim Stark and Buzz Gunderson was, according to Corey Allen, ‘the sociological gift this picture made to the hippies’

When questioned about the scene years later, Allen describe his and Dean’s pre-race colloquy as “the sociological gift this picture made to the hippies,” adding: “It’s the underlying question of each generation. Here we are: What do we do?”

Rebel, a landmark film that some historians have claimed “invented” the teenager, and others see as, at the very least, signaling a new sensibility emerging among American youth—in a 2005 interview with Chris Fujiwara in The Boston Globe’s online boston.com site, Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, authors of the definitive history of Ray’s film, Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ (Touchstone, 2005), say the film’s basic message is “Listen to these young people, listen to their ideals. 'It talks about tolerance for different kinds of people, like Plato, who is clearly a gay character. This ideal is clearly something that in the second half of the 20th century had a big impact on all of our lives."—was the high water mark of Allen’s acting career. His resume shows only a handful of TV and film appearances after 1955 (including the Season 2 “Jonathan” episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1956, and guest spots on Bonanza, Perry Mason and Dr. Kildare in the ‘60s). He did, however, fashion a lengthy and productive career as a director, with credits on some of the top-rated shows over more than 30 years, including Hawaii Five-O, Magnum P.I., Mannix, Ironside, Quincy M.E., Lou Grant, The Rockford Files, Hunter, Murder She Wrote, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Hill Street Blues (for which he won an Emmy). He also taught at The Actors Workshop.

Allen, the last surviving principal cast member of Rebel Without a Cause, succumbed to complications of Parkinson’s Disease on June 27, in Hollywood, two days before his 76th birthday. He was born Alan Cohen on June 29, 1934, in Cleveland. He bgan acting while a student at UCLA, where he earned a fine arts degree in 1954. Allen is survived by a daughter, Robin Duncan of Los Angeles; a brother, Steve Cohen, of New York; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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