Kenneth Kendall Tribute

I recently discovered my friend Kenneth Kendall passed away. He was in his 90’s, I believe, and had a good run. Kenneth was a amazing painter and sculptor. He’s probably best known for the bronze bust of James Dean on display at the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles. I first met Kenneth many years ago when I moved to LA. Being a big James Dean admirer, I sought out everything and everyone I could who met or spent time with Dean when he lived here back in the 50’s. Some time around January of 1955, Dean sought out Kendall and asked if he would consider sculpting a bust of him, like the one he had already done of Marlon Brando. Kendall was polite, but thought “who is this kid, and what has he ever done?- I do BIG stars, like Steve Reeves” Well, within a few months, East of Eden was released, which completely blew Kendall away, and he began work on the Dean bust. Rebel Without A Cause and Giant were soon completed, but not out yet, and Dean was dead by Sept. Since that time, Kendall did probably hundreds of paintings, sculptures and drawings of Dean. His house in West Hollywood was a virtual museum of Dean, Brando, and old Hollywood artwork. He also had Sarah Bernhardt’s autograph.  We had yearly Dean birthday parties for several years at his place, where I got to spend time with Vampira (Maila Nurmi, who also just passed away) and Frank Mazzola (actor, Rebel Without A Cause) and hear James Dean stories for hours. Thanks for brightening up my world, Kenneth, and giving me unique insight into the world of that great artist who knocked our socks off, James Dean- AB

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~ by abernhoft on April 18, 2008.

9 Responses to “Kenneth Kendall Tribute”

  1. Did you ever meet Samson De Brier? He and Kenneth were very good friends.

  2. the name is familiar, but I don’t know if I actually met him. There were always lots of interesting characters at Kenneth’s parties. Is he the guy whose wife was Brando’s assistant?

  3. Oh wow… I was a friend of KK’s. I lost touch with him. Met him through Warren Beath and some other fans I didn’t know! Kenneth and I became friends and loved to talk about opera. I am an operatic soprano and I must say, KK knew more about opera than I did! We used to have tea, and talk about James Dean. And one time he took me to the Huntington Museum and gave me a personal tour, replete with anecdotes about every painting! I expressed an interest in those 18th century masters and so he gave me a beautiful book about them.
    I moved away to CT for many years….he used to write and send those priceless fabulous postcards with his glorious signature. I moved back to CA a couple of yrs ago and tried to find him. Oh I am too late. I miss my friend. He was an exceptional talent, a truly brilliant person and a lovely and dear friend. Thank you for this tribute!!! He deserved much greater recognition in life – his work was and is so alive!

  4. Thanks! Did you ever see his autographed photo of SARAH BERNHARDT? Talk about a rarity. Kenneth was definitely a gem in the Hollywood treasure trove. And yes, I have some of those cards with that exquisite signature as well. He is mentioned on a bronze plaque on the James Dean bust he sculpted at the Griffith Observatory. Great, generous man.

    -AB

  5. Samson never married. He had a house on Barton Ave in LA that was the “spot” to go to for a time.
    As for the postcards Rebecca spoke of I have some of those too! They are so cool!

  6. BBC One in the UK just featured Kenneth Kendall (the former newsreader who is now 86) reading the first couple of lines of your post. He seemed shocked to discover he had died. They didn’t show him reading any more but presumably he realised it was not about him.

  7. I really miss Kenneth. He was such interesting man and so talented. I first met Keneth in 1994, June when I was visiting San Diego with a friend from Indiana. At that time I was living in James Deans home town of Fairmount, Indiana in the James Dean Gallery owned by David Loehr. David had invited me to stay a few nights almost a year before when I had made the pilgramage from my home town in Australia, like you, to speak to as many people as I could find who knew jimmy. I was 20 at the time and I found meeting Kenneth and hearing him tell the story about his meeting jimmy and making the bust mesmerizing. I felt like u was sitting at the feet if buddha! I remember Kenneth pausing after a telling us stories about his facinating interesting life and career and him looking up at me and asking, “So, what do YOU do?” I was speechless! What do you say after hearing about such a life as Kenneth’s was?? After pausing and searching for something to say he said ” you are so good looking, you don’t need to DO anything”. We all laughed and I felt at ease. I then told him my fascination with Dean and my journey all the way from Australia to ‘find him’.
    I remember Kenneth showing me the 4 hairs from Marilyn Monroe’s head he had swiped during a break in filming a scene in which he happened to be an extra in. Amazing!! He later sold them for $1000 each! Smart man.

  8. I knew Samson deBrier and Kenneth Kendall, introduced to both by my dear friend Jimmy Gardiner in the early ’80’s. To hear him tell it, Samson had been a successful gigolo in early Hollywood, beloved of many. I heard him say once, “Money is my favorite aphrodisiac.”

    Samson owned a glass Lalique dildo, reputed to be the gift of Ramon Navarro, a Modigliani hung above the kitchen archway – a gift from Dorothy Parker. The house was in perpetual darkness as all the windows were covered, and it was deep in dust as he didn’t believe in hygiene. He owned the largest alexandrite ring I’ve ever seen – it changed colors depending on artificial or natural light. Kenneth Anger, the filmmaker, lived on the same property. Samson laid claims to supernatural powers and didn’t lock doors but kept creepy beheaded dolls on the front porch as talismans against theft.

    I would visit Kenneth in his (also crowded, dim and dusty) studio where he worked as an artist and art restorer. He painted meticulous miniatures and worked painstakingly on valuable art, separating canvas from paint one thread at a time and re-gluing new canvas. I saw a Reubens and a Romney on his walls (I believe).

    He led me on a tour of the Norton Simon and imparted considerable wisdom as Kenneth was an inveterate talker – logorrhea in fact. He was generous with his talent and restored a damaged photograph for me gratis. I wish I could have afforded his bronze art at the time, alas!

    He lived next door to his studio with his brother and he had transformed the little bungalo into an art-noueau wet dream with jesso curves and tendrils crawling up the walls. If he liked an artist, he would copy (aka. forge) whatever work he admired and hang it up in his home for his own pleasure.

    I’m grateful to have known these truly talented, strange and wonderful men, both of them

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