Reading Zelda helped me figure out
their attitudes, so alien to the way our
parents and my friends reacted to our relationship.
Scott said that he realized his friends
were unanimous in advising him against
marriage to Zelda and that he was used
"No personality as strong as Zelda's
could go without getting criticism...I fell
in love with her courage, her sincerity,
and her flaming self-respect, and it's these
things I'd believe in even if the whole
world indulged in wild suspicions that she
wasn't all that she should be...I love her
and that's the beginning and end of everything ... "
Zelda, p. 60
On our wedding day, the best man cried.
I was deeply touched. Two years later, he
told me why: "I thought I'd never see
For our wedding waltz, the
Georgetown band played —
what else — Love is Blue.
My mother cried as I danced in her 1935
Harlow satin wedding gown. George Stevens, Jr. filmed us in Super 8. James and I
were married in Washington, D. C. on
Thanksgiving Day 1968, and soon after,
moved to Houston. Our packed VW van
was as full of dreams as possessions. It was
our covered wagon. We camped along the
way and slept under the stars — like the
pioneers or so we thought.
I left behind the American Film Institute and James finished editing a documentary modestly-titled A Few Notes on
Our Food Problem. It was two years of
his life on a 40-minute reel. When it was
nominated for an Academy Award the
next year, I remember the filmmaker
Charles Guggenheim teasing James,
"You'll never win an Oscar with a title
like that." He didn't but Charlie did that
year for Robert Kennedy Remembered.
James' film career during the sixties
could have taken him to Hollywood. After
all, he was only 30 when he directed a
feature film The Olive Trees of Justice,
which was awarded the Critics Prize at
the Cannes Film Festival in 1962. A New
York Times review praised the film: "Mr.
Blue should definitely be making films
somewhere." And Pauline Kael, the former New Yorker critic lamented, "There
is little interest in the work of gifted,
intelligent men outside the industry like
James Blue who are attempting to make
inexpensive feature films as honestly and
and independently as they can."
Whether James turned his back on
the industry or they backed him up a-
gainst the wall is a mystery. I know his
experience as assistant director on the
film Hawaii had something to do with
his decision. Even though Olive Trees
was made in the midst of the Algerian
Revolution, the experience of working
in Algeria with friends from his Paris
film school days was less stressful than
directing an ASC (American Soceity of
Cinematographers) camera crew off in
Tahiti. "I know they were thinking that
(producer) Walter Mirisch was bringing in
some boy-genius, so they were ready to
run over me," he once told me. He said
it was a "near mutiny" until Mirisch sent
back accolades on the first rushes. I must
admit I never did see Hawaii but as James
used to remind all of us, 'The first four
and a half minutes are mine."
His friends would continue to wonder
why he gave up Hollywood for Houston.
George Stevens, Jr., the former director
of the American Film Institute, said
James was "the youngest person ever to
retire from film directing." The late Bob
Hughes, another filmmaker, pressed him
about not doing features. James wrote me
that evening from London (January 2,
1972): "I start feeling guilty for not living
up to his and other standards of successful filmmakers making films...Then, a
little switch goes click in my head and I
know that I have to live out my own adventure my own way, and I am the only
one who can do it — so my courage picks
James loved the idea of coming to
Texas. So much was already going on
on both coasts. They were covered, so to
speak. In January 1969, Texas was new
territory for his ideas about film and a
film culture. His philosophy was quite
simple. He wanted to see film become "a
democratic art." In a eulogy at James'
funeral service, Richard Blue said, "My
brother was a democrat, in the best meaning of that word." James felt film should
be "as accessible as canvas and a paint
brush," — as inexpensive as possible.
Super 8, he believed, was the key to the
He could never quite accept the elitism
of film and the notion that only those
with money and big budgets should shoot
them. I don't know if James originated
the following thought, but I heard him
say it so many times that I feel he is the
author: "We live in a new age of scribes.
In the early days, people went to scribes,
calligraphers, high priests and shamans to
have their letters written. Today, people
go to filmmakers to do their films. In the
20th century, we risk becoming a society
of visual illiterates."
Fortunately for James, he met Dr.
Gerald O'Grady, a medieval scholar and a
20th century thinker, someone influenced
by Marshall Mcluhan and someone who
shared James' vision. Gerry interested the
art patrons Jean and Dominique de Menil
in backing a media center for Houston.
The de Menils generously endowed it for
five years (1969-1974) - first at the University of St. Thomas, then, at Rice.
It seemed like the golden age of media.
Directors came with their films. Years before Donahue taped his first show, James
would run up and down the aisles at the
Media Center, involving the audience in a
dialog with a visiting director — Roberto
Rossellini, King Vidor, Francis Ford
Coppola, Shirley Clarke, Milos Forman,
Ivan Passeur, George Stevens, Sr. Later, in
California there would be Jean Renoir,
Frederico Fellini and others.
James was inquisitive, curious about
everything and had a kinetic energy that
would not allow him to sit and read for
hours. So he learned by asking questions,
making relationships, and conducting interviews. In a tribute to James in this
issue (see page 24), Gerry O'Grady says,
"He learned more from conversation than
anyone I've ever met." James made conversation an art.
"If I learned anything from James
Blue," a friend recently wrote me, "it was
about the intensity of enjoyment possible
in one's work." While a virtue, it would
annoy some of the people who worked
around him. He was always the first one
at the Media Center in the morning and
the last to leave at night.
A great challenge was to get him to
Leaving Washington for Houston, Janice and James Blue, December 1968: "Our packed VW van was as full of dreams as possessions
take a vacation. In one interview before
our marriage, he told a reporter, "I've
never learned to take a vacation. I mean I
take a month or so off and I think about
one thing — work. I wish I were working.
That's the only time I really feel good."
At our wedding dinner, I asked him
where we were going for our honeymoon.
He drew a blank — obviously, the matter
had not even occurred to him. Then he
turned to his best man who, in turn, drew
a map to Mte. St. Agathe, a ski area in
Quebec's Laurentian Mountains. It was
the first and last time we ever skied
He denied himself but he never learned
to say no to others. If a student asked him
to critique a film, if someone wanted to
tour the Rice Media Center, if he was
asked to judge a film festival in Tours,
France, give a lecture in Juneau, Alaska,
preside over a conference in Canberra,
Australia, or teach a course at Yale,
Columbia, the Museum of Modern Art
or the National Film School of England,
he would do them all.
There was a dark side to this restless
creativity. He was wearing himself out.
That was the price for people pulling you
in all directions and permitting it to
I was surprised to hear James quoted
in an interview saying, "I wish I were in
Buffalo more often and I could settle in.
I'm over-committed to too many areas
and projects." (Spree, Winter 1979) The
writer, George Sax, observed that the
Victorian gray-frame house James occupied for over a year still looked like he
was moving in. "Blue seems to be caught
between two simultaneous flight patterns,
both coming to roost and taking off at
the same time."
There is always the unfinished business
when someone dies suddenly. I will always
be grateful for his phone call to me last
Christmas before he left for a teaching
post in England. We talked for almost an
hour. At one point, I said to him, "Let
me tape this . You're making me feel so
good." Those documentary instincts still
intact, I recorded the conversation.
He was full of compliments about
Breakthrough, particularly last fall's election issue. "You've got something that
stirs things-up. Texas is ready for it. And
the quality of journalism is way beyond
all the alternative sixties hype. You're
creating an alternative that is a force...
You did it on your own with the help of
a lot of friends, but you organized it. I
have total admiration for you, Janice, and
I'll help you in any way I can...If I could
come back and deliver newspapers for
you, I would do that, too."
I'm glad we were able to re-establish
ourfriendshipin the last year. Our marriage
was over, but what we had started building
was a true, equal friendship — a rare thing
in or outside a marriage.
James was an infuriating person, self-
absorbed, loathe to accept criticism, autocratic. He was also one of the innocents
of the world with a breath-taking sweetness and guilelessness.
I will always remember our first date
— which I had arranged. James was over
a half hour late and I was sure I had made
a big mistake. Finally, I heard his steps
outside my Georgetown apartment. I was
ready to apologize for my boldness, when
he smiled and said, "Well, do you like my
All I could do was stare at the busy
red and gold paisley design while he finished his sentence. 'The guys in the editing room picked it out for me. They
thought you'd like it."
I wish I could say I'd framed it like
Cecil Beaton did with the rose that Greta
Garbo kissed, but I didn't. I sold it at a
garage sale in 1973.
I let go of a real treasure.