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Originally published November 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 27, 2008 at 8:27 AM

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James Dean photos at center of Seattle dispute

Seattle's Charles Quinn said he has exclusive rights to the James Dean archive of photos and he alleges that John Fors and Susan Wilson used the images for their own project after he downloaded the archive onto their computer and protected the archive with a password.

Seattle Times staff reporter

His handsome yet sullen face captured the essence of the generation. Nonetheless, James Dean was reluctant to be photographed.

So the emerging superstar made a deal with New York photographer Roy Schatt. If Schatt would teach Dean to shoot photos, then Dean would pose.

More than 50 years later, the 1,500 photos, including some that Dean shot of other actors, are at the center of a dispute between a Seattle filmmaker and the designer he once considered hiring for a book on the late actor.

Charles Quinn said he has exclusive rights to the Dean archive of photos, which he acquired from Dean's family.

He said he accessed the archive — stored at CMG Worldwide, a marketing and licensing firm in Indianapolis — while he was using a computer owned by designers John Fors and Susan Wilson, both of Seattle, during a meeting with them. Quinn alleges that their computer stored his password, allowing the couple to later access the images in the archive themselves and then download them. Quinn claims Fors and Wilson then made posters and prints for their own Dean project.

Both Fors and Wilson deny doing so.

Wilson and Fors say they have done nothing wrong, although Fors offered differing accounts of what became of the images. After initially telling a reporter he was working with Quinn on a project about Dean, he now says the images, taken in 1955, were deleted and calls the accusations "a joke."

Quinn has reported the alleged theft to Seattle police, who say they have not decided whether the case will be assigned to a detective for additional investigation.

The original Dean photos are locked in a vault in Indiana, and great care has been taken so that none has ever been made public, in part because some of the images are controversial and include Dean smoking marijuana, Quinn said.

Although there are many other photos in the public domain that Schatt took of Dean and even some that Dean shot, those in the collection have never been made public and that's why Quinn and CMG are concerned.

The images in the collection give a glimpse of "the world through James Dean's eyes," Quinn said.

Before his death in a car accident in Central California in September 1955, Dean had starred in only three films: "Rebel Without A Cause," "East of Eden" and "Giant," earning two Academy Award nominations. But his acting style, brooding good looks and death at the age of 24 made him an icon to many, inspiring books and songs.

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Quinn's lengthy resume includes various acting, directing and screenwriting credits, including two seasons on television's "Law & Order" and a part in "Northern Exposure." His Dean odyssey began a few years ago when he was driving from New York to Los Angeles and decided to see Dean's grave in Fairmount, Ind. He toured the museum in the town where Dean grew up on his aunt and uncle's farm.

Quinn was intrigued with Dean and began researching the star, eventually getting in touch with Dean's cousin on the farm. He was given the right to use the never-before published archive of photos — an intimate look not only at Dean but other stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Martin Landau and Mary Astor.

Quinn wrote a script and put together a film that amounts to a personal Dean slide show as if the late actor himself was narrating it.

Quinn said he was considering hiring using Wilsonfors Design of Seattle to lay out a book of photos to accompany the film and an upcoming museum exhibit in Dean's native Indiana. He shelved the project for about a year while his father was ill with cancer, but came back to find Fors and Wilson had made posters, prints, a screen saver, trailer and were talking about doing a show of their own with his photos.

Quinn said Fors told him he also took the photos from the collection to a New York gallery for an exhibition and that he was making a video. Quinn said he saw the trailer. He asked for his files to be returned and for them to stop what they were doing.

Wilson and Fors said the files were no longer on the server and denied using his property or tapping into the archive. "I showed them the archive and the next thing I know I came back and ... he's talking about a show he's pitching," Quinn said. "They thought I wasn't coming back and took over."

When called by a Seattle Times reporter, Fors claimed he had been working on a Dean video for about a year with Quinn and others, but insisted "it's supposed to be secret."

Later, Fors called The Times and denied making a video using photos from the archive or working on a project with Quinn. He said he had deleted Quinn's files to free up space.

"He brought his little project over. I showed him how to do it. I helped him for free. Then I didn't hear from him for nine months. This is just a joke," Fors said.

Although he denies using photos from the archive for anything, Fors said, "it's not illegal for me to play around with graphics."

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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