James Dean . Biography
James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American Actor. He is a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment, as expressed in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled Los Angeles teenager Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his stardom were as loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955), and as the surly ranch hand, Jett Rink, in Giant (1956). Dean’s enduring fame and popularity rests on his performances in only these three films, all leading roles. His premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status.
Dean was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only actor to have had two posthumous acting nominations. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Dean the 18th best male movie star on their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list.
in Giant (1956)
|Born||James Byron Dean
February 8, 1931
Marion, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||September 30, 1955 (aged 24)
Cholame, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Car crash|
|Resting place||Park Cemetery|
|Other names||Jim or Jimmy|
|Education||Fairmount High School|
|Alma mater||Santa Monica College
James Dean was born on February 8, 1931, at the Seven Gables apartment house located at the corner of 4th Street and McClure Street in Marion, Indiana, to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson. Six years after his father had left farming to become a dental technician, James and his family moved to Santa Monica, California. The family spent several years there, and by all accounts young Dean was very close to his mother. According to Michael DeAngelis, she was “the only person capable of understanding him”. He was enrolled at Brentwood Public School in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles until his mother died of cancer when Dean was nine years old.
Unable to care for his son, his father sent James to live with his sister Ortense and her husband Marcus Winslow on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana, where he was raised in a Quaker background. Dean sought the counsel and friendship of Methodist pastor, the Rev. James DeWeerd. DeWeerd seemed to have had a formative influence upon Dean, especially upon his future interests in bullfighting, car racing, and the theater. According to Billy J. Harbin, “Dean had an intimate relationship with his pastor… which began in his senior year of high school and endured for many years.” Their sexual relationship was earlier suggested in the 1994 book, Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean by Paul Alexander. In 2011, it was reported that he once told Elizabeth Taylor, his co-star in Giant, that he was sexually abused by a minister two years after his mother’s death.
In high school, Dean’s overall performance was mediocre. However, he was a popular student, having played on the baseball and basketball teams and studied drama and competed in forensics through the Indiana High School Forensic Association. After graduating from Fairmount High School on May 16, 1949, Dean moved back to California with his beagle, Max, to live with his father and stepmother. He enrolled in Santa Monica College (SMC) and majored in pre-law. Dean transferred to UCLA for one semester and changed his major to drama, which resulted in estrangement from his father. He pledged the Sigma Nu fraternity but was never initiated. While at UCLA, he was picked from a pool of 350 actors to land the role of Malcolm in Macbeth. At that time, he also began acting in James Whitmore’s workshop. In January 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full-time career as an actor.
Dean’s first television appearance was in a Pepsi Cola television commercial. He quit college to act full time and was cast as John the Beloved Disciple in Hill Number One, an Easter television special, and three walk-on roles in movies, Fixed Bayonets!, Sailor Beware, and Has Anybody Seen My Gal? His only speaking part was as a boxing trainer in Sailor Beware, a Paramount comedy starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. While struggling to get jobs in Hollywood, Dean also worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios, during which time he met Rogers Brackett, a radio director for an advertising agency, who offered him professional help and guidance in his chosen career, as well as a place to stay.
In October 1951, following actor James Whitmore’s and his mentor Rogers Brackett’s advice, Dean moved to New York City. There he worked as a stunt tester for the game show Beat the Clock. He also appeared in episodes of several CBS television series, The Web, Studio One, and Lux Video Theatre, before gaining admission to the legendary Actors Studio to study method acting under Lee Strasberg. Proud of this accomplishment, Dean referred to the Studio in a 1952 letter to his family as “The greatest school of the theater. It houses great people like Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Arthur Kennedy, Mildred Dunnock. … Very few get into it … It is the best thing that can happen to an actor. I am one of the youngest to belong.”
Dean’s career picked up and he performed in further episodes of such early 1950s television shows as Kraft Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger, and General Electric Theater. One early role, for the CBS series Omnibus in the episode “Glory in the Flower”, saw Dean portraying the type of disaffected youth he would later immortalize in Rebel Without a Cause. (This summer 1953 program was also notable for featuring the song “Crazy Man, Crazy”, one of the first dramatic TV programs to feature rock and roll.) Positive reviews for Dean’s 1954 theatrical role as “Bachir”, a pandering North African houseboy, in an adaptation of André Gide’s book The Immoralist, led to calls from Hollywood.
East of Eden
In East of Eden (1955)
In 1953, director Elia Kazan was looking for a substantive actor to play the emotionally complex role of ‘Cal Trask’, for screenwriter Paul Osborn’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel East of Eden. The lengthy novel deals with the story of the Trask and Hamilton families over the course of three generations, focusing especially on the lives of the latter two generations in Salinas Valley, California, from the mid-19th century through the 1910s. In contrast to the book, the film script dealt predominantly with the character of Cal Trask. Though he initially seems more aloof and emotionally troubled than his twin brother Aron, Cal is soon seen to be more worldly, business savvy, and even sagacious than their pious and constantly disapproving father (played by Raymond Massey) who seeks to invent a vegetable refrigeration process. Cal is bothered by the mystery of their supposedly dead mother, and discovers she is still alive and a brothel-keeping ‘madame’ (Jo Van Fleet).
With Julie Harris in East of Eden (1955)
Before casting Cal, Elia Kazan said that he wanted “a Brando” for the role and Osborn suggested the relatively unknown young actor, James Dean. Dean met with Steinbeck who did not like the moody, complex young man personally, but thought him perfect for the part. Dean was cast in the role and on April 8, 1954, left New York City and headed for Los Angeles to begin shooting.
Much of Dean’s performance in the film is unscripted, including his dance in the bean field and his fetal-like posturing while riding on top of a train boxcar (after searching out his mother in nearby Monterey). The most famous improvisation of the film occurs when Cal’s father rejects his gift of $5,000 (money Cal earned by speculating in beans prior to World War I). Instead of running away from his father as the script called for, Dean instinctively turned to Massey and in a gesture of extreme emotion, lunged forward and grabbed him in a full embrace, crying. Kazan kept this cut and Massey’s shocked reaction in the film. Dean’s performance in the film foreshadowed his role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause. Both characters are angst-ridden protagonists and misunderstood outcasts, desperately craving approval from a father figure.
For the 1955 Academy Awards, Dean received a posthumous nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in East of Eden, the first official posthumous acting nomination in Academy Awards history. (Jeanne Eagels was unofficially nominated for Best Actress in 1929, when the rules for selection of the winner were different.)
Rebel Without a Cause
Giant would be Dean’s last film. At the end of the film, Dean was supposed to make a drunken speech at a banquet; this is nicknamed the ‘Last Supper’ because it was the last scene before his sudden death. Dean mumbled so much due to his desire to make the scene more realistic by actually being inebriated for the take that the scene had to later be overdubbed by Nick Adams, who had a small role in the film, because Dean had died before the film was edited.
For the 1956 Academy Awards, Dean received his second posthumous Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his role in Giant.
Racing Career and ‘Little Bastard’
In April 1954, after securing the co-starring role of Cal Trask in East of Eden, Dean purchased a 1955 Triumph Tiger T110, 650 cc motorcycle and later, a used red, 1953 MG TD sports car. In March 1955, Dean traded the MG for a new 1955 Porsche Super Speedster purchased from Competition Motors in Hollywood. He traded the Triumph T110 for a 1955 Triumph TR5 Trophy three days after filming wrapped on East of Eden. Just before filming began on Rebel Without a Cause, Dean entered the Palm Springs Road Races with the Speedster on March 26–27. He finished first overall in Saturday’s novice class and second overall in the Sunday main event. Dean also raced the Speedster at Bakersfield on May 1–2, finishing first in class and third overall. His final race with the Speedster was at Santa Barbara on Memorial Day, May 30, where he started in the eighteenth position, worked his way up to fourth, before over-revving his engine and blowing a piston. He did not finish the race.
During the filming of Giant from June through mid-September, Warner Bros. had barred Dean from all racing activities. In July, Dean put down a deposit on a new Lotus IX sports racer with Jay Chamberlain, a dealer in Burbank. Dean was told that the Lotus delivery would be delayed until autumn. As Dean was finishing up Giant’s filming, he suddenly traded in his Speedster at Competition Motors for a new, more powerful and faster 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder on September 21 and entered the upcoming Salinas Road Race event scheduled for October 1–2. He also purchased a new 1955 Ford Country Squire station wagon to use for towing the new Spyder to and from the races on an open wheel car trailer.
According to Lee Raskin, Porsche historian, and author of James Dean At Speed, Dean asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint Little Bastard on the car:
- “Dean Jeffries, who had a paint shop next to Barris did the customizing work which consisted of: painting ‘130’ in black non-permanent paint on the front hood, doors and rear deck lid. He also painted “Little Bastard” in script across the rear cowling. The red leather bucket seats and red tail stripes were original. The tail stripes were painted by the Stuttgart factory, which was customary on the Spyders for racing ID.”
Purportedly, James Dean had been given the nickname “Little Bastard” by Bill Hickman, a Warner Bros stunt driver who became friendly with Dean. Hickman was part of Dean’s group driving to the Salinas Road Races on September 30, 1955. Hickman says he called Dean “little bastard”, and Dean called Hickman “big bastard.” Another version of the “Little Bastard” origin has been corroborated by two of Dean’s close friends, Lew Bracker, and photographer, Phil Stern. They believe Jack Warner of Warner Bros. had once referred to Dean as a little bastard after Dean refused to vacate his temporary East of Eden trailer on the studio’s lot. And Dean wanted to get ‘even’ with Warner by naming his race car, “Little Bastard” and to show Warner that despite his sports car racing ban during all filming, Dean was going to be racing the “Little Bastard” in between making movies for Warner Bros. When Dean introduced himself to British actor Alec Guinness outside the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood, he asked him to take a look at his brand new Porsche Spyder. Guinness thought the car appeared ‘sinister’ and told Dean: “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.” This encounter took place on September 23, 1955, seven days before Dean’s death.
Screenwriter William Bast was one of Dean’s closest friends, a fact acknowledged by Dean’s family. According to Dean’s first biographer (1956), Bast was his roommate at UCLA and later in New York, and knew Dean throughout the last five years of his life. Fifty years after Dean’s death, he stated that their friendship had included some sexual intimacy. In a much earlier account, Bast recalled of their friendship: “Jimmy was a dabbler, he was learning through experiment . . . But to say he was gay? That’s ridiculous.”
While at UCLA, Dean dated Beverly Wills, an actress with CBS, and Jeanette Lewis, a classmate. Bast and Dean often double-dated with them. Wills began dating Dean alone, later telling Bast, “Bill, there’s something we have to tell you. It’s Jimmy and me. I mean, we’re in love.”
Early in Dean’s career, after Dean signed his contract with Warner Brothers, the studio’s public relations department began generating stories about Dean’s liaisons with a variety of young actresses who were mostly drawn from the clientele of Dean’s Hollywood agent, Dick Clayton. Studio press releases also grouped “Dean together with two other actors, Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter, identifying each of the men as an ‘eligible bachelor’ who has not yet found the time to commit to a single woman: ‘They say their film rehearsals are in conflict with their marriage rehearsals.
We used to go together to the California coast and stay there secretly in a cottage on a beach far away from prying eyes. We’d spend much of our time on the beach, sitting there or fooling around, just like college kids. We would talk about ourselves and our problems, about the movies and acting, about life and life after death. We had a complete understanding of each other. We were like Romeo and Juliet, together and inseparable. Sometimes on the beach we loved each other so much we just wanted to walk together into the sea holding hands because we knew then that we would always be together.
In his autobiography East of Eden, director Elia Kazan dismissed the notion that Dean could possibly have had any success with women, although he remembered hearing Dean and Angeli loudly making love in Dean’s dressing room. In 1997 the television movie Race with Destiny was produced, a true story account of the love affair between Dean and Pier Angeli. It was shot on location “where he lived and loved” until his death.
Dean posing Pier Angeli for a photo
Despite their strong love for each other, a number of forces led them apart. Angeli’s mother disapproved of Dean’s casual dress and what were for, her at least, radical behavior traits: his t-shirt attire, late dates, fast cars, and the fact that he was not a Catholic. Her mother said that such behavior was not acceptable in Italy. In addition, MGM, where he worked, tried to talk him out of marrying and he himself told Angeli that he didn’t want to get married.
After finishing his role for East of Eden, he took a brief trip to New York in October 1954. While he was away, Angeli unexpectedly announced her engagement to Italian-American singer Vic Damone. The press was shocked and Dean expressed his irritation. Angeli married Damone the following month. Gossip columnists reported that Dean watched the wedding from across the road on his motorcycle, even gunning the engine during the ceremony, although Dean denied doing anything so “dumb.”
Some, like Bast and Paul Alexander, believe the relationship was a mere publicity stunt. Pier Angeli only talked once about the relationship in her later life in an interview, giving vivid descriptions of romantic meetings at the beach. Dean biographer John Howlett said these read like wishful fantasies, as Bast claims them to be.
Actress Liz Sheridan asserts that she and Dean had a short affair in New York. However, again Bast is skeptical as to whether this was a true love affair, and says Dean and Sheridan did not spend much time together. Dean also dated Swiss actress Ursula Andress. “She was seen riding around Hollywood on the back of James’s motorcycle,” writes biographer Darwin Porter. She was also seen with Dean in his sports cars, and was with him on the day he bought the car that he died in. At the time, Andress was also dating Marlon Brando. Andress remembered her courtship with Dean:
“He came by my house late. He came in room like wild animal, and smell of everything I don’t like. We go hear jazz music and he leave table. Say he go play drums. He no come back. I don’t like to be alone. I go home. He come by my home later and say he sorry.”
Porter adds that Brando was “particularly interested in finding out from Ursula who the better lover was: James Dean or himself. It drove him crazy.”
Dean avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual, then classified by the US government as a mental disorder. When questioned about his orientation, he is reported to have said, “No, I am not a homosexual. But, I’m also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.”
On September 30, 1955, Dean and his Porsche factory-trained mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, were at Competition Motors in Hollywood preparing Dean’s new Porsche 550 Spyder for the weekend sports car races at Salinas, California.
Dean originally intended to trailer the Porsche to Salinas, behind his 1955 Ford Country Squire station wagon, driven by friend and movie stunt man Bill Hickman and accompanied by professional photographer Sanford H. Roth who was planning a photo story of Dean at the races for Colliers Magazine.
Because the Porsche did not have enough “break-in” miles prior to the race, Wütherich recommended that Dean drive the Spyder to Salinas to get more “seat time” behind the wheel.
The group had coffee and donuts at the Hollywood Ranch Market on Vine Street across from Competition Motors (not the legendary Farmer’s Market at W 3rd St & S Fairfax Ave as previously reported) before leaving around 1:15 p.m. PST. They stopped at the Mobil station for gasoline on Ventura Blvd. at Beverly Glen Blvd. in Sherman Oaks around 2:00 p.m. The group then headed north on the Golden State Freeway US 99 (today, Interstate 5) and then over the “Grapevine” toward Bakersfield.
At 3:30 p.m., Dean was stopped by California Highway Patrolman O.V. Hunter at Mettler Station on Wheeler Ridge, just south of Bakersfield, for driving 65 mph (105 km/h) in a 55 mph (89 km/h) zone. Hickman, following behind the Spyder in the Ford with the trailer, was also ticketed for driving 20 mph (32 km/h) over the limit, as the speed limit for all vehicles towing a trailer was 45 mph (72 km/h). After receiving the speeding citations, Dean and Hickman turned left onto Route 166/33 to avoid going through Bakersfield’s slow 25 mph downtown district.
Route 166/33 was a known short-cut for all the sports car drivers going to Salinas, called “the racer’s road”, which took them directly to Blackwells Corner at CA Route 466 (later SR 46). At Blackwells Corner, Dean stopped briefly only for refreshments and met up with fellow racers Lance Reventlow and Bruce Kessler, who were also on their way to the Salinas road races in Reventlow’s Mercedes-Benz 300SL coupe. As Reventlow and Kessler were leaving, they all agreed to meet for dinner in Paso Robles.
At approximately 5:15 p.m., Dean and Hickman left Blackwells Corner, driving west on Route 466 (now CA 46) toward Paso Robles, approximately 60 miles away. Dean accelerated in the Porsche and left the Ford station wagon far behind. Further along on Route 466, the Porsche crested Polonio Pass and headed down the long Antelope Grade, passing cars along the way toward the junction floor at Route 466 and 41. At approximately 5:45 p.m. PST, Dean spotted a black-and-white 1950 Ford Tudor coupe, driving at a high speed, heading east on Rt. 466 just west of the junction near Shandon.
Its driver, 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, made a left turn onto Route 41 headed north, toward Fresno. As Turnupseed’s Ford crossed over the center line, Dean, who was driving at a reported speed of 85 Miles per hour, saw an impending crash and apparently tried to steer the Spyder in a “side stepping” racing maneuver, but there was not enough time or space, and the two cars crashed almost head-on. The Spyder flipped up into the air and landed back on its wheels off in a gully, northwest of the junction. The sheer velocity of the impact sent the much-heavier Ford broad-sliding 39 feet down Route 466 in the westbound lane.
According to a story in the October 1, 2005, edition of the Los Angeles Times, California Highway Patrol Captain Ernest Tripke and his partner, Corporal Ronald Nelson, had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles when they were called to the scene of the accident at the Route 466/41 junction. Before Officers Tripke and Nelson arrived, James Dean had been extricated from the Spyder’s mangled cockpit, his left foot having been crushed between the clutch and brake pedal.
Dean was severely injured as he took the brunt of the crash, with a broken neck and several internal and external injuries. Nelson witnessed an unconscious and dying Dean being placed into an ambulance, and a barely conscious Wütherich, who had been thrown from the Spyder, lying on the shoulder of the road next to the wrecked Porsche. Dean and Wütherich were taken in the same ambulance to the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, 28 miles away. Dean was pronounced dead on arrival at 6:20 p.m. PST by the attending emergency room physician, Robert Bossert.
Junction of state highways 46 (former 466) and 41 as it looked in 2007
Wütherich survived with a broken jaw and serious hip and femur injuries that required immediate surgery. Turnupseed was only slightly injured with facial bruises and a bloodied nose. After being interviewed by the CHP, Turnupseed hitch-hiked in the dark to his home in Tulare. Hickman and Roth arrived at the accident scene approximately ten minutes after the crash. Hickman assisted in extricating Dean from the wreckage. Roth took photographs of the accident scene, which are now owned by Seita Ohnishi, a retired Kobe, Japan businessman. Ohnishi, in 1977, designed and erected a stainless steel memorial in tribute to James Dean at Cholame, just a mile west of the accident site.
Some sources give Dean’s last known words—uttered right before the impact when Wütherich told Dean to slow down when they both saw the 1950 Ford Tudor coupe about to pull into their lane—as “That guy’s gotta stop… He’ll see us.” James Dean historian Lee Raskin believes that any report about Wütherich saying anything to Dean, or Dean saying anything to Wütherich prior to the crash is pure conjecture. According to the coroner’s deposition taken of Wütherich in the hospital, and later in a 1960 interview given to an official Porsche magazine, Christophorus, he couldn’t recall any of the exact moments leading up to and after the crash.
At the official coroner’s Inquest, held at the San Luis Obispo Court House on October 11, 1955, Turnupseed told the jury that he did not see the low-profile Porsche until after he was turning left onto Route 41. After other testimony by the CHP, and witnesses to the accident, the coroner’s jury retired to deliberate. It came back with a verdict of “accidental death with no criminal intent” finding Donald Turnupseed not guilty of any contributory wrongdoing in the death of James Dean. The deceased Dean was also found not guilty of any criminal intent or contributory wrongdoing for the accident.
Although not charged with (what could have been) vehicular manslaughter, Turnupseed had nevertheless been dealt a devastating blow that would haunt him for the rest of his life. “Not only was he involved in an accident that resulted in one man’s death, but it was a death that will never be forgotten, a death whose reverberations are still being felt all over the world.”
Turnupseed granted just one interview to the Tulare Advance-Register newspaper immediately following the crash, but after that he refused to speak publicly about the accident. Turnupseed went on to own and operate a very successful family electrical contracting business in Tulare. He died at the age of 63 from lung cancer in 1995. Wütherich, after having several complicated surgeries on his hip and femur, went back to West Germany in 1957 with psychological and legal problems. He worked with the Porsche factory’s testing department and international rally and racing teams during the 1960s. Wütherich was one of the first employees of Porsche and worked for the factory eighteen years before being terminated. He died in July 1981, in Kupferzell, West Germany, in another auto accident when he lost control of his car and crashed into a residence. Like James Dean in the previous crash, Rolf Wütherich had to be extricated from the wreck and died at the accident scene. He was 53 years old.
There is an ironic epilogue to James Dean’s fatal crash in 1955: while filming Giant, Dean also filmed a short Public Service Announcement (PSA) with actor Gig Young for the National Safety Council. It featured James Dean dressed as the young Jett Rink talking about how driving fast on the highway can be more dangerous than racing on the track. It ends with Dean, instead of saying the standard phrase “The life you save may be your own”, humorously ad-libbing, “The life you might save might be mine.” This legendary black and white PSA, released following Dean’s death, can now be viewed on YouTube.
James Dean Memorial in Cholame. Dean died approximately one mile east of this tree.
James Dean is buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana, less than a mile from where he grew up on his aunt and uncle’s farm. In 1977, a Dean memorial was erected in Cholame, California. The stylized sculpture is composed of stainless steel around a tree of heaven growing in front of the former Cholame post office building. The sculpture was designed in Japan and transported to Cholame, accompanied by the project’s benefactor, Seita Ohnishi of Kobe, Japan, a retired businessman and devoted Dean fan. Ohnishi chose the site after examining the location of the accident, less than a mile away. The original Highway 41 and 46 junction where the accident occurred is now a pasture, and the two roadways were realigned over the decades to make them safer. On September 30, 2005, the junction at Highways 46 and 41 was dedicated as the James Dean Memorial Junction as part of the State of California’s official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. (Maps of the intersection )
The dates and hours of Dean’s birth and death are etched into the sculpture, along with a handwritten description by Dean’s friend William Bast of one of Dean’s favorite lines from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Dean’s grave in his hometown, Fairmount, Indiana
On February 15, 2009, all three CHP officers who dealt with James Dean on the day of his death—Officer Otie Hunter, who ticketed Dean for speeding, and Officers Ernie Tripke and Ronald Nelson, who investigated the fatal crash—participated and shared their memories of that fateful day in an SCVTV documentary titled The Stuff of Legend: James Dean’s Final Ride, co-produced by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. On December 21, 2010, CHP Captain Ernest “Ernie” Tripke, died at the age of 88. On August 7, 2012, CHP Corporal Ronald Nelson died at the age of 94.
Legacy and Iconic Status
Impact on Culture and Media
American teenagers at the time of Dean’s major films identified with Dean and the roles he played, especially in Rebel Without A Cause: the typical teenager, caught where no one, not even his peers, can understand him. Joe Hyams says that Dean was “one of the rare stars, like Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift, whom both men and women find sexy.” According to Marjorie Garber, this quality is “the undefinable extra something that makes a star.” Dean’s iconic appeal has been attributed to the public’s need for someone to stand up for the disenfranchised young of the era, and to the air of androgyny that he projected onscreen. Dean’s “loving tenderness towards the besotted Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause continues to touch and excite gay audiences by its honesty. The Gay Times Readers’ Awards cited him as the male gay icon of all time.”
Dean is mentioned or featured in various songs. James Dean is mentioned in Rob Zarro’s song ′Infamous Route 66′, “I’m seeing really cool things, pictures of Marilyn and James Dean.” The Eagles song named after Dean explores his fast and dangerous lifestyle. In addition, he is often noted within television shows, films, books and novels. In an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, the character Liberty likens the rebellious, anti-social Sean Cameron to James Dean. On the sitcom Happy Days, Fonzie has a picture of Dean in his closet next to his mirror. A picture of Dean also appears on Rizzo’s wall in the film Grease. On the American version of the TV series Queer as Folk, the main character Brian Kinney mentions James Dean together with Cobain and Hendrix, saying, “They’re all legends. They’ll always be young, and they will always be beautiful”. In the alternate history book Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove, Dean is stated to have not died in a car crash and to have made several more films, including Rescuing Private Ranfall, based on Saving Private Ryan.
Dean’s estate still earns about $5,000,000 per year, according to Forbes Magazine.
On April 20, 2010, a long “lost” live episode of the General Electric Theater called “The Dark, Dark Hours” featuring James Dean in a performance with Ronald Reagan was uncovered by NBC writer Wayne Federman while working on a Ronald Reagan television retrospective. The episode, originally broadcast December 12, 1954, drew international attention and highlights were featured on numerous national media outlets including: CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and Good Morning America. It was later revealed that some footage from the episode was first featured in the 2005 documentary, James Dean: Forever Young.
Debated Sexual Orientation
Today, Dean is often considered an icon because of his “experimental” take on life, which included his ambivalent sexuality. There have been several claims and assertions that Dean has had sexual relationships with both men and women.
William Bast, one of Dean’s closest friends, was Dean’s first biographer (1956). He published a revealing update of his first book, in which, after years of successfully dodging the question as to whether he and Dean were sexually involved, he finally stated that they were. In this second book, Bast describes the difficult circumstances of their involvement and also deals frankly with some of Dean’s other reported gay relationships, notably the actor’s friendship with Rogers Brackett, the influential producer of radio dramas who encouraged Dean in his career and provided him with useful professional contacts.
Journalist Joe Hyams suggests that any gay activity Dean might have been involved in appears to have been strictly “for trade”, as a means of advancing his career. Val Holley notes that, according to Hollywood biographer Lawrence J. Quirk, gay Hollywood columnist Mike Connolly “would put the make on the most prominent young actors, including Robert Francis, Guy Madison, Anthony Perkins, Nick Adams and James Dean.” However, the “trade only” notion is debated by Bast and other Dean biographers. Aside from Bast’s account of his own relationship with Dean, Dean’s fellow biker and “Night Watch” member John Gilmore claims he and Dean “experimented” with gay acts on one occasion in New York, and it is difficult to see how Dean, then already in his twenties, would have viewed this as a “trade” means of advancing his career.
Screenwriter Gavin Lambert, himself gay and part of the Hollywood gay circles of the 1950s and 1960s, described Dean as being gay. Rebel director Nicholas Ray is on record as saying that Dean was gay. Additionally, William Bast and biographer Paul Alexander conclude that Dean was gay, while John Howlett concludes that Dean was “certainly bisexual”. George Perry’s biography reduces these aspects of Dean’s sexuality to “experimentation”. Still, Hyams and Paul Alexander also claim that Dean’s relationship with pastor De Weerd had a sexual aspect, too. Bast also shows that Dean had knowledge of gay bars and customs. Consequently, Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon’s book Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001) includes an entry on James Dean.
The “Curse” of Little Bastard
The “curse” of James Dean’s car “Little Bastard” has become part of America’s cultural mythology. Warren Beath, a James Dean archivist and author, believes the source of the myth is Hollywood’s George Barris, the self-described “King of the Kustomizers”, who says he was the first to purchase the wrecked Little Bastard. Barris promoted the “curse” after he placed the wreck on public display in 1956. Over the years, Barris described a series of accidents that mysteriously occurred from 1956 to 1960 involving the Little Bastard, resulting in serious injuries to spectators and even a truck driver’s death. Porsche historian Lee Raskin states many claims regarding the “curse” of the Little Bastard appear to have been based on Barris’ 1974 book, Cars of the Stars.
Raskin’s 2005 book James Dean At Speed states that the wreckage of the Porsche Spyder, VIN 550-0055, was declared as a total loss by the insurance company, which paid Dean’s father, Winton, the fair market value as a settlement. The insurance company, in turn, through a salvage yard in Burbank, sold the entire wrecked Spyder to Dr. William F. Eschrich of Burbank, California. Eschrich, a CSCC racer, who had competed against Dean in his own sports car at three race events during 1955, dismantled the engine and mechanical parts and installed the Porsche 4-cam engine (mounted up front) in his Lotus IX race car chassis. Eschrich then raced the Porsche-powered Lotus, which he called a “Potus”, at seven CSCC events during 1956. At the Pomona Sports Car Races on October 21, 1956, Eschrich, driving this car, was involved in a minor “shunt” with another driver.
Barris’ Cars of the Stars clearly states that a Dr. McHenry, “driving a car powered by the engine from Dean’s car, was killed when his vehicle went out of control and struck a tree in the first race in which the motor had been used since Dean’s mishap. Another doctor, William F. Eschrid [sic] of Burbank, was injured in the same race when his car, which contained the drivetrain from Dean’s car, rolled over.” Dr. Eschrich, interviewed a day after Dr. McHenry’s fatal accident, said he had loaned the Dean transmission and several other parts to Dr. McHenry. “I don’t believe he was using the transmission when he crashed, but he was using the back swinging arms which holds the rear end.” McHenry appears to have the distinction of being the only bona fide victim of the “curse” of Dean’s “Little Bastard”.
Raskin states that although Barris may have customized several cars for the Rebel Without a Cause movie, he never customized any of Dean’s personal cars and neither of the Porsches. Lew Bracker, Dean’s best friend in L.A. and fellow Porsche racer, maintains that Barris was not involved with Dean’s sports car racing activities; he was never considered to be part of Dean’s “inner circle” invited to go to Salinas on September 30, 1955. It is not known exactly how Barris knew Dr. Echrich, but he was given the Spyder’s mangled body after Dr. Eschrich had stripped out the Porsche. In 1956, Barris announced that he was going to rebuild the Porsche Spyder, but that proved to be a Herculean task as the wrecked chassis had no remaining integral strength. Instead, Barris decided to weld aluminum sheet metal over the caved-in left front fender and cockpit area. He proceeded to beat on the aluminum panels with a 2×4 to try to simulate what would appear to be collision damage. Later in 1956, Barris loaned out the “Little Bastard” to the Los Angeles chapter of the National Safety Council for a local rod and custom car show. The gruesome display was promoted as: “James Dean’s Last Sports Car”. During 1957-1959, the “Little Bastard” exhibit began to appear at various rod and custom car shows, movie theatres, bowling alleys, and highway safety displays throughout California.
On the other hand, there are a few stories associated with the “curse” that can be corroborated. For example, a wire service story on March 12, 1959, reported that the “Little Bastard”, temporarily stored in a Fresno, California garage at 3158 Hamilton Avenue, caught fire “awaiting display as a safety exhibit in a coming sports and custom automobile show,” The May 12, 1959, Fresno Bee, went on to say that the fire occurred on the night of March 11, and only slight damage occurred to the Spyder without any damage to other cars or property in the garage. No one was injured. “The cause of the fire is unknown. It burned two tires and scorched the paint on the vehicle.” Later that year, the “Little Bastard” was moved around the country like a travelling circus to annual auto shows and traffic safety exhibitions. Legend also holds that the “Little Bastard” mysteriously disappeared in 1960. According to Barris, the Spyder was returning from a traffic safety exhibit in Florida in a sealed truck. When the trailer arrived back in Los Angeles, the trailer was unlocked and the car had completely disappeared into “thin air”, according to Barris. In Barris’ book and in many TV documentaries, he said the “Little Bastard” was being shipped back in a sealed boxcar. When the train arrived in LA, Barris said he signed the manifest and verified that the seal was intact—but the boxcar was empty.
Raskin believes that Barris’ “Little Bastard” side show had finally lost its fan appeal just as the 1960s pop culture began to focus on a need for more speed with “big block” Muscle Cars, and later, the high-revving car tunes from Jan and Dean, Ronny and the Daytonas, the Rip Chords, and the Beach Boys.
Raskin also believes that Barris opted to misplace the “Little Bastard”. The mysterious disappearance stories were Barris’ way of perpetuating the Dean myth, especially on the milestone anniversaries of James Dean’s death.
Although the legendary “Little Bastard” seemingly has disappeared from sight, Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, IL claims to have an original piece of Dean’s Spyder on display (a small chunk of aluminum, a few square inches in size) that was actually pried off and stolen from an area near the broken windscreen while the Spyder was being stored in the Cholame Garage following the accident. Also, in 2005, for the 50th Anniversary of James Dean’s death, the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, IL announced they were displaying what was purported to be the “Little Bastard’s” passenger door. Volo and George Barris offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that they owned the remains of the “Little Bastard”. No one came forth to claim the prize.
The 4-Cam Porsche engine (#90059) along with the original California Owner’s Registration (aka CA Pink Slip) listing the engine number is still in the possession of the family of the late Dr. Eschrich. The Porsche’s transaxle assembly (#10046), is currently owned by Porsche collector and restorer, Jack Styles in Massachusetts. Historian and author Lee Raskin originally documented and published all the serial numbers (VINs) for Dean’s Porsche Spyder (chassis, engine, transmission); as well as for his 356 Super Speedster. To date, neither of Dean’s Porsches have been located.
- See the Jaguar (1952)
- The Immoralist (1954) – based on the book by André Gide
- The Metamorphosis (1952) – based on the short story by Franz Kafka
- The Scarecrow (1954)
- Women of Trachis (1954) – translation by Ezra Pound
|1952||Sailor Beware||Boxing opponent’s second||Uncredited|
|1952||Has Anybody Seen My Gal?||Youth at soda fountain||Uncredited|
|1953||Trouble Along the Way||Extra||Uncredited|
|1955||East of Eden||Cal Trask||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor
Jussi Award for Best Foreign Actor
|1955||Rebel Without a Cause||Jim Stark||Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor|
|1956||Giant||Jett Rink||Golden Globe Special Achievement Award for Best Dramatic Actor
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
|1951||Family Theater||John||Episode: “Hill Number One: A Story of Faith and Inspiration”|
|1951||The Bigelow Theatre||Hank||Episode: “T.K.O.”|
|1951||The Stu Erwin Show||Randy||Episode: “Jackie Knows All”|
|1952||CBS Television Workshop||G.I.||Segment: “Into the Valley”|
|1952||Hallmark Hall of Fame||Bradford||Episode: “Forgotten Children”|
|1952||The Web||Himself||Episode: “Sleeping Dogs”|
|1952-1953||Kraft Television Theatre||Various roles||3 episodes|
|1952-1955||Lux Video Theatre||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1953||The Kate Smith Hour||The Messenger||Episode: “The Hound of Heaven”|
|1953||You Are There||Bob Ford||Episode: “The Capture of Jesse James”|
|1953||Treasury Men in Action||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1953||Tales of Tomorrow||Ralph||Episode: “The Evil Within”|
|1953||Westinghouse Studio One||Various roles||3 episodes|
|1953||The Big Story||Rex Newman||Episode: “Rex Newman, Reporter for the Globe and News”|
|1953||Omnibus||Bronco Evans||Episode: “Glory in the Flower”|
|1953||Campbell Summer Soundstage||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1953||Armstrong Circle Theatre||Joey Frasier||Episode: “The Bells of Cockaigne”|
|1953||Robert Montgomery Presents||Paul Zalinka||Episode: “Harvest”|
|1953-1954||Danger||Various roles||4 episodes|
|1954||The Philco Television Playhouse||Rob||Episode: “Run Like a Thief”|
|1954||GE True||Various roles||2 episodes|
|1955||The United States Steel Hour||Fernand Lagarde||Episode: “The Thief”|
|1955||Schlitz Playhouse||Jeffrey Latham||Episode: “The Unlighted Road”|
|1955||Crossroads||Episode: “Broadway Trust”
- James Dean: Portrait of a Friend aka James Dean (1976)
- James Dean: The First American Teenager (1976), a television biography that includes interviews with Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood and Nicholas Ray.
- Sense Memories (PBS American Masters television biography) (2005)
- Forever James Dean (1988), Warner Home Video (1995)
- James Dean (fictionalized TV biographical film) (2001)
- James Dean – Kleiner Prinz, Little Bastard aka James Dean – Little Prince, Little Bastard, German television biography, includes interviews with William Bast, Marcus Winslow Jr, Robert Heller (2005)
- James Dean: The Final Day features interviews with William Bast, Liz Sheridan and Maila Nurmi. Dean’s bisexuality is openly discussed. Episode of Naked Hollywood television miniseries produced by The Oxford Film Company in association the BBC, aired in the US on the A&E Network, 1991.
- Living Famously: James Dean, Australian television biography includes interviews with Martin Landau, Betsy Palmer, William Bast, and Bob Hinkle (2003, 2006).
- James Dean – Mit Vollgas durchs Leben, Austrian television biography includes interviews with Rolf Weutherich and William Bast (2005).
- James Dean – Outside the Lines (2002), episode of Biography, US television documentary includes interviews with Rod Steiger, William Bast, and Martin Landau (2002).
- Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean (2012)
- Two Friendly Ghosts (2012)
Source: Wikipedia & Other Sources