James Dean

James Dean
James Dean

Dean in Giant (1955)
Born James Byron Dean
February 8, 1931(1931-02-08)
Marion, Indiana, U.S.
Died September 30, 1955(1955-09-30) (aged 24)
Cholame, California, U.S.
Other names Jimmy Dean
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–1955
James Dean Signature

James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American film actor.[1] He is a cultural icon, best embodied 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.[2]

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.[3]


Early life

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".[4] 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, Winton Dean sent James to live with Winton's 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."[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

In high school, Dean's overall performance was mediocre. However, he was a popular school athlete, having successfully 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[8] 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 with James Whitmore's acting workshop. In January 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full-time career as an actor.[9]

Acting career

in East of Eden (1955)

Dean's first television appearance was in a Pepsi Cola television commercial.[10] 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 in Sailor Beware, a Paramount comedy starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; Dean played a boxing trainer. 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.[11][12]

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."[11]

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.[13]

East of Eden

With Julie Harris 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 had dealt 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, the film chose to deal 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). Elia Kazan said of Cal before casting, "I wanted a Brando for the role." Osborn suggested Dean, who then met with Steinbeck; the future Nobel laureate did not like the moody, complex young man personally, but thought him perfect for the part. Kazan set about putting the wheels in motion to cast the relatively unknown young actor in the role; on April 8, 1954, Dean left New York City and headed for Los Angeles to begin shooting.[14][15][16]

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.

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 (offered in reparation for his father's business loss). 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. This cut and Massey's shocked reaction were kept in the film by Kazan.

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

Dean quickly followed up his role in Eden with a starring role in Rebel Without a Cause, a film that would prove to be hugely popular among teenagers. The film is often cited as an accurate representation of teenage angst.[citation needed] It co-starred teen actors Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and Dennis Hopper and was directed by Nicholas Ray.


Giant, which was posthumously released in 1956, saw Dean play a supporting role to Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. This was due to his desire to avoid being typecast as Jim Stark and Cal Trask. In the film, he plays Jett, an oil-rich Texan. His role was notable in that, in order to portray an older version of his character in one scene, Dean dyed his hair gray and shaved some of it off to give himself a receding hairline.

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 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'

When Dean got the part in East of Eden, he bought himself a red race-prepared MG TD and, shortly afterwards, a white Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon. Dean upgraded his MG to a 1954 Porsche 356 Speedster, which he raced. Dean came in second in the Palm Springs Road Races in March 1955 after a driver was disqualified; he came in third in May 1955 at Bakersfield and was running fourth at the Santa Monica Road Races later that month until he retired with an engine failure.

During filming of Rebel Without a Cause, Dean traded in the 356 Speedster for one of only 90 Porsche 550 Spyders. He was contractually barred from racing during the filming of Giant, but with that out of the way, he was free to compete again. The Porsche was in fact a stopgap for Dean, as delivery of a superior Lotus Mk. X was delayed and he needed a car to compete at the races in Salinas, California.

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." [17] James Dean had been given the nickname 'Little Bastard' by Bill Hickman, his language coach on Giant. When Dean introduced himself to actor Alec Guinness outside the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood, he asked him to take a look at the 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.[18][19]

Personal relationships

Screenwriter William Bast was one of Dean's closest friends, a fact acknowledged by Dean's family.[20] According to Dean's first biographer (1956),[21] 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.[22]

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.'"[23]

Shortly before filming began on East of Eden, Dean befriended horse trainer Monty Roberts. Roberts introduced Dean to the area and the two became close friends. Dean had planned to meet with Roberts shortly after the race on September 30 to discuss plans for the construction of a ranch, which would be owned by Dean but managed by Roberts. Roberts and his wife were the first people to learn of Dean's death through a telephone call placed by Dean's mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, immediately following the incident, in which Wütherich mumbled through a broken jaw that Dean had died. Roberts and his family did not attend Dean's funeral because, although the two considered themselves 'brothers', their friendship was unknown to Dean's family.[24]

Dean's best-remembered relationship was with young Italian actress Pier Angeli, whom he met while Angeli was shooting The Silver Chalice on an adjoining Warner lot, and with whom he exchanged items of jewelry as love tokens.[25] Angeli's mother was reported to have disapproved of the relationship because Dean was not Roman Catholic. In his autobiography, East of Eden director Elia Kazan, while dismissing the notion that Dean could possibly have had any success with women, paradoxically alluded to Dean and Angeli's "romance", claiming that he had heard them loudly making love in Dean's dressing room. For a very short time the story of a Dean-Angeli love affair was even promoted by Dean himself, who fed it to various gossip columnists and to his co-star, Julie Harris, who in interviews has reported that Dean told her about being madly in love with Angeli. However, in early October 1954, Angeli had unexpectedly announced her engagement to Italian-American singer Vic Damone, to Dean's expressed irritation.[26] Angeli married Damone the following month, and gossip columnists reported that Dean, or someone dressed like him, watched the wedding from across the road on a motorcycle. However, when Bast questioned him about the reports, Dean denied that he would have done anything so "dumb", and Bast, like Paul Alexander, believes the relationship was a mere publicity stunt.[27][28] 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,[29] as Bast claims them to be.[30]

Actress Liz Sheridan claims that she and Dean had a short affair in New York. In her memoir, she also states that Dean was having a sexual involvement with director Rogers Brackett, and describes her negative response to this situation.[31] However, again Bast is skeptical whether this was a true love affair and says Dean and Sheridan did not spend much time together.[11]

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."[32]


On September 30, 1955, Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wütherich set off from Competition Motors, where they had prepared his Porsche 550 Spyder that morning for a sports car race at Salinas, California. Dean originally intended to trailer the Porsche to the meeting point at Salinas, behind his new Ford Country Squire station wagon, crewed by Hickman and photographer Sanford Roth, who was planning a photo story of Dean at the races. At the last minute, Dean drove the Spyder, having decided he needed more time to familiarize himself with the car. At 3:30 p.m., Dean was ticketed in Mettler Station, Kern County, for driving 65 mph (105 km/h) in a 55 mph (89 km/h) zone. The driver of the Ford was 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). Later, having left the Ford far behind, they stopped at Blackwells Corner in Lost Hills for fuel and met up with fellow racer Lance Reventlow.

After leaving Lost Hills, Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 (later State Route 46) east of Cholame, San Luis Obispo County, when a black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed (1932–1995), moved to take the fork onto State Route 41 and crossed into Dean's lane. The two cars hit almost head-on. According to a story in the October 1, 2005, edition of the Los Angeles Times,[33] California Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles, when they were called to the scene of the accident, where they saw an unconscious, heavily breathing Dean being placed into an ambulance. Ambulance attendants were attending to a barely conscious Wütherich who had been thrown from the car and was lying on the shoulder of the road next to the mangled Porsche Spyder. Wütherich survived with a broken jaw and other injuries. Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59 p.m. by the attending emergency room physician. His last known words, uttered right before impact when Wütherich told Dean to slow down when they saw the Ford coupe in front of them about to drive into their lane, were said to have been: "That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us."[34]

Junction of highways 46 and 41 as it looked circa 2007

According to the postmortem, it is believed that Dean's head struck the front grill of the other car. This impact and the accompanying crash resulted in Dean suffering a broken neck, plus multiple fractures of the jaw, arms and legs, as well as massive internal injuries. He is believed to have died around 10 minutes after the crash upon examination in the ambulance. For years, it was rumored that Sanford Roth, Dean's photographer friend riding with Hickman in the Ford Country Squire as it followed the Porsche, took photos of Dean trapped in the wrecked car, dead or dying. Such photos never surfaced in public.

Contrary to reports of Dean's speeding, which persisted decades after his death, Nelson said "the wreckage and the position of Dean's body indicated his speed was more like 55 mph (89 km/h)."[33] Turnupseed received a gashed forehead and bruised nose and was not cited by police for the accident. He was interviewed by the Tulare Advance-Register newspaper immediately following the crash, saying that he had not seen Dean's car approaching, but after that, refused to ever again speak publicly about the accident. He went on to own and operate an electrical contracting business and died of lung cancer in 1995.[35] Wütherich died in a road accident in Germany in 1981 after surviving several suicide attempts.

While completing Giant, and to promote Rebel Without a Cause, Dean filmed a short interview with actor Gig Young for an episode of Warner Bros. Presents[36] in which Dean, instead of saying the popular phrase "The life you save may be your own" instead ad-libbed "The life you might save might be mine." [sic][37] Dean's sudden death prompted the studio to re-film the section, and the piece was never aired—though in the past several sources have referred to the footage, mistakenly identifying it as a public service announcement. (The segment can, however, be viewed on both the 2001 VHS and 2005 DVD editions of Rebel Without a Cause).


James Dean Memorial in Cholame. Dean died about 900 yards east of this tree.

James Dean is buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana. In 1977, a Dean memorial was built in Cholame, California. The stylized sculpture is composed of concrete and stainless steel around a tree of heaven growing in front of the Cholame post office. The sculpture was made in Japan and transported to Cholame, accompanied by the project's benefactor, Seita Ohnishi. Ohnishi chose the site after examining the location of the accident, now little more than a few road signs and flashing yellow signals. The original Highway 41 and 46 junction where the accident occurred is now a pasture, and the two roadways were realigned to make the intersection safer. In September, 2005, the intersection of Highways 41 and 46 was dedicated as the James Dean Memorial Junction as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death.[38] (Maps of the intersection 35°44′5″N 120°17′4″W / 35.73472°N 120.28444°W / 35.73472; -120.28444)

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 Feb. 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 in an SCVTV documentary coproduced by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society and shared their memories of that fateful day. The Stuff of Legend: James Dean's Final Ride (Documentary).

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."[39] Dean's iconic appeal has been attributed to the public's need for someone to stand up for the disenfranchised young of the era,[40] and to the air of androgyny[41] 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."[42]

Dean is mentioned or featured in various songs, which include titles such as "Allure" by Jay-Z, "American Boy" by Chris Isaak, "American Pie" by Don McLean, "A Young Man is Gone" by The Beach Boys, "Bla bla bla (Blah Blah Blah)" by Perfect, "Chciałbym umrzeć jak James Dean (lit. I Wish to Die Like James Dean)" by Partia, "Come Back Jimmy Dean" by Bette Midler, "Daddy's Speeding" by Suede, "Electrolite" by R.E.M., "Famous" by Scouting for Girls, "Five Years Time" by Noah & The Whale, "Just Like a Movie Star" by The 6ths, "Flip-Top Box" by Self, "Girl on TV" by LFO,[43] "Hello my Hate" by Black Veil Brides, "Jack and Diane" by John Mellencamp, "James Dean" by Bonnie Tyler, "James Dean (I Wanna Know)" by Daniel Bedingfield, "James Dean" by That Handsome Devil, "James Dean" by the Eagles, "Jim Dean of Indiana" by Phil Ochs, "Jimmy Dean" by Icehouse,[44] "Lost on Highway 46" by Sham 69, "Choke On This" by Senses Fail, "Mr. James Dean" by Hilary Duff, "My Kind of Girl" by Collin Raye, "My Shine" by Childish Gambino, "Peach Trees" by Rufus Wainwright, "Picture Show" by John Prine, "Rather Die Young" by Beyoncé, "Rock On" by David Essex, "Rockstar" by Nickelback, "Speechless" by Lady GaGa, "Teenage Wildlife" by AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys, "These Days" by Bon Jovi, "Under the Gun" by The Killers, "Vogue" by Madonna, "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed, and "We Didn't Start The Fire" by Billy Joel.

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.[45]

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.[46] The episode, originally broadcast December 12, 1954, drew international attention and highlights were featured on numerous national media outlets including: The 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.[47]

Debated sexual orientation

Today, Dean is often considered an icon because of his "experimental" take on life, which included his ambivalent sexuality.[42] There have been several accounts of Dean having sexual relationships with both men and women.

William Bast, one of Dean's closest friends,[20] was Dean's first biographer (1956).[48] He recently 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,[49][50] he finally stated that they were.[22] In this second book, Bast describes the difficult circumstances of their involvement and also deals frankly with some of Dean's other reported homosexual 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.[51]

Journalist Joe Hyams suggests that any homosexual 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."[52] However, the "trade only" notion is debated by Bast[22] and other Dean biographers.[53] 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 homosexual 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.[54]

Screenwriter Gavin Lambert, himself homosexual and part of the Hollywood gay circles of the 1950s and 1960s, described Dean as being homosexual. Rebel director Nicholas Ray is on record as saying that Dean was homosexual.[55] Additionally, William Bast and biographer Paul Alexander conclude that Dean was homosexual, while John Howlett concludes that Dean was "certainly bisexual".[27][56][57] George Perry's biography reduces these aspects of Dean's sexuality to "experimentation".[58] Still, Hyams and Paul Alexander also claim that Dean's relationship with pastor De Weerd had a sexual aspect, too.[27][59] Bast also shows that Dean had knowledge of gay bars and customs.[60] 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"

Since Dean's death, a "legend" has arisen that his Porsche 550 Spyder was "cursed" and supposedly injured or killed several others in the years following his death.

One version of the tale goes as follows:

The famous car customizer George Barris bought the wreck for $2,500, only to have it slip off its trailer and break a mechanic's leg. Soon afterwards, Barris sold the engine and drive-train, respectively, to physicians Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While racing against each other, the former would be killed instantly when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree, while the latter would be seriously injured when his vehicle rolled over while going into a curve. Barris later sold two tires, which malfunctioned as well. The tires, which were unharmed in Dean's accident, blew up simultaneously causing the buyer's automobile to go off the road. Subsequently, two young would-be thieves were injured while attempting to steal parts from the car. When one tried to steal the steering wheel from the Porsche, his arm was ripped open on a piece of jagged metal. Later, another man was injured while trying to steal the bloodstained front seat. This would be the final straw for Barris, who decided to store "Little Bastard" away, but was quickly persuaded by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to lend the wrecked car to a highway safety exhibit.

The first exhibit from the CHP featuring the car ended unsuccessfully, as the garage storing the Spyder went up in flames, destroying everything except the car itself, which suffered almost no damage whatsoever from the fire. The second display, at a Sacramento high school, ended when the car fell, breaking a student's hip. "Little Bastard" caused problems while being transported several times. On the way to Salinas, the truck containing the vehicle lost control, causing the driver to fall out, only to be crushed by the Porsche after it fell off the back. On two separate occasions, once on a freeway and again in Oregon, the car came off other trucks, although no injuries were reported, another vehicle's windshield was shattered in Oregon. Its last use in a CHP exhibit was in 1959. In 1960, when being returned to George Barris in Los Angeles, California, the car mysteriously vanished. It has not been seen since.[61][62]

While it has proven impossible thus far to confirm or deny all the claims in this legend, it suffers from several clear factual errors. Barris was not the initial purchaser of the wrecked 550. Rather the doctors Troy McHenry and William Eschrid, both 550 Spyder owners, purchased the car directly from the insurance company. They removed the drivetrain, steering and other mechanical components to use as spares in their cars, then sold the shell to George Barris.[63] William Eschrid used the engine in his Lotus race car.[64] Troy McHenry was killed at a race at Pomona 1956 when the Pitman arm in his 550's steering failed; however this was not one of the "cursed" parts fitted to his 550.

Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Illinois has claimed to have the last known piece of Dean's Spyder (a small chunk a few square inches in size). However this is untrue, as several other large parts are known to exist. The passenger door was on display at the Volo Auto Museum.[65] The engine (#90059) is reported to still be in the possession of the son of the late Dr. Eschrich. Lastly the restored transaxle–gearbox assembly of the Porsche (#10046) is known to be in the possession of car collector Jack Styles.[66]


Year Film Role Notes
1951 Fixed Bayonets! Doggie (uncredited)
1952 Sailor Beware Boxing opponent's second (uncredited)
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
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





  • Father Peyton's Family Theater, "Hill Number One" (Easter Sunday, April 1, 1951)
  • The Web, "Sleeping Dogs" (February 20, 1952)
  • Studio One, "Ten Thousand Horses Singing" (March 3, 1952)
  • Lux Video Theatre, "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" (March 17, 1952)
  • Kraft Television Theatre, "Prologue to Glory" (May 21, 1952)
  • Studio One, "Abraham Lincoln" (May 26, 1952)
  • Hallmark Hall of Fame, "Forgotten Children" (June 2, 1952)
  • The Kate Smith Show, "Hounds of Heaven" (January 15, 1953)
  • Treasury Men In Action, "The Case of the Watchful Dog" (January 29, 1953)
  • You Are There, "The Capture of Jesse James" (February 8, 1953)
  • Danger, "No Room" (April 14, 1953)
  • Treasury Men In Action, "The Case of the Sawed-Off Shotgun" (April 16, 1953)
  • Tales of Tomorrow, "The Evil Within" (May 1, 1953)
  • Campbell Soundstage, "Something For An Empty Briefcase" (July 17, 1953)
  • Studio One Summer Theater, "Sentence of Death" (August 17, 1953)
  • Danger, "Death Is My Neighbor" (August 25, 1953)
  • The Big Story, "Rex Newman, Reporter for the Globe and News" (September 11, 1953)
  • Omnibus, "Glory In Flower" (October 4, 1953)
  • Kraft Television Theatre, "Keep Our Honor Bright" (October 14, 1953)
  • Campbell Soundstage, "Life Sentence" (October 16, 1953)
  • Kraft Television Theatre, "A Long Time Till Dawn" (November 11, 1953)
  • Armstrong Circle Theater, "The Bells of Cockaigne" (November 17, 1953)
  • Robert Montgomery Presents the Johnson's Wax Program, Harvest (November 23, 1953)
  • Danger, "The Little Women" (March 30, 1954)
  • Philco TV Playhouse, "Run Like A Thief" (September 5, 1954)
  • Danger, "Padlocks" (November 9, 1954)
  • General Electric Theater, "I'm A Fool" (November 14, 1954)
  • General Electric Theater, "The Dark, Dark Hour" (December 12, 1954)
  • The United States Steel Hour, "The Thief" (January 4, 1955)
  • Lux Video Theatre, "The Life of Emile Zola" (March 10, 1955) – appeared in a promotional interview for East of Eden shown after the program aired
  • Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, "The Unlighted Road" (May 6, 1955)

Biographical films

  • James Dean: Portrait of a Friend aka James Dean (1976)[67]
  • James Dean: The First American Teenager (1976), a television biography that includes interviews with Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood and Nicholas Ray.[68]
  • Sense Memories (PBS American Masters television biography) (2005)[69]
  • Forever James Dean (1988), Warner Home Video (1995)[70]
  • 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)[71]
  • 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.[72]
  • Living Famously: James Dean, Australian television biography includes interviews with Martin Landau, Betsy Palmer, William Bast, and Bob Hinkle (2003, 2006).[73]
  • James Dean – Mit Vollgas durchs Leben, Austrian television biography includes interviews with Rolf Weutherich and William Bast (2005).[71]
  • James Dean – Outside the Lines (2002), episode of Biography, US television documentary includes interviews with Rod Steiger, William Bast, and Martin Landau (2002).[74]


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, October 5, 1955.
  2. ^ Goodman, Ezra (September 24, 1956). "Delirium over dead star". Life (Vol. 41 No. 13): pp. 75–88. 
  3. ^ http://connect.afi.com/site/DocServer/stars50.pdf?docID=262
  4. ^ Michael DeAngelis, Gay Fandom and Crossover Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves (Duke University Press, 2001), p. 97.
  5. ^ For more details concerning this homosexual relationship, see Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra and Robert A. Schanke, eds., The Gay And Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era (University of Michigan Press, 2005), 133. See also Joe and Jay Hyams, James Dean: Little Boy Lost (1992), p.20, who present an account alleging Dean's molestation as a teenager by his early mentor DeWeerd and describe it as Dean's first homosexual encounter (although DeWeerd himself portrayed his relationship with Dean as a completely conventional one).
  6. ^ Paul Alexander, Boulevard of broken dreams: the life, times, and legend of James Dean, Viking, 1994, p. 44.
  7. ^ Sessums, Kevin (March 23, 2011). "Elizabeth Taylor Interview About Her AIDS Advocacy". http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-03-23/elizabeth-taylor-interview-about-her-aids-advocacy-plus-stars-remember/?cid=sexybeast:mainpromo4. Retrieved March 24, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Notable Actors | UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television". Tft.ucla.edu. 2010-02-11. http://www.tft.ucla.edu/alumni/notable-actors/. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  9. ^ "The unseen James Dean". London: The Times. March 6, 2005. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/article518348.ece. Retrieved January 6, 2010. 
  10. ^ "1950 Pepsi commercial". YouTube. 1950-12-13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQfikxbS4zE. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  11. ^ a b c Bast, W., Surviving James Dean, New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2006.
  12. ^ On Dean's relationship with Brackett, see also Hyams, James Dean: Little Boy Lost, p.79.
  13. ^ Reise, R. The Unabridged James Dean, 1991
  14. ^ Holley, pages x-196.
  15. ^ Perry, pages 109-226.
  16. ^ Rathgeb, page 20.
  17. ^ Raskin, Lee. ""Little Bastard" | The Silver Spyder Porsche/Dean Mystery Revisited". James Dean At Speed. David Bull Publishing. http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/little-bastard-the-silver-spyder-porschedean-mystery-revisited/. Retrieved September 21, 2011. 
  18. ^ Guinness, Alec. Blessings in Disguise [Random House, 1985, ISBN 0-394-55237-7], ch. 4 (pp. 34-35)
  19. ^ "Premonition of Sir Alec Guiness". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p_ZLFiq_fs. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  20. ^ a b Perry, George, James Dean, London, New York: DK Publishing, 2005, p. 68 ("Authorized by the James Dean Estate")
  21. ^ William Bast, James Dean: a Biography, New York: Ballantine Books, 1956
  22. ^ a b c Bast, William: Surviving James Dean (Barricade Books, 2006), pp. 133, 183-232.
  23. ^ Michael DeAngelis, Gay Fandom and Crossover Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves, p. 98.
  24. ^ Roberts, M. (1997). "The Man Who Listens to Horses." Random House. 102—104.
  25. ^ In his 1992 biography, James Dean: Little Boy Lost, journalist Joe Hyams, who claims to have known Dean personally, devotes an entire chapter to Dean's relationship with Angeli.
  26. ^ Bast, William, Surviving James Dean, p. 196, New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2006
  27. ^ a b c Alexander, Paul, Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean, New York: Viking, 1994
  28. ^ William Bast, Surviving James Dean, p. 197, (2006).
  29. ^ John Howlett, James Dean: A Biography, Plexus 1997
  30. ^ William Bast, Surviving James Dean
  31. ^ Liz Sheridan, Dizzy & Jimmy (ReganBooks HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 144-151.
  32. ^ Riese, Randall, The Unabridged James Dean: His Life and Legacy from A to Z, p. 239, Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1991.
  33. ^ a b Chawkins, Steve, "Remembering a 'Giant'", Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2005.
  34. ^ Frascella, L., Weisel, A. Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause", p.233, New York: Touchstone, 2005
  35. ^ (1995, July 13/14). "Obituary: Turnupseed, Donald", Tulare Advance-Register
  36. ^ "Plot Summary for "Warner Brothers Presents"". http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047786/plotsummary. Retrieved February 24, 2006. 
  37. ^ "Youtube video". Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm26GYvSEzU&mode=related&search=. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  38. ^ California State Legislature (2002-08-15). "Senate Concurrent Resolution 52, Chapter 107" (PDF). http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/01-02/bill/sen/sb_0051-0100/scr_52_bill_20020815_chaptered.pdf. 
  39. ^ Marjorie B. Garber, Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (2000), p.140. See also "Bisexuality and Celebrity." In Rhiel and Suchoff, The Seductions of Biography, p.18.
  40. ^ Perry, G., James Dean, p. 204, New York, DK Publishing, Inc., 2005
  41. ^ David Burner, Making Peace with the 60s (Princeton University Press, 1997), p.244.
  42. ^ a b Garry Wotherspoon and Robert F. Aldrich, Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History: from Antiquity to World War II (Routledge, 2001), p.105.
  43. ^ "LFO-Girl on tv". YouTube. 2006-09-16. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4iGDSjOpXc. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  44. ^ "Jimmy Dean". whammo.com.au. Archived from the original on 2003-05-17. http://web.archive.org/web/20030517224039/www.whammo.com.au/encyclopedia.asp?articleid=937. 
  45. ^ Lisa DiCarlo (October 25, 2004). "The Top Earners For 2004". Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/lists/2004/10/25/cx_2004deadcelebtears_15.html. Retrieved February 24, 2006. 
  46. ^ "Rare Film of Ronald Reagan, James Dean Unearthed (April 21, 2010)". CBS News. 2010-04-21. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/21/entertainment/main6417586.shtml. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  47. ^ "Brian Williams NBC News: The Daily Nightly (April 22, 2010)". Dailynightly.msnbc.msn.com. 1945-04-13. http://dailynightly.msnbc.msn.com/_nv/more/section/archive?date=2010/4. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  48. ^ William Bast, James Dean: a Biography, New York: Ballantine Books, 1956.
  49. ^ Riese, Randall, The Unabridged James Dean: His Life from A to Z, Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1991, pp. 41, 238
  50. ^ Alexander, Paul, Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean, New York: Viking, 1994, p. 87
  51. ^ Bast, Surviving James Dean, pp. 133, 150, 183.
  52. ^ Val Holley, Mike Connolly and the Manly Art of Hollywood Gossip (2003), p.22.
  53. ^ Donald Spoto, Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean (HarperCollins, 1996), pp.150-151. See also Val Holley, James Dean: The Biography, pp.6, 7, 8, 78, 80, 85, 94, 153.
  54. ^ John Gilmore, Live Fast – Die Young: Remembering the Short Life of James Dean (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1998).
  55. ^ See Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, Live Fast, Die Young – The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause.
  56. ^ William Bast, Surviving James Dean (Barricade Books, 2006)
  57. ^ John Howlett (1997), James Dean, London: Plexus, p. 167
  58. ^ George Perry, James Dean, DK Publishing 2005
  59. ^ Joe Hyams, James Dean – Little Boy Lost, Warner Books 1992
  60. ^ William Bast, Surviving James Dean, Barricade 2006, p. 53-54, p. 135
  61. ^ Frascella, L., Weisel, A. Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause, p.295, New York: Touchstone, 2005
  62. ^ Beath, W., Wheeldon, P.,James Dean in Death: A Popular Encyclopedia of a Celebrity Phenomenon, McFarland & Co, 2005
  63. ^ "James Dean, 356 Driver". 356registry.org. 2001-02-09. http://www.356registry.org/History/Dean/index.html. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  64. ^ Tam McPartland (1956-08-19). "BillTibbetts030EschrichWoodardPR". Tamsoldracecarsite.net. http://www.tamsoldracecarsite.net/BillTibbetts030EschrichWoodardPR.html. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  65. ^ "M offered for James Dean death car". CNN. August 30, 2005. http://www.cnn.com/2005/AUTOS/08/30/dean_death_porsche/index.html. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  66. ^ "The James Dean Porsche Spyder Transaxle". Jamesdean550.com. 1955-09-30. http://www.jamesdean550.com/. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  67. ^ "''James Dean'' at IMDB". Imdb.com. http://imdb.com/title/tt0074708/. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  68. ^ hotfriend1. "James Dean: The First American Teenager". IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072990/. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  69. ^ "''Sense Memories'' at IMDB". Imdb.com. http://imdb.com/title/tt0776283/. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  70. ^ "''Forever James Dean'' at IMDB". Imdb.com. http://imdb.com/title/tt0268312/. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  71. ^ a b James Dean – Kleiner Prinz, little Bastard film page at IMDB
  72. ^ "''Naked Hollywood'' at IMDB". Imdb.com. http://imdb.com/title/tt0297595/. Retrieved 2010-10-16. 
  73. ^ Living Famously: James Dean at IMDB
  74. ^ Biography episode page at IMDB

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