Friday, 30 September 2016 09:15

James Dean: Rebel Life

Written by Hermione Cameron (Plexus Intern)
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Today marks the 61st anniversary of James Dean’s death. Actor, cultural icon and all round legend, it is not unrealistic to expect that the name James Dean will still be referenced in casual conversation for many years to come. 

But what was it exactly about this brooding Hollywood star that made him quite so legendary? Find out, as John Howlett uncovers the secrets of James Dean’s past, detailing his rise from a modest, country upbringing to the glamour of the silver screen. This biography includes interviews and quotations from the man himself, as well as conversations with close friends, family members and co-stars. 

In the opening chapter, Howlett covers the early years of the young ‘Jimmy’ Dean and his (slightly dysfunctional) Indiana childhood. Although bright and highly talented, Dean is portrayed by the author as a socially awkward outsider who struggled somewhat in school, both in terms of the social dynamic as well as a lack of application to academic subjects. Photos reveal a gawky-looking, bespectacled ‘Jimmy’ in his high school basketball team photos, an image that contrasts almost comically with the cool, edgy effortlessness that we have come to associate with James Dean. 

The author then focuses on James Dean’s acting career, including his most notable films East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. The reader is given behind the scenes insight into the experience of working with Dean (both positive and negative!) through interviews with his contemporaries, including fellow actor and friend, Natalie Wood. 

John Howlett also addresses the ongoing ambiguity that surrounds James Dean’s sexuality. This has always been a subject of great intrigue for fans. Despite his relationships with various women, rumours of Dean’s alleged affairs with other men were often at the centre of media gossip, particularly at a time in which prevailing attitudes towards homosexuality were less than tolerant.

The final chapters explore the devastation of the doomed actor’s untimely death, at the age of 24. This includes an especially poignant extract from an interview with Natalie Wood. Wood talks of having dinner with a group of James’ friends that night: ‘We were talking about Jimmy’s lifestyle and Nick ventured the opinion that Jimmy wouldn’t live to thirty. We pooh-poohed the idea.’ Wood and her companions would have been crazy to think that this statement would come true that very same night…

James Dean: Rebel Life is an informative and well-written biography, and one I would certainly recommend. The writer manages to wipe away the gloss of Hollywood and offer the reader a more human side to James Dean, behind the chiselled jaw line and the smoky stare (so to speak). Even if you are, as I was, completely ignorant on the topic of all things related to James Dean, it still proves to be an interesting read and serves as the perfect tribute to one of Western popular culture’s greatest legends.

Read 4191 times Last modified on Friday, 09 December 2016 16:09

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