Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, June 27, 2008


JAMES DEAN: The Biography by Val Holley. St. Martin's Press; 1995.

I've never quite understood or been caught up in the fascination or indeed deification of James Dean. My chief feeling about him is that it's always a tragedy when somebody dies at only 24; other than that he was never of great interest to me. In his short years, Dean piled in a lot of success and interesting experiences, however, many of them detailed by Holley, whose book held my attention despite my general lack of interest in the subject -- which is saying something. How it compares to other Dean books I can't say, although there are some interesting interviews (not all of which sound entirely credible) and much good research. Holley states right off the bat that "no effort has been made to reconcile the conflicting views of Deans' masculinity or sexuality expressed by different sources," which, unfortunately makes the book seem a little schizoid. [Holley seems to feel that Dean was essentially androgynous (?).] If Dean was essentially a homosexual who cast off his early gay friends and helpers as he headed toward stardom, as many people feel, then it makes little sense for Holley to make a big romance out of his fling with actress Pier Angeli; frankly the relationship between the two comes off by any account as little more than a publicity-driven faux romance. The result of Holley's approach is to make Dean still a little mysterious (which may have been his intention) but it also serves to keep the reader at a distance. The Dean that emerges is a rough-hewn talent who was unimpressive in real life but had something special that was captured by the camera. He had many facets, but could be a real a-hole and was rather immature and often pretentious. You get the impression that this poor young dead man wasn't necessarily worthy of all the adoration that has been heaped upon him.

Verdict: If you want some basic info on the actor, this basically well-done if imperfect book will probably do as well as any other. ***.

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