James Dean, by George C. Perry: review

This official biography of James Dean proves that the legend doesn’t get boring.

All of us were touched by Jimmy, and he was touched by greatness”, Natalie Wood, an actress who co-starred with James Dean in his second movie, “Rebel without a cause” (1955), once said. These words can be read on the back cover of Perry’s book, and they seem to reflect Dean’s talent and genius, which, apart from his tragic death, gave rise to the myth of James Dean. This myth is a keynote in James Dean’s biography by George C. Perry.

The book begins with a description of the car accident in which Dean lost his life, then it moves to his childhood, the beginnings of his career, and, finally, to the rise of a legend. Surprisingly, the biography finishes with the very same story of the tragic day. The difference lies in the angles from which it is told – the first one resembles a newspaper report from the place of the tragedy, including pictures, documents concerning the police investigation, etc., whereas the second contains some information about Dean’s burial place, the funeral, as well as people’s reactions to his death.

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The biography is based on details from Jimmy’s life – both as a private person and a rising star – but it also consists of some info concerning places (his hometown, cities he lived in as a novice actor) and people (such as family members, actors and directors) whom Dean was involved with.

This is the only biography authorized by the Dean family, the advantage of this being a collection of private photos of James Dean that have been included in the book. It’s also full of copies of James’ handwritten letters and notes, gathered from the Deans’ archives as well. All of this gives a sense of authenticity and, in an inexplicable way, brings you even closer to your favorite star.

On the other hand, however, some of James’ “dark secrets” are not mentioned in the biography (for example, Perry doesn’t say a word about the fact that Dean was bisexual, instead, he maintains that the actor was interested in women only, and that he was engaged in a one-night stand with a man just to help his career develop).

This may distort the overall view of J.D., just like the very way in which Dean is portrayed in this book. Here, Jimmy is an idealized, almost a-God-like creature, whose life was a continuum of unbroken successes. You may therefore get the impression that he didn’t experienced any failure, and all that happened in his life went smoothly and was achieved without much effort. You may accuse Perry of an exaggerated adoration, but isn’t this the case with fans of any legend?

Probably the strongest part of the book are the photographs: beautiful pictures of James Dean, some of them never released before, enrich the biography, and often melt into the image of the rebellious yet extremely vulnerable young man, which has been ascribed to Dean, and which is promoted throughout the book.

The story of James Dean ends with a neatly developed filmography and a detailed timetable of the events in Dean’s life.

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Although the book sheds some new light on the history of James Dean, it only proves that this man has deservedly become a legend, just as he wanted, living fast and dying young. Nonetheless, it sends an inspiring message that can motivate you to try to make your dreams come true.

Anna P.

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