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James Dean

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

If publishing was the fashion industry, this soiled celebritybiography would be trendy: it’s “grunge.” But to most readers,JAMES DEAN: LITTLE BOY LOST will be just a tattletale bookequivalent to the tattered rags that pass for hip these days.

It’s written by journeyman reporter/author Joe Hyams (with helpfrom his son). The veteran newspaper columnist, magazinejournalist, and novelist—whose work history includes the NEWYORK HERALD TRIBUNE, COSMOPOLITAN and FLIGHT OF THE AVENGER: GEORGEBUSH AT WAR AND IN LOVE—covered the movies from 1951-1963,during which time he befriended many stars, including Dean. Herehe betrays that friendship with titillating claims disguised asdetails and depth.

There is a market, of course, for material about James ByronDean and for such gossip about private matters and exposes ofpersonal tastes. There’s a cottage industry built around Dean,from posters and movies to a hometown gallery and books: JAMESDEAN: THE MUTANT KING (David Dalton), JAMES DEAN: SHOOTING STAR(Barney Hoskyns), JAMES DEAN REVISITED (Dennis Stock). But sinceHyams alone was authorized by the Dean family to write astraightforward bio, one hoped for substance, not sleaze.

Hyams’ insider angle allows him to make statements neverestablished as fact, about Dean’s actions, emotions andmotivations. But such intimacies make this book exploitive, exceptfor a few redeeming sections.

There’s an interesting account of Dean’s youth in Fairmount,Indiana, which helps put into context his life and his image as theeternal adolescent. (But even there, Hyams includes a shocking andunanswered charge of a sexual relationship with a “mentor,” a localminister). There’s Dean’s first, fleeting flirtation withHollywood, where actor James Whitmore advised him to “stopdissipating your energy and talent. Go to New York.” And there’san amusing handful of behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Dean’s threefilms, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, EAST OF EDEN, and GIANT.

But Hyams’ attention to and emphasis on Dean’s sexualpreferences and social greed; his alleged—and sophomoricallyromantic— preoccupation with death; and his rebellious, ifnot unpredictable, behavior as an actor all demean Dean and insultmost of his fans.