Wednesday, 30 September 2015

JAMES DEAN a biography, Ballantine Books, New York

For my third and final post on the actor James Dean (1931-1955), who died on this date 60 years ago, I've selected the front covers of the very first book to be written about his life, by the screenwriter William Bast (1931-2015).

JAMES DEAN was published by Ballantine Books of New York, it was subtitled  'A Biography', though in Bast's words it's really "designed specifically as a personal description" of his friend as he knew him. The cover photographs for both the dust jacket of the hardback and the paperback edition each use an image from the famous portraits of Dean taken by Roy Schatt. 

Today, the hardback is rarely seen and commands a high value in the collectors market, but the 35c paperback is fairly common as it must have sold hundreds of thousands of copies following its publication in 1956. 

Ballantine's Hardbound Editions retailed at $2.75

Walking on West 68th Street, New York, 1954

In 1957, one year after Bast's 'biography', the next book on James Dean was a cheapo 25c paperback issued by New York's Popular Library - these days well remembered for their pulpy crime novels with wonderfully fetching cover art - which aimed to capitalize on the cult of Dean. 

Unlike Bast's pioneering attempt, this one slipped through the cracks of history, almost without trace: Popular Library W 400

However, Dean fandom continued to thrive during the 1960s, but with no further books - until the publication of David Dalton's acclaimed biography 'The Mutant King' in 1974, which was without doubt instrumental in igniting a mass revival of interest in all things Dean. 

And in the subsequent decades, filmographies, further biographies, umpteen newspaper and magazine articles, photograph books, academic essays, TV and radio documentaries, fanzines and fansites continue to explore every conceivable aspect of the legend of James Byron Dean...

Still available to listen: You're Tearing Me Apart: Rebel Without a Cause at 60

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Triumph & Tragedy of Jimmy Dean

---NOW following on from my previous post, here is very likely the earliest example of a comic strip telling the story of actor James Dean, who died 60 years ago this month. 

It was published in 1956 within 'ELVIS AND JIMMY' a rather odd magazine which is split into two distinct sections. The first half is a series of black and white photographs accompanied by an article called 'How it Feels to be Elvis' written by a journalist from a Memphis-based newspaper. 

Published by 'The Girl Friend - The Boy Friend Corporation', New York

The second half is a 32 page black and white comic strip entitled 'The Tragedy and Triumph of Jimmy Dean', made up of 70 panels drawn by Lou Cameron, perhaps best known at the time for his work on horror comics and the long-running series 'Classics Illustrated'. Cameron eventually became a prolific writer of crime and western novels.

The idea of using illustrations rather than photographs is explained in the opening panel which suggests that a photographer would inevitably not have been on hand to document such personal moments in Dean's life. Instead, his story is captured in ink by Lou Cameron - who quite possibly could have written the piece as well. 

It's ironic though that Dean was in fact one of the most oft-photographed stars of his day, but perhaps it was cheaper to hire a comic book artist than shell out for over 30 pages of costly press or archive photos?

However, it's a fascinating piece that came out in the flurry of hastily put-together one-off tribute magazines in those first years after Dean's passing - and here is a selection of some of Cameron's panels, beginning with the funereal-style opening page:

The right half of the final panel - which is a two page spread. Hovering in the sky above the wreckage of Dean's Porsche Spyder on Route 466 is a portrait of the dead star by the artist Norman Nodel.

For the price of 50c, 'Elvis and Jimmy' readers could send off for a special 10" x 8" copy of Nodel's portrait. Unlike the magazine which is not too uncommon, these art portraits must be exceedingly rare now...

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Life and Death of James Dean in Amazing Pictures

A rather unusual combination of comic strip and photographs was published by 'Top Spot' in September 1959, four years after the death of actor James Dean - which will very soon be exactly 60 years ago.

There had been an enormous output of magazine articles around the world about the life and times of Dean in the those early years after his tragic, untimely death at the age of just 24 years old. This one was printed in the UK by Fleetway Publications, and was distributed as far as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwe and Malawi). 

'Top Spot' was also a short-lived effort - and in its two-year run there's a heady mix of comics, pin-ups of cinema starlets and short adventure stories. All squarely aimed at a male teenage market who had perhaps moved on from reading comics like Lion or Buster.

In this interesting five-page spread, there's a rather barbed final statement aimed at Hollywood itself - that it should "be blamed for cheapening Dean's greatness as an actor". But significantly, six decades on Dean's acting method is still clearly an influence to today's aspiring performers...

Enjoy the piece - and you should be able click on each page and view them as larger images...


You're Tearing Me Apart: Rebel Without a Cause at 60

It's impossible now to separate the cult of James Dean from the film that defined a teen-age. 
The mystery and mystique of Rebel, drawing on rare, never heard archive - and the making of a legend: