REBEL by Donald Spoto


The Life and Legend of James Dean
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 Do we really need yet another James Dean biography? Spoto (Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor, 1995) thinks so. James Dean had starring roles in only three motion pictures, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant, but he has been the subject of more full-length biographies than the directors of those films--Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray, and George Stevens--combined. This latest addition to the Dean canon comes from a biographer known best for airing the dirty laundry of such artists as Alfred Hitchcock, Lotte Lenya, and Laurence Olivier. Ironically, the basic thrust of Rebel is to denounce Spoto's predecessors for vastly inflating the alleged sexual escapades of his protagonist. Quite rightly, too. As Spoto points out, there is virtually no convincing evidence for the portrait of Dean as gay hustler or sadomasochist that has been painted in previous books. The basic trajectory of his life is familiar: Dean's trauma over the death of his doting mother when he was nine, his lifelong search for a replacement for the love thus lost, his meteoric rise as an actor and his sudden death. Anything but a Dean-worshipper, Spoto brings a different spin to this material; his Dean is a terribly immature and selfish young man, alternately arrogant and shy, ill-mannered and sweet. Spoto has spoken to several Dean acquaintances (most of whom had not been interviewed much before) and draws heavily on newspaper and magazine accounts from the period, as well as on the memoirs of other actors and directors. The result is perhaps the most detailed biography of Dean to date but, at 400 pages, a bit of a bore for all but the most hardcore fans. Spoto's analysis of Deanolatry in his opening and closing chapters is simultaneously on-the-money and rather cruel, as is his portrait of the troubled, talented, but callow young man on whom that worship has been posthumously lavished. ($125,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-017656-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996


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