Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE REBEL by Jack Dann


An Imagined Life of James Dean

by Jack Dann

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-380-97839-3
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Veteran novelist Dann (Counting Coup, 2001, etc.) wonders how different things might have been if James Dean had survived his 1955 automobile accident.

Unfortunately, the author hasn’t so much “imagined” the actor’s post-crash life as plunked him down in a Harold Robbins–style tale of gratuitous sex, ambition, and famous people behaving badly. Already a boozer before his car crash, Dean discovers a young, mumbling Elvis Presley among his bedside visitors. He emerges from the hospital addicted to painkillers and internationally famous as the star of Rebel Without a Cause. The shallow, mostly clueless Dean moves to New York City, harboring ambitions to direct films. He shrugs off his gay lovers and meets Jack Kerouac, who later writes a screenplay of On the Road for him. An earlier screenplay about Billy the Kid has Dean and director Nick Ray dickering with Colonel Tom Parker over Presley’s participation; in the first of a very few amusing turns, Elvis agrees to star because he wants to be taken seriously as an actor. (A scene of Dean and Elvis racing slot car replicas of the vehicles they previously trashed is one of the other all-too-rare gems sparkling amidst the dross.) Dann is so eager to pile on the sex ’n’ sleaze that he never lets us see Dean doing what we're told he does best: act in films. While defending Marilyn Monroe from an abusive Joe DiMaggio, Dean decks Frank Sinatra at Chasen’s. Marilyn leads him to Bobby Kennedy, who wants Dean to make a movie about him. Dean can’t prevent Monroe’s suicide and suspects Bobby Kennedy might have had something to do with it. He acquires her secret diary, only to have it pried from his grasp by Bobby. The two work out a truce, brokered by Ethel, providing an entry for Dean into politics. The arbitrary climax hints that the brooding Byron from Indiana could have beaten the Kennedys at their own game.

Relentlessly trashy and profane, name-dropping and scandal-mongering.