JAMES DEAN by Val Holley


The Biography
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 The author of this quotidian, excessively anecdotal life of James Dean has done a lot of research, but too rarely does he conjoin it with any real understanding. First-time biographer Holley talks to a few new people, examines some unexamined archives, and corrects the occasional misconception. But his is hardly an original or compelling account. It is more a kind of biographical proof-readingdotting i's and crossing t's, putting everything tidily in its place. Such primness hardly accords with the disorder of Dean's brief, undisciplined life. Killed in a car crash at 24, he left behind a minuscule body of worka few teleplays and only three films. Yet he has become an enduring (so far) pop icon. Death crystallized his appeal, gave him the gravity of tragedy, cordoned his sensitive rebel image off from the bullyings of time and bad career choices. He had definite talent, certainly charisma, but was he an original or, as some have charged, just a lightweight Brando? Don't ask Holley. Throughout, he seems more concerned with Dean ``The Legend'' than Dean the actor or even the man. An acquaintance's remembrance is all too typical: ``Jimmy loved pastrami sandwiches. Once I said, `I feel like having a pastrami sandwich,' and Jimmy exclaimed, `Oh yeah!' '' While there are reams of similarly enlightening details, Holley can spare only a few pages for each film (although to his credit, he does catalog Dean's often ignored television work), and there's little analysis of Dean's technique and talent; for example, the actor's famous screen test for East of Eden is almost completely omitted. Holley also spends scant time on the young man's persistent melancholia and loneliness. And Dean's willingness to do almost anything (with anyone) to get ahead is smothered in coy swaddlings of euphemism. A biography by the numbers that never quite adds up. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13249-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1995


NonfictionGIANT by Don Graham
by Don Graham