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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.
Posted January 10, 2003
It is ironic that the people who Americans find the most compelling are often also the most misunderstood. A perfect example of this is found in the life and legend of James Dean. Time has in no way established a clear portrait of the famed actor, but instead has produced dozens of contradictions about him. In a half-truth, James Byron Dean was a contradiction and lived his life as one. Drawing on extraordinary mines of fresh material, including accounts of Dean's earliest television appearances and his on and off screen exploits while filming his three screen classics, a biography candidly explores Dean's years at the center of a group of actors who came to define the new generation of Hollywood idols and American ideals. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the cloud of stories floating around about Dean since his death in 1955 actually make it more difficult to determine what Dean really was like as a person. This is why Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean by Donald Spoto is such a remarkable feat. Spoto does an incredible job of separating the myth from the reality about the boy from Fairmont, Indiana who rose to movie stardom in the 1950¿s. Spoto does this in large part by discovering rumors and gossip, offering every past claim about Dean, no matter how improbable, and presenting through careful research how likely or unlikely each is to be true. Spoto's goal is much different from that of prior Dean biographers, father and son Joe & Jay Hyams¿ Little Lost Boy in particular, which have mostly sought to either exaggerate or disregard the more controversial aspects of the icon's life, depending upon their personal agenda. The largest controversy among James Dean scholars is of the young man's sexual orientation. Other recent biographies have `exposed¿ secrets of his preference, yet fail to detail the accounts by omitting fact, and basing them merely on opinion. Instead of feeding into sensationalism, Spoto directs a great deal of the book toward their gossipy assertions about Dean's life of intimate relations. The author is extremely fair in his judgment,confirming only those claims which he was able to verify with a reliable source. As a result, his portrait of James Dean is well-rounded, accurate and very believable. Dean did have alternative relationships. While there have long been stories suggesting that Dean was, among other things, a male hustler, Spoto finds no evidence of this. The author also shoots down with astute logic one of the most famous prevarications about Dean, that he avoided the military draft as a teen by stating that he was a homosexual. As Spoto rightly explains, any young man making such a claim in 1950s middle America would have been the subject of tremendous teasing harassment. Most of Dean's romantic involvements with men were with older, father figures. Jimmy and his own father rarely communicated. This animosity stemmed from when the young Dean was orphaned after his mother died and his father moved to California, leaving him to be raised by his grandparents. As a result of this tragedy, which was the defining moment of the actor's life, Spoto argues that Dean felt a strong need for an older male role model. This goal was often accomplished within the context of a sexual relationship.Tales of Dean's romantic flings are greatly exaggerated, however, especially with women. Most of the Hollywood starlets with whom he has been frequently linked were just friends. Dean did maintain several long-term heterosexual relations during his early days working as an actor in New York. All in all, Dean's pattern throughout his life seemed to be one of seeking understanding from women and guidance from men. More important than the sex of the people Dean held relationships with was the way they turned out. Dean essentially wanted attention, Spoto argues, and prevented himself from ever really caring about anyone. For this reason it is silly to speak about whether Dean preferred dating menWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 7, 2002
Donald Spoto does an excellent job proving his arguments through out the book. He has a large amount of sufficient evidence and information. He has many primary sources and different oppinions about his topic. However, his details really attracted my attention. He had information about EVERYTHING related to James Dean. Over all, Spoto does a nice job proving his points and keeping the readers entertained.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 25, 2000
For my Americain Novel book review this year (as i am currently taking Grad 12 Am. History) i choose to read this book out of geniwen interest. A long read if one has to finish in 2 weeks unles one is a fast reader, but great overall. I've tended to agree with other reviewer input and just though i'd add that this book was definally never meant for a teen adience who wonts to know about this icon of adelesten years less one Deans pycological moods/thought. this is what in ones opinion was feture in the novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2000
Being obsessed with the myth of James dean, I checked out this book. It told the whole story about James, and really opened my eyes to his real personality. If you want to know who he really was in life, and interesting notes and facts about his short but great life get this book. Believe me, you will know the WHOLE story. One downside to this biography was, although this book contained good and factual information, it seemed to drone on things and people that were not that important. Sometimes I really wanted to skim the pages. Besides that though, it gave a sad and chilling account of the lonely and crazy life of James. The book was so intriging, I read it in one day.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.