The Mysterious Death of
James Dean

The Death of James Dean: The Untold Story Behind The Mystery

It is 5:45 p.m. on September 30th, 1955. James Dean is driving his new Porsche 550 Spyder. with his mechanic by his side. In an accident with another ear one mile east of Cholame, at the junction of Highways 466 and 41 in San Luis Obispo County. California. James Dean dies. He is 24 years old. Best known for his acting roles in "East Of Eden", "Rebel Without A Cause" and "Giant" -- James Dean's sudden death gives him legendary status. Now, 34 years later, there are no signs that interest in the life of James Dean is diminishing. But what really happened on the day James Dean died? Writer Warren Newton Beath has put together a book tilled "The Death of James Dean" to answer that question. We talked with Mr. Beath about his book.

Q - If it weren't for the fact that James Dean died so young and at the peak of his career, would we be so interested in him? Was he that fascinating a personality?

A - No. I think one of the most interesting things was that he died so young. If he had lived, he would've probably gone on like Marlon Brando and be in The National Enquirer, and weigh 300 pounds, punching photographers at airports. He was already kind of tending to pudginess. He had to watch his weight. And I think at the end of "Giant", you see the star starting to fade. He'd almost reached the limits of what he was capable of. The performance in that movie was weaker than the other two. I think Humphrey Bogart said he was like a trout breaking water, and that was at the most brilliant point of his career. It probably would've gone into a decline. If you think of the movies he would've made after that, it was "The Left Handed Gun" and "Somebody Up There Likes Me". They probably would've been viewed today as repetitions of the character he played in "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without A Cause", that teen rebel. It wouldn't have had the same impact, in subsequent performances as when it was first introduced.

Q - How were you able to piece together all of the events that led up to James Dean's death? How many people did you talk to? How long did it take you to assemble the information?

A - It started as an interest of mine when I was 16 years old, and I'm 37 now. I never lived farther than an hour and a half away from the accident. So, I would be around there, and investigated all the newspaper files, and found the documents, and looked up a lot of the inquest witnesses and the policemen involved. There really weren't that many players in the events of that particular day that had an intimate part in it. It happened at a rural intersection. I reconstructed it through diagrams and documents and found the name of a witness in a police report, and would look them up. Several of them have passed away since, so I'm glad I did it at the time. more

© Gary James