Surviving James Dean (Book Review)
When I saw “Surviving James Dean” on the shelf, I felt like I had to reach for it, probably just to remember. James Dean was my teenage idol, although I wasn’t that much into him. My cousin, however, married her first husband because he looked, walked, and acted exactly like James Dean. When the actor died, our whole generation of people went into mourning.
I can’t tell how true what I read in the pages of the book may be. It’s always easy to say anything for or against a person after they die, because they’re not there to tell their truth or defend themselves against lies, if there are lies.
This book, however, is a memoir by writer William Bast and it reflects his life, his lifestyle, and the way he views his former roommate and friend. I didn’t take this book as the truth of James Dean as it would be in an objective biography, but rather as the truth of William Bast and his obsession with the actor.
James Dean wasn’t just an American icon; he was an idol all over the world. The reference to Dean’s homosexual tendencies should therefore not be taken as fact, as they may be colored by the writer’s own tendencies and his fear of the actor. After Dean’s death, the author must have known his heyday, since everyone, famous and unknown, held him in high esteem because of his friendship with Dean.
According to Bast, James Dean had his flaws, especially financial responsibility, recklessness and perhaps eccentricity, but he was passionate about life and showed compassion towards living beings. The best part of the book for me was when the two friends shared an apartment and helped each other out when needed.
The author’s language is direct and easy to understand, and parts of the book may be of great interest to those who remember James Dean and still cherish his memory. A passage where the author takes his first lap in Dean’s famous white Porsche reveals the actor’s recklessness that led to his demise. Passages like this make the book worth reading.
“The Porsche, built low and sleek, took the hills like they were highways, hugging the road perfectly at every treacherous bend… I had never, in all the time I knew him, ridden in a car with Jimmy when he drove so fast that night I swore I would never ride with him again.
The book’s author, William Bast, educated at the University of Wisconsin and UCLA, focused extensively on James Dean in the book James Dean: a Biography and in “The Myth Makers,” a television drama. Originally from Milwaukee, Bast resides in Los Angeles.
“Surviving James Dean” is in hardcover with 320 pages and ISBN: 156980298X.
Even though it was written from a different point of view and perhaps an obsession, I found the book descriptive and interesting, as it highlights the complexities of two people who shared a friendship and the shelter and covered. “Surviving James Dean” might be worth reading if you keep an open mind about a few uncertainties.