Iconographer: An exclusive interview with Dean biographer Warren Beath
Warren Beath is the author of the seminal book on
James Dean's last days, The Death of James Dean which was published by
Grove Press in 1986. Beath was the first Dean scholar--and one of the first film
star biographers--to extensively use public records--court files, police
reports, even coroner's notes in recreating the actor's fatal crash on September
30, 1955. Beath is also the author of a recent novel on Dean entitled Who
Killed James Dean? which touches upon the actor's intimate relationship with
the late stage director, Rogers Brackett. In short, Beath's characteristics as a
writer--daring, innovative, controversial--make him an ideal student of the
1950s icon. Here, in an exclusive interview for American Legends, conducted by
Brandon Yip, a Vancouver college student, Warren Beath discusses James Dean.
|AL:||You probably are the only Dean biographer to have actually
met Donald Turnupseed, the driver who killed James Dean. What was he like?
|WB:||Everything about him was guarded and wary. He even seemed to
move in slow motion as if he was walking in a mine field. A totally
|AL:||Did you discuss the collision with him?
|WB:||I told him that I was
researching the accident and wanted to know if we could talk about it. He
said, "Not a chance." Then, "Sorry." He had a condescending sense of humor
but was gracious under the circumstances.
|AL:||It was rumored that after the crash, Sanford Roth took
photos of Dean's shattered body. Roth had been a still photographer on Giant
and was accompanying Dean in another car to the race in Salinas.
|WB:||Roth was quoted in Life magazine as saying he did. Later, he
denied it. But Bill Hickman who was also on the trip told me Roth had taken
|AL:||After your Dean biography came out, Beulah
Roth, Sanford's widow, demanded an apology.
|WB:||Her version was that her husband had taken pictures at the
crash site for insurance purposes. To her, it was somehow less mercenary. To
me, it was just quibbling. The truth is that she was a hard, mercenary
|AL:||Why did Dean have such an impact on young people?
|WB:||He seduces all of us at a certain stage in our
development--by appealing to that primary emotion: "You better love me, or
I'm gonna kill myself."
|AL:||Today, James Dean's face appears on coffee mugs, alarm
|WB:||They've killed my interest in
him. He's possibly going to go the way of the Ninja Turtles and My Little
Pony. Remember Pop Rocks? Fizzies? Rice Krispies? They're overexposing
him. After Lincoln died, it was supposedly said, "Now he belongs to the
Ages." Poor Jimmy: Now he belongs to the lawyers.
|AL:||There are some people who look negatively on Dean's image
because of his alleged bisexuality. How do you feel about that?
|WB:||They're latent homosexuals, in my opinion.
|AL:||James Dean would have been 70
this past February 8. What do you think he would be doing today if he were
|WB:||I truly have no idea.
|AL:||If you could have a one night
stand with any Hollywood actress--living or dead--who would it be with?
|WB:||Probably Roddy McDowall.