Monday, September 27, 2010

Remembering James Dean 55 Years Later

September 30 marks the 55th anniversary of actor James Dean's death. Dean would have been 79 years old this year. To commemorate the date of his death, I have posted a shortened version of a review I wrote on a biography of him.

Paul Alexander's Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Viking) is a real page-turner that focuses much attention on James Dean's life as a sexually-active, but closeted, homosexual man.

Although for years it was rumored that Dean, who hated effeminate men, was either gay or bisexual, despite studio-generated publicity about his many romances with young, beautiful actresses, Alexander leaves no doubt about Dean's true sexual identity. An early tip-off was the fact that despite his good looks, "throughout his pre-high school and high school years, Jimmy never had a steady girlfriend, unlike most of the other Fairmount [Indiana] boys." It was during this time that Dean "lost his virginity" to a local minister, James DeWeerd, who became sort of a surrogate father to him.

Dean would be invited to candlelit dinners at DeWeerd's house, where they would read, listen to music, and talk. "With DeWeerd," writes Alexander, "he could enjoy the company of a man and experiment with his sexuality at the same time."

DeWeerd was only one of a long string of men with whom Dean would have sex. Some of these men, who were part of a homosexual clique, were the movers and shakers in Hollywood.

Much of Boulevard of Broken Dreams reads like a novel. The dialogue-- taken from books, magazine articles, journal entries, and taped interviews-- gives the reader the feeling of being in the same room as the participants. Alexander's description of what took place on the day the 24-year-old Dean was killed in a car crash is well-written.

The book, however, is not flawless. Alexander sometimes repeats himself. Twice he compares Valentino's adulation by fans to Dean's. There are factual errors such as the one that has World War II the "war to end all wars,: instead of World War I. And too much space is devoted to the Deaners, those who idolize Dean and come to Fairmount each year to celebrate his deathday.

Otherwise, Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a must-read for those who admire Dean's acting ability and who are not reluctant to read about his sexual proclivities which were kept hush-hush for many decades.

This review was originally published in the Lambda Book Report, July/August 1994.

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