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Surviving James Dean Hardcover – April 20, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bast, a TV writer and journalist, was infatuated with James Dean (1931–1955) from the moment they met (at UCLA in 1950). A closeted gay man, Bast had a crush on the brooding, unknown actor and had a brief fling with him. This work records their close friendship, Dean's rise to stardom and the years following his premature death at age 24. Dean's troubled life is well documented, and Bast isn't interested in repeating his previous James Dean, a Biography, written in 1956. At the time, Bast was loathe to reveal his homosexuality or Dean's affairs with men. He now hopes to make up for his "youthful shortcomings and omissions." The hook is Dean's sexuality, which Bast explores in detail, discounting his relationships with women and focusing on those with men, including a stint with a notorious "chicken hawk," an older man who fancies younger guys (Bast quotes Dean saying of the union, "I paid my way"). This simple, heartfelt book records Bast's coming out and the long-term impact Dean had on his life. 16-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Barricade Books (April 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156980298X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569802984
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #905,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Surviving James Dean by William Bast. Bast was Dean's best friend during the last five years of his life. The book is excellent. I have read other Dean biographies, but Bast's book completes the portrait of the man in a way that could only be done by a close friend.

Dean is fairly and lovingly portrayed, but the book is not a hagiography. Bast acknowledges Dean's character flaws (we all have them!) without dwelling on them. Instead of the rebel, the introvert, the selfish fellow who has been written about in many lesser biographies, Bast introduces the reader to a young man filled with compassion, generosity, and love of life. This is the James Dean who crawls into Bast's bed and holds him after Bast says good-bye to a lover headed to the battlegrounds of Korea. This is the man who holds his aunt's arthritic hand and strokes it soothingly as he talks with her. This is the movie star on the cusp of success who stops his car on the side of a desert highway to hold and comfort a bird as it dies.

Bast argues that Dean was at the very least bisexual and more likely homosexual. He acknowledges that the two of them had a sexual relationship and that Dean had sexual relations with several other men. That information, combined with Bast's conviction that Dean's relationship with Pier was blown way out of proportion, will undoubtedly upset some fans who are homophobic or starry-eyed romantics. Surviving James Dean, however, is not a sexual biography and Dean's sexuality is not the central focus of the book.

Many rumors or myths about James Dean are debunked. For example, Bast writes that Dean was not deeply involved in the occult.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a heartfelt and deeply moving autobiography and biography of the five-year relationship between the author, William Bast, and his best friend, James Dean. Bill describes himself as a closeted gay while Dean is less so. But as Bill's love for Jimmy grows, so does the fear that a sexual relationship between the men will not end well. Still, Bill is finally ready to take that plunge when the two men consummate their love in a Borrego Springs hotel in the desert.

Dean wonders: "What took you so long?" and Bast responds, "Scared, I guess." Dean assures him that there is nothing to be scared about and proves it.

But before the two men can live together again, not as roommates, as in the past, but as lovers, Dean is killed in the car crash of September 30, 1955, before the release of his final two movies, "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant." A year later, Bast publishes the first biography of James Dean, censoring out the homosexuality. About half a decade later, Bast briefly meets the novelist W. Somerset Maugham at a house party at a villa on the French Riviera. Maugham says to him: "You must have loved him very much." Bast looks confused, and Maugham explains, "It was there, between the lines." Maugham had read the biography. It's a new world, and I wonder what Maugham would have thought of this second volume. The love is on display more than ever and it is no longer afraid to speak its name.

Additionally, there are wonderful descriptions of the caring, sensitive, supportive people in both Bill's and/or Jimmy's lives. There are the photographer Sanford Roth and his wife Beulah, the Colgates (toothpaste heirs), Elizabeth Taylor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy's aunt and uncle from Indiana, and others.
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1 Comment 14 of 14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was the 20th that I have read on James Dean. I loved the fact that I still learned some things about him that I never learned in previously read books. Bast gives a fresh perspective. He had been Dean's roommate and now he looks back and analyzes his friend's behaviour in a way that only time and distance allows. The story is tender, informative and very satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book a lot. I didn't know so much about the life of James Dean when I started reading this book. In fact I only took notice of it because I had read an interview with John Gilmore who pulled Bast into pieces as soon as the interviewer mentioned that Bast was about to publish a second, more revealing book. So I was curious and I most certainly wasn't expecting much.

But the book disabused me. The writing style is great and I could imagine all the places Bast described so well. But most of all I liked the way he portrayed James Dean. I have never had the feeling while reading the book that Mr. Bast had written the book for the wrong reasons. He has treated the person James Dean so carefully and with so much respect that it really touched me. I even was deeply moved because I felt so sorry for the loss Bast must have had experienced. I had the feeling that a lot of things were left unsaid and that Bast regrets that.

I read the book of John Gilmore afterwards and I sensed that he only wrote it to rock the boat. It even made me like "Surviving James Dean" more because Bast decided not to "jump on the bandwagon" ;) He wrote about James Dean in a lovingly way and I am glad that someone who knew him so well shared his experiences in this book.
I highly recommend this book!

I almost forgot to mention the heartbreaking epilogue. Not only did I like the portray of James Dean, I also liked the character traits of William Bast. That's why the epilogue almost made me cry.

.........ps: I'm from germany so I have to apologize for possible mistakes :)
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