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Surviving James Dean Hardcover – April 20, 2006
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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.)
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Top customer reviews
In this reminiscence of James ("Jimmy") Dean as he emerged from obscurity to icon, author William ("Willie") Bast paints a sentimental portrait of two young men in the 1950's who were friends and sometimes roommates -- struggling to get a foothold in the entertainment industry as it straddled the end of "old-time radio" and the days of live television.
As opposed to Bast's earlier biography of Dean, this memoir presents a viewpoint by a gay author of a friend who became a legend after his life was cut short in a traffic accident. It is a viewpoint that may be colored by his feelings and his own desires for Dean, but he does come across with some interesting stories which illustrate and support his viewpoint
If we can believe the details the author writes (from his memory of events 50 years later), James Dean's personality oscillated between an ebullient fun-loving friend to a sullen withdrawn roommate -- someone who could spend an entire day without speaking when he went into one of his moodier periods.
Although the author doesn't make any such suggestion about Dean, what he seems to describe is someone suffering from what we would today call "bipolar" (formerly "manic-depressive") disorder.
The author's viewpoint on Dean's sexuality, as it is teased from these pages, indicates that "Jimmy" was a closeted gay man who often times used his looks and charm to advance through the entertainment jungles of Hollywood and New York. In the span of the last five years of their on-again, off-again cohabitation, author Bast describes several nights where there was intimacy and even a sexual adventure or two between himself and his friend. But by and large the relationship he describes seems to be more about being a close friend with benefits rather than a dedicated lover during the whole 5-year period.
The impression the book leaves is that Dean's personality was "multi-faceted" as he tried to grow to manhood, navigate a tough career, and deal with his inner demons. The author muses whether these many facets were calculated by Dean to show each person he knew a different side of himself in order to best take advantage of the relationship. (Perhaps this was an unconscious way that evolved in dealing with the world.)
In several places the author mentions Dean's fascination with the "Little Prince" -- a character in Dean's favorite book with which Dean identified. He mentions that Dean described that character as someone who "had to tame" the others in his world. So by analogy, the author seems to say that Dean had to "tame" each person in his life in order to gain what he wanted.
Explaining the title "Surviving James Dean" the author mentions that in outliving his friend (and writing books about him) he has had to deal with many fans over the years, but he also suggests that "Surviving James Dean" during the years they knew each other was not easy for those people who had to deal in person with his chameleon qualities.
I've read a lot of DEAN biographies including Bill Basts original politically correct/censored 1956 bio on DEAN. While I can't remember specifics about the 56' version, this updated and frank telling of Bast and Dean's 5 year friendship, was refreshing. Bast dispells some Dean rumors that have continued to flourish over the years and gives more insight to the complicated and sometimes frustrating friendship between the budding writer and starving actor. One feels Bast pain at losing not only a possible future companion but the simple and tragic loss of a close friend at the peak of his artistic creativity. "What might have been" is always at the heart of any good Dean biography, and Bast, as well as future actors and film goers were robbed on that sunset evening of Sept. 30, 1955.
Overall, I do think this is a good book that doesn't over glorify his achievements and at the same time going into details of his personality and conflicts from his close friend point of view. It will be more than justified to hear it from William Bast of James Dean story since, he was practically there to witness his transformation into a mega-star.
Though this book does explore on James Dean sexuality, it doesn't go into those raunchy details to make it derogatory. It just enough for people to judge on their for the truth to be accepted.