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Surviving James Dean Hardcover – April 20, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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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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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 (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By H. Lucas L. Ginn on May 26, 2006
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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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 Verified Purchase
Surviving James Dean

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.
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