Surviving James Dean (Book Review)

When I saw “Surviving James Dean” on the bookshelf, I felt I had to reach for it, probably just for reminiscing. James Dean was the idol of my teenage years, although I wasn’t all that much taken by him. My cousin, however, married her first husband because he looked, walked, and acted exactly like James Dean. When the actor died, our entire generation of people went into mourning.

I can’t tell how much of what I read in the book’s pages can be the truth. It is always easy to say anything for or against a person after his death, because he is not around to tell his truth or defend himself against lies, if there are lies.

This book, however, is a memoir of the writer William Bast and it reflects his life, his lifestyle, and the way he looks at his former roommate and friend. I did not take this book as James Dean’s truth as it would be in an objective biography, but more like as William Bast’s truth and his obsession with the actor.

James Dean was not only an American icon; he was an idol worldwide. The reference to Dean’s homosexual tendencies, therefore, should not be taken as facts, since they may be colored by the writer’s own tendencies and his awe of the actor. After Dean’s death, the author must have had his glory days, since everyone, the renowned and the unknown, held him in high esteem because of his friendship with Dean.

According to Bast, James Dean had his flaws, especially when it came to financial responsibility, recklessness, and maybe eccentricity, but he was enthusiastic about life and showed compassion to living things. The best part of the book for me were when the two friends shared an apartment and helped each other out in times of need.

The language of the author is direct and easy to understand, and some parts of the book can be very interesting to those who remember James Dean and still cherish his memory. A passage when the author gets his first ride in Dean’s famous white Porsche reveals the actor’s recklessness that led to his demise. Passages like this make the book worth reading.

“The Porsche, built low and sleek, took the hills as they were freeways, hugging the road neatly with each treacherous curve… I had never, in all the time I’d known him, ridden in a car with Jimmy when he’d driven so fast. That night I swore I’d never ride with him again.”

The author of the book, William Bast, educated at the University of Wisconsin and UCLA, has concentrated extensively on James Dean in the book James Dean: a Biography and in “The Myth Makers” a television drama. Originally from Milwaukee, Bast resides in Los Angeles.

“Surviving James Dean” is in hardcover with 320 pages and ISBN: 156980298X.

Even if it was written from a different perspective and possibly an obsession, I found the book descriptive and interesting, because it points to the complexities of two people who have shared a friendship as well as room and board. “Surviving James Dean” could be worth reading if you keep an open mind about a few uncertainties.