Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean

Donald Spoto, Author HarperCollins Publishers $25 (0p) ISBN 978-0-06-017656-3
When James Dean died by smashing his Porsche into another car, the 24-year-old actor leaped from fame into legend. Ever since, according to veteran biographer Spoto (A Passion for Life, 1995, about Elizabeth Taylor), Dean has been a protean icon, serving the changing needs of subsequent generations-as a rebel, as a social outcast, as a sexual outlaw. But in this breezy bio, the author contends that ""the young man adored and idolized"" was, ultimately, ""quite simply a boy."" In demythologizing Dean, Spoto cites the lack of hard evidence to back up popular allegations about the actor's sexual misconduct, most notably his supposed adolescent involvement with an Indiana minister, his alleged forays into male prostitution and his purported posing for a notorious photo of a young man masturbating in a tree. To lend his version contextual weight, Spoto offers much socioeconomic and cultural background of Dean's time, some of it bland; and to lend it credence, he digs vigorously into the published record, including previous Dean bios like Joe Hyams's Little Boy Lost (1992). While there's not a lot here that's exciting or new, Spoto cuts and pastes smoothly, winding up with an engaging account of a human turned into ""the perfect hip icon"" for an age ""that relies on simple visuals for easy truth."" Photos not seen by PW. $125,000 ad/promo; author tour; dramatic rights: Elaine Markson. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/29/1996
Release date: 05/01/1996
Genre: Nonfiction
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