The lazy, late afternoon dusk of an Indian summer day on a lonely stretch of Highway 466 begged the driver of that spiffy new Porsche Spider to lay it on, and the driver — James Dean — obliged.
The destination was Paso Robles, a northern California town some 150 miles away, before dinnertime. Dean’s riding companion, Rolf Wutherich, recounts what happened next:
A few minutes before six o’clock it happened. We were near Cholame (Cal.). A 1950-model Ford was coming at us. Suddenly the car swung out towards the center of the highway to turn onto Highway 41, its left wheels over the center line. Then we hit…
Wutherich survived but Dean did not. The date, Sept. 30, 1955, has been enshrined in at least one movie (an eponymously titled 1977 effort), and has prompted countless Dean fans over the years to revisit the site of the crash (grippingly recounted by Wutherich in a new book, The Real James Dean: Intimate Meories from Those Who Knew Him Best.)
We’ve drawn on the articles assembled in this excellent book in putting together our James Dean Quiz. The questions can be found below. Now let’s get to our answers.
1) Answer: It was b) novelist John Steinbeck who found Dean to be “a snotty kid.” Steinbeck wrote East of Eden, which inspired the 1955 movie version that was Dean’s first big Hollywood hit.
2) Answer: c) Elia Kazan, who directed East of Eden, recalling a studio preview of the picture in the Los Angeles area.
3) Answer: a) Shelley Winters in a memoir written years after Marilyn and Dean first met. They did not care much for each other.
4) Answer: a) Kazan again, as quoted from his excellent 1988 autobiography, Elia Kazan: A Life.
5) Answer: a) stage director Frank Corsaro, who knew Dean in his Actor Studio days, and was not impressed.
6) Answer: c) Rock Hudson, who had no use for Dean. One reason: Dean would make unflattering references about Hudson’s sexual proclivities long before Rock emerged from the closet.
7) Answer: a) Elizabeth Taylor, who became close friends with Dean during the shooting of Giant.
8) Answer: d) Vampira (aka actress Maila Nurmi), a bizarre character who hosted a late-night horror movie program in Los Angeles in 1954. She and the then still unknown Dean developed an interesting friendship — totally platonic she claimed. You can check out Vampira in the infamously low-budget Plan 9 From Outer Space.
9) Answer: a) Film composer Leonard Rosenman, who wrote the scores for East of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause. He befriended Dean but viewed him sharply. He convinced Dean to begin psychoanalysis but it was unfortunately too little too late.
10) Answer: d) Eartha Kitt, one of Dean more interesting former pals.