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Friday, 30 September 2011


James Dean has always been a major hero of mine, so to say I was honored when, a fair few years ago, one newspaper article likened me to the James Dean of cryptozoology, would be the understatement of the century. So here is a tribute article of mine to someone who has influenced me so much and for so long through my life.

“Dream as if you’ll live forever.
Live as if you’ll die today.”

- James Dean

He came into this world 80 years ago, grew into a uniquely talented and extremely charismatic actor, then died violently exactly 56 years ago today, on 30 September 1955, at the age of only 24 after starring in just three films. Yet there has never been even the briefest of pauses in his popularity. More than five decades have passed since his death, but his name lives on, undiminished by time, and his persona remains far more potent and vibrant today than that of almost any modern celebrity, epitomising the cool yet confused teenage rebel that he played in so mesmerising and convincing a manner on the silver screen during the early 1950s. He died just before the advent of rock ’n’ roll, but with his raw macho image of black leather jacket, jeans, and motorbike, he was already the archetypal rocker, and his life has been duly commemorated in numerous rock songs, most notably by The Eagles. And the name of this enduring icon? Who else could it possibly be but James Dean?


An only child, he was born on 8 February 1931, in a nondescript Indiana town called Marion. Nevertheless, perhaps the portents of future fame were present even then. Certainly, it is nothing if not remarkably apt that someone destined to be one of the most controversial and mercurial of movie stars should come to share a name with so close a counterpart from the literary world - for although he would always be known simply as Jimmy or Jim to his friends and colleagues, he was christened James Byron Dean.

Jimmy’s parents were Mildred and Winton Dean (a dental technician but descended from generations of local farmers), and Jimmy’s first few years were idyllic, his mother nurturing in him a life-long love of acting and the classics before the family moved to Santa Monica, California, to further Winton’s career. While Jimmy was still only nine years old, however, tragedy struck, when Mildred was found to be suffering from advanced uterine cancer, dying shortly afterwards on 14 July 1940. Robbed of his beloved mother, Jimmy was grief-stricken. Only two days later, moreover, adding further to his disorientation, Winton, feeling unable to care for him single-handedly, sent Jimmy back to Indiana, to be reared from then on by his aunt and uncle, Ortense and Marcus Winslow (a farmer), in small-town Fairmount, not far from Marion. It is widely believed that this most unsettling episode in his life is what ultimately transformed the young James Dean into the rebellious, troubled, yet wholly captivating star that transfixed movie-goers yet consistently failed to find personal happiness or stability.

At school (as well as at home), Jimmy became something of a troublemaker, but he excelled at sports, especially basketball, and after obtaining his first motorbike in his early teens he also became an extremely accomplished, daredevil rider. However, his passion for acting superseded everything, and he appeared in numerous school plays, increasing his ambition to become a successful actor. After graduating from high school in May 1949, Jimmy journeyed to California to live with his father in Santa Monica, but a month later he moved to Los Angeles, where in September 1950 he entered UCLA to commence a university course in drama. Yet despite his success in winning the much-coveted role of Malcolm in a major UCLA production of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, staged from 29 November to 2 December 1950, he was forced to take a series of dead-end jobs while seeking the showbusiness break for which he so earnestly yearned.


During the next two years, a number of minor breaks did come his way. These included a Pepsi-Cola television advert, an appearance in an episode entitled ‘Hill Number One’ of the TV show ‘Family Theater’ playing the disciple St John, some radio shows, and even a trio of walk-on film appearances - in ‘Fixed Bayonets’ (1951), ‘Has Anybody Seen My Gal?’ (1952), and the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy ‘Sailor Beware’ (1952), in which he had a one-line speaking role. But these were not enough to quench Jimmy’s thirst for success. By October 1951, he had already quit not only UCLA but also California, drawn eastward like so many other young stage and movie moths to the bright Broadway-beckoning lights of New York, in search of a place in the celebrated Actors Studio - run by Lee Strasberg and including Jimmy’s greatest movie star hero, Marlon Brando, among its members.

Remarkably for a complete unknown, Jimmy was accepted, where, although failing to impress Strasberg, he did attract the attention of acclaimed film director Elia Kazan. Indeed, following his albeit brief Broadway run during December 1952 as a caged teenager in the play ‘See the Jaguar’, and a well-received role during February 1954 as Bachir, a sexually-devious Arab houseboy in a stage version of André Gide’s book The Immoralist, in March 1954 Kazan cast this youthful misfit in a role that could have been written especially for him. Namely, Cal Trask, the brooding, rebellious, Cain-type brother in the Warner Brothers film version of John Steinbeck’s powerful novel, East of Eden.


Inevitably, Jimmy attracted Kazan’s disapproval for his tempestuous, unpredictable behaviour, not to mention his penchant for hair-raising devilment on four and two wheels, and for noisily playing the bongo drums (one of his favourite hobbies) while on set. He also succeeded in alienating the film crew and (with the notable exception of Julie Harris) most of his co-stars too - particularly the cultured old-school actor Raymond Massey, playing Cal’s father, and Dick Davalos, playing his Abel-counterpart twin brother Aron. Yet in spite of (or even perhaps because of) it all, Jimmy turned in a spellbinding performance, greatly influenced by the Method school of acting championed by Strasberg’s Actors Studio.

In June 1954, while still filming ‘Eden’, Jimmy began dating the actress often said to be his one and only true love, 22-year-old Italian-born Pier Angeli. In the decades since his death, there has been much controversy concerning Jimmy’s sexuality. Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, even asexual – all of these have been attributed to him. There is no doubt that by the time of ‘East of Eden’, Jimmy had been variously acquainted or infatuated with some homosexual or bisexual figures, including pastor Dr James DeWeerd at Fairmount’s Wesleyan Church, and CBS TV director Rogers Brackett (plus, later, ‘Rebel’ co-star Sal Mineo). He had also dated numerous women – dancer Dizzy Sheridan, teenage actress Barbara Glenn, New York photography enthusiast Arlene Sachs, and New York actress Christine White among others. And then there were the various strictly platonic, brother-and-sister type relationships, most notably with Julie Harris, and sultry feline singer Eartha Kitt. Little wonder, then, that those who knew him best agree that it wasn’t a person’s sex that attracted him but their personality, meaning that in a sense he was both bisexual and asexual, having little affinity with sexuality but every affinity with living a life that lacked boundaries or limitations. Until, that is, Pier Angeli entered his life.

She was working on a film called ‘The Silver Chalice’ in an adjacent film studio to his, and the two soon became very attracted towards one another. Despite rumours that their romance was a studio publicity stunt, Kazan and others had no doubt whatsoever that it was genuine. In keeping with the tragic idol persona that Jimmy nowadays embodies, however, it was doomed from the very beginning, due to the implacable disapproval of Pier’s mother, a staunch Catholic who hated non-Catholic Jimmy’s hip, reckless image and sullen attitude. Nevertheless, the film world was still startled when in October 1954 Pier abruptly announced her engagement to singer Vic Damone, and married him just a month later. The nuptials were watched from across the way by a thunderous, uninvited Jimmy, sitting astride his motorbike before riding off alone. Abandoned by his mother in death, by his father in despair, and now by his greatest love in favour of someone else - from then on, Jimmy’s moods, always uncertain and stormy at best, became ever darker, his insecurities ever more apparent.

Premiered in New York on 9 March 1955, ‘East of Eden’ had cost over one and half million dollars to make, but was a huge success, with Jimmy acclaimed as a major new star, resulting in fan clubs springing up all around the world in his honour. Highly uncomfortable as the focus of such unexpected adulation, Jimmy derived great pleasure from sneaking anonymously into cinemas to watch how audiences reacted to his riveting portrayal of the haunted, alienated outcast Cal Trask on screen. Sadly, this was to be the only one of the three films in which he starred that Jimmy would live to see released. Nor would he ever know of his ‘Best Actor’ Oscar nomination in 1956 for his performance as Cal.


In January 1955, two months before the ‘Eden’ premiere, Jimmy had been signed up for the film role that he was assuredly born to play, and with which he will forever be most intimately identified – the disaffected, red bomber-jacketed, Lee jeans-clad teenager Jim Stark in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. Another Warner Brothers movie but directed this time by Nicholas Ray, it co-starred a young Natalie Wood and an even younger Sal Mineo, creating both off-screen and on-screen a complex triangle of mutual attraction. Jimmy starred as a loner, misunderstood by his parents, especially by his weak father played by Jim Backus (thereby yielding an uncomfortably close parallel, perhaps, with Jimmy’s own life), and rejected by the other students at his new school.

It was during this same period that Jimmy, by now becoming a serious movie heart-throb, featured in two major photo-shoots for Life magazine. The first, a studio-based session on 29 December 1954 with celebrity-snapper Roy Schatt, resulted in the classic ‘Torn Sweater’ series, named after the tatty sweater worn by Jimmy, who was also sporting photogenic designer stubble long before it became fashionable to do so. The second, in February 1955, saw Jimmy return to New York and Fairmount with New York photographer Dennis Stock, which yielded some of the most famous and iconic of all James Dean images.

As with ‘East of Eden’, Jimmy played his role in ‘Rebel’ in his own unique, idiosyncratic way, replete with extraordinary mannerisms, improvisations, and what had become by now his trade-mark mumbling delivery. But again, the result was both hypnotic and groundbreaking – for countless young screen-goers everywhere, James Dean was the definitive teenager, epitomising and embodying the angst, confusion, rebellion, pain, rage, and sexual awakenings that they were experiencing.


‘Rebel’ would be premiered in New York on 26 October 1955, but well before then Jimmy was already hard at work on film #3, shooting for it having begun in Texas on 3 June 1955. This was ‘Giant’, a big-budget Warner Brothers movie adaptation of Edna Ferber’s bestselling oil-boom novel, with veteran director George Stevens, in which, for the first time, Jimmy’s two principal co-stars were major-league movie actors – Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. Yet again, Jimmy played a disturbed, embittered outsider – ranch-hand Jett Rink, who becomes, following the discovery of oil on his tiny plot of land, an extremely wealthy oil baron, surpassing even the fortune amassed by his hated rival, Bick Benedict (played by Hudson, with Taylor as his wife, Leslie, who also nurtures a soft spot for Jett). Ironically, Jimmy’s off-screen relationship with his co-stars mirrored their on-screen one, Jimmy and Hudson loathing one another but Jimmy and Taylor forming a genuine platonic friendship.

In the film, Jett Rink aged from a 19-year-old youth to a dissipated 46-year-old with grey hair, requiring a far greater scope of acting talent than Jimmy had ever been required to display before, and critics are still divided as to whether he accomplished this successfully. Nevertheless, his performance was such that, in 1957, he received a second ‘Best Actor’ Oscar nomination, the first time that any actor had received two posthumous Oscar nominations. Sadly, however, he did not win on either occasion.

Having completed his filming for ‘Giant’ on 22 September 1955, Jimmy, by now something of a veteran, successful car-racer, decided to enter a race in Salinas, California, driving his latest four-wheeled acquisition – a silver Porsche 550 Spyder that he had dubbed ‘Little Bastard’ (after an affectionate nickname given to him by his friend Bill Hickman, a stuntman on ‘Giant’). At around 10 pm on 23 September, however, just under a week before he set off for Salinas, Jimmy had a somewhat macabre chance encounter with British actor Alec Guinness, to whom he proudly showed off ‘Little Bastard’. Far from being impressed, however, Guinness inexplicably felt a wave of horror sweep over him as he looked at the car – so much so that he found himself imploring Jimmy not to get in it, and stating that if he did, he would be dead in a week.


Although he was understandably startled at first by Guinness’s chilling words, Jimmy soon laughed them off, and so it was that during the afternoon of 30 September 1955 he and his mechanic Rolf Weutherich found themselves heading down Route 466 towards Salinas in ‘Little Bastard’, with Jimmy driving. Just before 6 pm, they approached a junction with Highway 41, at a speed of around 85 mph, and at that same moment a Ford sedan driven by 23-year-old college student Donald Turnupseed pulled out onto Route 466 directly in front of them. Jimmy swerved desperately, but could not avoid the Ford. According to Weutherich, who, like Turnupseed, survived the inevitable crash, Jimmy’s last words were: “That guy’s gotta stop...he’ll see us!” The feather-light racing car was virtually annihilated, and Jimmy died of multiple injuries before his broken body arrived at the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital. The crash had taken place exactly a week after Guinness’s eerily-prophetic warning.

Jimmy’s death incited shock, grief, rage, and quasi-religious fervour among his fans around the globe on a scale unprecedented since that of Rudolph Valentino back in the mid-1920s. What had until then been an enthusiastic following of fans soon transformed into a veritable cult – and the rest, as they say, is history.

For James Byron Dean, one journey had ended, but another had already begun. An actor had died, but a legend was born.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The Little Prince

(James Dean’s favourite quote from his favourite book)

All illustrations here are of postage stamps and other items from my own personal collection of James Dean-related philatelic memorabilia.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Not all dolls and marionettes are as friendly as these (Dr Karl Shuker)

Although this article of mine was originally published in a now-defunct British weekly magazine called Me! way back in November 1994, IMHO it remains one of the most chilling articles that I have ever written.

It was 12 August 1964, and Irene Tucker had invited two friends to her apartment in Boston, Massachusetts, for coffee and a chat. In the event, they had little time for coffee, and the subject of their conversation was very different from what they had expected. For as they were sitting there, they suddenly heard an unfamiliar female voice, oddly guttural and mature, coming from the bedroom of Irene's 11-year-old daughter, Holly Anne - but there shouldn't be anyone in that room except for Holly herself.

Frightened at what she might find, Irene rushed to Holly's bedroom, and flung open the door - but all that met her eyes was Holly, fast asleep in her bed, and her doll sitting on the bed beside her. Softly closing the door again, she went back to her friends, who were as puzzled as she was. There had certainly been a strange voice - but even as they spoke, they heard it again! And this time it was much louder - and it was calling to Holly. "Will you get up, Holly Anne - get up and talk to me!"

Rushing into the bedroom at once, they were faced with exactly the same scene as before - Holly asleep, her doll on her bed. By now, however, Irene was becoming distinctly uneasy, so as soon as Holly woke up, they told her what had happened. To their amazement, Holly was totally unconcerned - "You probably heard Betsy calling to me. She always tries to wake me up and get me to play with her." And with that, she picked up her doll, and said "This is Betsy. Say hello to Mommy's friends, Betsy".

On that particular occasion, 'Betsy' apparently decided to remain silent - at least, that is, until Holly's mother and her friends had once again gone out and closed the door. Then, only moments later, they clearly heard that strange guttural voice speak again. This time, however, it was testily enquiring from Holly why she hadn't scolded her mother and friends - "Haven't they anything better to do than snoop on us?"

During the next fortnight, Irene was driven to distraction by the voice that Holly claimed to be Betsy's - vociferous as long as Holly's bedroom door was closed, mute as soon as it was opened. Then, one of her friends who had heard its eerie tones on that first evening, hit upon the clever idea of hiding a voice-activated tape recorder in Holly's room.

This her mother did, then the following morning she took it out of Holly's room and played it in the presence of her two friends. There was no doubt - someone, or something, with a distinctly older voice and a peculiar accent had been chatting to her daughter during the night. It had been faithfully recorded by the machine - but, dashing Irene's hopes that it was nothing more than a clever example of ventriloquism on the part of her daughter, the older voice was talking about all sorts of things that Holly couldn't possibly have known.

At this point, Irene became so alarmed that she took the doll out of Holly's room, bringing it into her own instead, and placing it on her dressing table. That evening, with the doll still on the table, Irene went to bed - but not long afterwards, she awoke in terror. There had been a loud scream, and an ominous thud. What had happened? Was Holly in danger? She turned on the light immediately, ready to race into her daughter's bedroom - and then she saw it. Betsy had apparently fallen off the dressing table, and was lying on the floor - with her head smashed in. From that moment onwards, the strange guttural voice was never heard again, and Holly confirmed that Betsy didn't speak anymore.

The final twist in this chilling tale came a short time later, when out of curiosity Irene played to a linguist the tape of Betsy's night-time conversation. He was very interested, because he recognised Betsy's accent - it was German. Moreover, when the broken doll was examined, it was discovered that, sure enough, Betsy had been made in Germany!

This is just one of many reports on file concerning dolls that have somehow 'come alive' - usually to the amazement, and terror, of those around them. Indeed, some were so malevolent that Chocky, the demonic doll from the 'Child's Play' series of horror movies, seems positively playful in comparison!

The macabre episode of Holly and Betsy was among several investigated by Robert Tralins, a noted occult authority in America, and the author of an extraordinary casebook entitled Children of the Supernatural (1969). Another, equally inexplicable case that he researched was that of a real-life Pinocchio - a puppet that seemingly came to life!

Lucian Devlin and his wife, from New Orleans in Louisiana, laughed when their 7-year-old son Joey came into their bedroom one night in 1947 and said: "There are ghosties in my toy box and they keep waking me up and they won't let me sleep." Just to humour him, however, his parents went back with him to his bedroom - but even before they reached the door, they could plainly hear loud bumps and other noises emanating from inside the room. His mother cautiously opened the door, stepped inside - and to her astonishment, the lid of Joey's toy box suddenly opened, unassisted, and inside she could see a hand puppet, which was moving around all by itself. Moreover, as she watched, some of the other toys suddenly seemed to hurl themselves out of the box, and lay scattered all over the floor.

Fleeing the room in terror, she refused to let Joey go back to bed there, so Joey and his parents spent the rest of the night in their own room - until, that is, the child and his mother had finally gone to sleep. Then, Lucian Devlin quietly got out of bed and made his way to Joey's room, opened the door, and looked inside. There, to his great alarm, was the macabre marionette, moving about completely unaided by anything or anyone. After watching this bizarre toy for a time, Devlin turned the light on. Instantly, the puppet froze - but it was too late. Devlin had seen more than enough to know what he had to do. He took hold of the puppet, left the house with it, and threw it into the nearby river. Never again did "ghosties" in his toy box disturb Joey's sleep.

The case attracted so much attention that the Devlins finally denied that anything had happened. Years later, however, Joey, then a fully-grown man, spoke with Robert Tralins, and confirmed that it had all been perfectly true.

The Devlin case featured a 'bad Pinocchio' - one that seemingly came to life for disruptive purposes!

A haunted doll's house featured in a somewhat similar case - when, on 1 August 1960, 10-year-old Terri Woods, of Cumberland County in North Carolina, came to play with her dolls, and found that somehow, everything in her recently-acquired giant doll's house had been moved around. None of her family had been anywhere near her toys since she had last played with them, so her parents were at a loss for an explanation. Over the next few days, however, the same thing happened again...and again - even when the doll's house was locked by itself inside Terri's bedroom. By now, her parents were almost as frightened as Terri - who, on one occasion, had actually seen her toys moving about by themselves inside it. Even Mr Wood's decision to keep the house under lock and key in an unused spare bedroom failed to prevent the toys' uncanny animation. In fact, that only made things worse.

On the third day of the doll house's imprisonment there, Mr and Mrs Woods detected a foul, evil smell seeping from that room - and when it was unlocked, they found that the malignant odour was diffusing directly from the doll's house. There was only one course of action left to take with this bewitched building - and Mr Woods took it. After emptying it of toys, Mr Wood carried the doll's house outside, doused it with petrol, and set fire to it.

Happily, events were not repeated with a new doll's house that the Woods bought their daughter - but the way in which they had obtained the haunted version may provide an insight into its weird behaviour. It had arrived on Terri's tenth birthday, a gift from an anonymous 'well wisher' whose identity was never uncovered.

In black magic, it is well known that if people want to rid themselves of an item of evil, they must not sell it - instead, they must secretly give it away, and receive no recompense. Could that explain the mysterious arrival of Terri's doll house?

As revealed in Reincarnation International (July 1994), Barbara Bell of San Anselmo, Nebraska, produces a regular newsletter in which she documents the psychic messages that she allegedly receives via her Barbie doll - but in Australia there is a famous cloth doll that can apparently do much the same thing too. It is owned by Nicole Hart, from Melbourne, and in 1987, when she was 8 years old, it began talking to her - but quite aside from the extraordinary fact that it contained no built-in talking device to explain its sudden conversion into a veritable chatterbox, its words were very disturbing.

For this weird toy began to predict dramatic incidents that would occur in her family and elsewhere - predictions that Nicole's parents heard too, and which all came true shortly afterwards! To date, they have included the diagnosis of her grandmother as suffering from cancer, the killing of her pet cat Jinx by a car, a neighbour's death, and three motor vehicle crashes. Hardly a cheerful selection, but as pointed out by Nicole's father, architect Vance Hart: "The doll never predicts anything good. Its messages are always of impending disaster and doom. We can't take much more of its doomsday predictions."

Cabbage Patch Kids are supposed be as individual in form and personality as real children. They are even sold with detailed 'life histories' and 'birth certificate', and the buyer has to sign 'adoption papers' and to swear in front of a witness to be a good, kind parent - but in some cases, the dolls seem to have taken all of this a little too seriously for comfort!

In August 1984, Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper reported the tribulations suffered by a childless woman from Connecticut who until recently had owned one of these dolls. Often, she would inexplicably find it in a different room of her home from where she had left it, but one day events took a much more sinister turn - when the woman found the doll with a menacing expression on its face, and spouting forth what amounted to a verbal spanking for not tucking it in its crib! Chillingly, the doll also told her: "I'm not just a doll!"

Greatly frightened, the woman called in an exorcist, but by the time that he had arrived the doll had somehow managed to suspend itself in the air. Fortunately, following his gestures with a crucifix, it soon fell down into its crib. After that, he and its 'mother' swiftly buried the eerie doll in the garden, after sprinking the site with holy water - just in case!

Another Cabbage Patch Kid that was laid to rest beneath a secure layer of earth and soil with all speed had been owned by an American woman - until the summer night in 1984 when she claimed that something had tried to strangle her while she slept. According to psychic investigator Edward Warren who was called in to deal with the situation by the distraught woman, when she had woken up there was nothing to be seen - only her doll, but when she looked closely at it, she saw to her horror that in one of its specially-constructed grasping hands was a button, torn off the nightgown that the woman was still wearing!

In East Hartford, Connecticut, a life-sized Raggedy Doll allegedly attacked Tony Rossi, the boyfriend of Margarite Tata to whom it belonged and who shared her bed with it. Tony had been having nightmares about it for several days, so one morning in March 1974 he picked it up, shouted "You're nothing but a toy!", and shook it. Instantly, he felt searing pains across his chest, and when he unbuttoned his shirt he supposedly discovered to his great shock that "there were seven bleeding claw marks slashed across my body!".

Dolls can be looked upon as emotional sponges, sucking up and into themselves the concentrated outpourings of love and attention lavished upon them by their owners - and often serve as substitutes for real children. Some people may say, therefore, that perhaps we should not be too surprised when they begin to display and release human emotions themselves - but what reflection upon the darker side of humanity is it when those emotions apparently include attempted murder?

Clowns and jesters - but sometimes, toys are no laughing matter! (Dr Karl Shuker)