Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Shortly before he was killed in an auto accident, James Dean talked about car safety in a television spot.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, July 2007]
Origins: At 5:45 p.m. on
Most historians agree Dean had been speeding at the time of the accident (with many saying he had been traveling at up to 90 to
Speed, they say, kills, and in Dean's case it did indeed prove deadly. Yet given how he died, many see as somewhat ironic the fact that a month or so earlier James Dean had filmed a television spot cautioning young drivers against the perils of speeding, even more so that he ended his spiel with an admonition to eschew the practice because it might spare his life.
For the 1955-56 television season, Warner Bros. produced its first television series, Warner Bros. Presents, an umbrella title that covered a rotation of three different series, each based on a successful movie: Kings Row, Cheyenne, and Casablanca. Each week, the hour-long Warner Bros. Presents program would commence with an episode of one of those three shows, then conclude with a 10- to
The Giant featurette had actor Gig Young, who hosted and narrated the Warner Bros. Presents series, interviewing members of the film's cast while they were on the set. Young conducted one of those interviews with James Dean and plied the young actor with questions about his interest in auto racing. At the end of their brief exchange, Young asked, "Do you have any special advice for the young people who drive?" to which Dean responded, "Take it easy
Dean's comment proved prescient, as speeding (his own, not someone else's) did indeed end his life. We are left to wonder what additional contributions he would have made to the big screen had he but taken his own advice.
Yet Dean's filmed "Don't speed, kids" finger-wagging was far from the only eerie aspect to the young actor's demise. Some say the car he drove into Eternity was cursed, and that its various parts went on after Dean's death to wreak even more havoc. Then there's the tale veteran actor Alec Guinness told throughout his life about James Dean and the car the doomed young man had dubbed "Little Bastard."
The future Obi-Wan Kenobi wrote of an encounter that took place in
I became aware of running, sneakered feet behind us and turned to face a fair young man in sweat-shirt and blue-jeans. "You want a table?" he asked. "Join me. My name is James Dean." We followed him gratefully, but on the way back to the restaurant he turned into a car-park, saying, "I'd like to show you something." Among the other cars there was what looked like a large, shiny, silver parcel wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon. "It's just been delivered," he said, with bursting pride. "I haven't even driven it yet."Seven days later, at 5:45 p.m. on
The sports car looked sinister to me, although it had a large bunch of red carnations resting on the bonnet. "How fast is it?" I asked. "She'll do a hundred and fifty," he replied. Exhausted, hungry, feeling a little ill-tempered in spite of Dean's kindness, I heard myself saying in a voice I could hardly recognise as my own, "Please, never get in it." I looked at my watch. "It is now ten o'clock, Friday the 23rd of September, 1955. If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week."
He laughed. "Oh, shucks! Don't be so mean!"
Barbara "star warned" Mikkelson
Last updated: 22 August 2007
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