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Live Fast, Die Young: Rembering the Short Life of James Dean is a first — revealing James Dean from the inside out by someone who knew him intimately, in more ways than one. John Gilmore hung out with Dean during the early days in New York, and again in Hollywood when Dean starred in his first movie, East of Eden. They pounded the pavements of Broadway together, raced motorcycles, had sex with the same women (and compared notes), experimented with gay sex, and tried to make love to another.
“We were bad boys playing bad boys while opening up the bisexual sides of our separate personalities . . .” One sex scene between the two is played out in black leather to the music of Edith Piaf. “The sex was a game,” Gilmore writes. “Jimmy was obsessed with riding the black ship to hell, and for that quick time I was on board with him.” Dean found in the young Gilmore a “kind of unthreatening waste basket” into which he confided, dumping his chaotic, erotic and crazy ideas. “We enjoyed poetry and bullfighting, bongo drums, booze, and girls; knew the same crummy friends and sleepless, searching nights.”
Dean’s insights into his brilliant Broadway success and the films that followed are revealed through Gilmore’s story as are Dean’s hatred of his disapproving father; his intimacy with his mother and their secret games that engendered Dean’s sexual confusion in Hollywood; Dean’s obsession with death; and the posthumous explosion of the legend.
Through letters, diaries, tape-recorded conversations with the actor, and private remembrances by those closest to him, Gilmore constructs a never-before-seen portrait of the star.
Although typical images of James Dean prompt thoughts of a rebellious young punk with a prickly attitude, Gilmore's biography of the star proves that there was more behind that macho facade. A close friend of Dean during his acting years, Gilmore (Laid Bare; Forecasts, May 19) constructs a somewhat surprising portrait of the insurgent actor, recounting his life up to his death by car crash in 1955. He weaves comments from Liz Taylor, Eartha Kitt and others with his own experiences to illustrate fully the impact Dean had on others' lives. Dean spent his abbreviated life in and out of relationships with members of the Hollywood crowd, ever restless and never committing himself to anyone. Gilmore's relationship with the star involved experimenting with bisexuality ("We were bad boys playing bad boys while opening up the bisexual sides of our separate personalities"). Portrayed by Gilmore as an emotionally confused dreamer and an egomaniac, among other attributes, Dean apparently believed that he was predestined to become a legend, and this belief became his driving force. He was enamored of motorcycles and all things dangerous, but also of poetry, and he could randomly recite passages from Moby Dick and Hamlet. This sensitive side was difficult for others to tap into, however, and it seems as if all who knew him, Gilmore included, never knew him entirely. This memoir sheds a different light on the celebrity, drawing readers into Dean's private world in a way that makes him seem more like a hero with a cause. Photos.