"The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine." ~ J.B.S. Haldane
American Icons - James Dean
James Dean only starred in three films in his brief career yet his electric screen presence, smoldering "bad boy" good looks and portrayals of youthful angst and rebellion against authority became the stuff of legend when he was killed in a head-on collision in 1955. The tragedy cemented his iconic status with subsequent generations and fueled wide-spread speculation that he, his car, and the principle young leads in his final film fell victim to a powerful black magic curse. The evil spell was purportedly cast by Maila Nurmi, an actress in low budget horror films who was a member of a Satanic coven. The star had enjoyed a brief romance with the woman, but denied his involvement with her to the press, afraid of the damage a negative association might do to his exploding career. Humiliated by his cavalier treatment she was said to have placed a hex on him during the filming of Rebel Without a Cause, the car he bought during the shoot, and those that shared the screen with him. Whether there is any truth to the tale is debatable, but the fact remains that each of the film's young stars died untimely deaths, Dean within weeks at age 24, Sal Mineo stabbed to death at 37, Nick Adams of a drug overdose at 36, and Natalie Wood drowned at 43.
As for the car Dean was driving when he died, it was a silver gray Porsche 550 Spyder he had purchased to race in an upcoming event in Salinas, CA. Despite his obvious pride in the sleek high performance machine which he named "The Little Bastard" several friends urged him to get rid of it. Nick Adams, one of the alleged curse victims, said the vehicle made him "uncomfortable". Dean's new girlfriend Ursula Andress refused to even sit in it. Oscar winner Alec Guinness best remembered for portraying Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars told the young star on September 23 that if he (Dean) got in the car, he'd be dead in a week. Exactly a week later on September 30, the fatal crash occurred. Another friend, George Barris, who had customized the auto for Dean and later designed television's Batmobile, said that the car just gave off "a weird feeling of impending doom", but that didn't stop him from buying the mangled wreckage after Dean's death.
His intent was to sell salvaged parts from the car, but it seems that the car was not yet done bringing bad luck to those nearest it. As it was being unloaded it fell from the back of the car hauler and crushed a mechanic's legs. The engine and the drive train were sold to Dr. Troy McHenry and Dr. William Eschrid who used the parts in their own racing machines. Both crashed at an event in Pomona, CA. McHenry died and Eschrid was disabled for the remainder of his life. Two tires from the Spyder were sold to a young man who returned days later to Barris and told him that both had blown out at the same moment causing him to crash into a ditch. He had just gotten out of the hospital.
Loathe to sell any
more parts, Barris agreed to allow the California Highway Patrol to
exhibit the car as part of a safety campaign. Ironically, Dean had
filmed a public service message against speeding just weeks prior to
his death where he ad-libbed "the life you save might be mine."
While in storage, the garage mysteriously caught fire, destroying
every other car in the building except the Spyder. It only received
minor smoke damage. Later, while on display at Sacramento High School,
bolts holding the car on a platform sheared off, allowing the wreck
to slide onto and crush a fifteen year-old student's hip. It just
happened to be September 30, the anniversary of Dean's death. While
in route to another exhibit in Salinas the flatbed hauling the
wreckage was involved in an accident. The driver was thrown free but
the car fell from the truck bed and rolled onto the man, killing him
instantly. Two years later, a different truck hauling it was involved
a wreck that caused a fatality, and in 1958 yet another serious
accident. In 1959, while on display at an exhibit in New Orleans, the
car fell into eleven separate pieces for no apparent reason.
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