An Imagined Life of James Dean
an extract from the novel
From the HarperCollins
A movie star on a meteoric rise, young James
Dean was already being hailed as one of America's finest actors when
he died in a
high-speed car accident in 1955. In one terrible instant a luminous
future glowing with extraordinary promise was snuffed out forever.
But what if it wasn't?
With The Rebel, acclaimed award-winning
author Jack Dann pulls James Dean from the twisted wreckage and offers
him a second chance to make an indelible mark on his art, his culture,
and his time in an era of profound change and devastating social upheaval.
Ingeniously blending historical fact with brilliant
invention, The Rebel is a hip, fast, mesmerizing ride through
the fifties and sixties -- an unforgettable road trip across a nation
torn by bitter racial strife and violently divided by war, with an American
legend at the wheel.
Los Angeles: September 29, 1955
It was the same dream, the same ratcheting, shaking, steaming, choo-chooing
dream of being back on the ghost train with his mother. She is imprisoned
in a lead casket in the baggage car, and he knows that she is alive
and suffocating. But he can't reach her, even as he runs from one car
of the Silver Challenger Express to another. The cars are huge and hollow
and endless, and he is exhausted -- James Dean, forever the nine-year-old
orphan, on his way again, and again and again, to bury his mother in
Mercifully, the whistle of the train rings -- a telephone jolting him
"Hello, Jimmy?" The voice hesitant, whispery, far away.
"Well, who do you think it is, Pier Angeli?"
"You're a nasty bitch."
"And you're still in love with her, you poor dumb fuck, aren't you."
Fully awake now, he laughed mordantly. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"I'm sorry. I love you."
"I love you, too. Are you in Connecticut with the Schwartzes or whatever
the fuck their name is?" Jimmy felt around for cigarettes and matches,
without success. He slept on a mattress on the floor of the second-floor
alcove. Shadows seemed to float around him in the darkness like clouds.
Marilyn giggled, as if swallowing laughter, and said, "Anti-Semite.
You mean the Greenes, and I'm not staying with them anymore, except
to visit and do business. I'm living in New York now -- like you told
me to, remember? I'm at the Waldorf Towers. Pretty flashy, huh? But
that's not where I am this very minute."
"Marilyn ... "
"I'm right here in L.A., and I've got news and I want to see you."
She sounded out of breath, but that was just another one of her signatures.
"I got a big race on Monday," Jimmy said, feeling hampered by the length
of the phone cord and the darkness as he felt through the litter around
his mattress. "It's in Salinas, near Monterey. You want to come and
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't."
"Shit, Marilyn. What time is it? I've got to get up at seven. And I've
got to be awake enough so as not to crash into a goddamn wall. And --
The phone was suddenly dead.
Marilyn Monroe was gone.
Jimmy should have known better. But it was -- he got up and flicked
on the light switch -- two o'clock in the morning. Not late for Jimmy
when he wasn't racing; he'd often hang out at this hour with Marty Wrightson,
a studio electrician who claimed to be Jimmy's best friend. They'd go
to Googie's or Schwab's on Sunset, which were the only places in L.A.
open after midnight, or he'd drive around alone ... or talk through
the night to Marilyn, who would call whenever she felt the need.
The lights hurt Jimmy's eyes, and although he hadn't been drinking
or doing any drugs, he felt hungover; and as he looked around his rented
house, forgetting for the instant that he needed a cigarette, he remembered
his dream -- running through the clattering passenger cars of the Silver
Challenger. "Momma," he whispered, then jerked his head to the side,
as if embarrassed.
But eventually the light burned away the dream. He found the cigarettes
in his bed, the pack of Chesterfields crumpled, the matches tucked inside
the cellophane wrapper; and he sat on the edge of the alcove, his legs
dangling, and smoked in the bright yellowish light. Below him was a
large living room with a huge seven-foot-tall stone fireplace He had
bought a white bearskin rug for the hearth, and on the wall was an eagle,
talons extended, wings outstretched, a bronzed predator caught in midflight.
It belonged to Jimmy's landlord. He could almost touch his pride-and-joy
James B. Lansing loudspeakers that just about reached the ceiling. Below
... below him was the mess of his life: his bongos, scattered records
and album covers, dirty dishes, dirty clothes, cameras and camera equipment,
crumpled paper and old newspaper, and books -- a library on the floor.
The walls were covered with bullfighting posters and a few of his own
paintings, but pride of place was given to a bloodstained bullfighting
cape that was cut into spokelike shadows by the bright wheel lamp that
hung between the beams of the ceiling. Jimmy gazed at the cape and remembered
when the Brooklyn born matador Sidney Franklin had given it to him as
a souvenir. That was in Tijuana. Rogers Brackett had introduced Jimmy
to the matador who was a friend of Ernest Hemingway. Brackett introduced
him to everyone. All he ever wanted in return was Jimmy's cock.
But Brackett knew everyone.
Jimmy could still feel the dark presence of his recurrent nightmare.
It blew through him like hot, fetid air, the hurricane of a fucked-up
past, of memory. He had named it, thus making it tangible, absolutely
real. Black Mariah. Black Mariah. Black Mariah.
Suddenly frightened, feeling small and vulnerable as his thought swam
like neon fish in deep, dark water, he huddled up tightly on the landing.
He wanted to cry. Momma ...
He flicked his half-finished cigarette in a high arc across the room
and wondered if it would start a fire. If it did, he would sit right
where he was like a fucking Buddha and die without moving a muscle.
If it didn't, he would race on Monday.
The phone rang again. He picked up the receiver.
"Hi," Marilyn said. "You ready to go out with me?"
Jimmy laughed. "Why'd you hang up on me?"
"Because you were treating me bad. I've changed. The new me doesn't
take shit from anybody, not even from the person I love more than --
"More than who?"
Extract from The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean
Dann, published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Copyright © 2004 by Jack Dann. Used by permission of the publisher.
The Rebel is published by William Morrow
(July 2004, ISBN: 0380978393).
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