A RICH LEGACY OF REBELLION | TRIUMPH MOTORCYCLES

Kenny Brown, the mad motorcycyle trick-rider is seen here tearing it up on a Triumph.

Kenny Brown, the “Wild Man” of motorcycle trick-riding is seen here tearing it up on a Triumph.

Or rebellious riders, I should say.  Thanks to the The Jockey Journal for these amazing pics of the “Wild Man” in action. Seen above and below, “Wild Man” Kenny Brown toured the country in the ’60s putting on one man shows at Drag Strips with his incredible stunts– always on his trusty Triumph.

The British built bikes, like Triumphs, were coveted by American riders for their lighter weight– and for what some considered better handling than the American built bikes at the time. By the 1950s, more Triumphs were sold here in the U.S. than any other country hands down. Triumph had their own version of the badass big bike, and it’s the stuff of legends– the Triumph Thunderbird.

Kenny Brown favored performing his unique brand of motorcycle trickery on a trusty triumph.

Kenny Brown favored performing his unique brand of motorcycle trickery on a trusty Triumph.

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“LITTLE BASTARD” | THE SILVER SPYDER THAT DROVE JAMES DEAN TO HIS GRAVE

James Deans "Little Bastard" Silver Porsche Spyder

James Deans “Little Bastard” Silver Porsche 550 Spyder. This shot was taken just hours before Jimmy’s tragic death.

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James Dean’s love for speed, racing and “living on the edge” are all well documented in many books, documentaries and bios– so I won’t belabor the point here.  Check out the video after the jump for a “James Dean legend” primer.  What is fascinating is the tremendous staying power, cult status and curse stories that surround not just James Dean, but also the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder that he tragically lost his life in.  The Porsche 550 Spyder is now forever linked with James Dean– it’s nearly impossible to recount one icon without the other.

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ames Dean and his 1955 Silver Porsche Spyder-- "Little Bastard"

James Dean and his 1955 Silver Porsche 550 Spyder– “Little Bastard”

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THE “REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE” CURSE | A CURIOUS CAST OF CHARACTERS

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James Dean in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause”

The 1950s were a very cool time, I only wish I could have experienced them for myself. It is a time in American pop culture that is highly idealized for it’s music, fashion, style and culture. Everyone looked incredible, and seemed so squeaky clean– but you just knew there had to be much more going on behind the scenes. Rebel Without a Cause is one of the most iconic films from that era, and the stories behind the making of the James Dean classic are as incredible as the movie itself. And truth be told, Dean was not the only rebel on the set. Nicholas Ray, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams and Natalie Wood definitely held there own.

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Hollywood Icon Marlon Brando’s Canyon Home

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Marlon Brando and James Dean were contemporaries– with a very contemptuous relationship.  The were often compared, and neither one was appreciative.  Brando publicly ridiculed Dean, accusing him of “wearing my last year’s wardrobe and using my last year’s talents…”  Dean later responded– “I was riding a motorcycle long before I heard of Mr. Brando.”   To Newsweek Dean said– “People were telling me I behaved like Brando before I knew who Brando was.  I am neither disturbed by the comparison, nor am I flattered by it.  I have my own personal rebellions and don’t have to rely on Brando’s.”

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HOLLYWOOD ICON JAMES DEAN’S NYC APARTMENT

JAMES DEAN NYC APARTMENT

James Dean’s New York City apartment

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What’s better than a piece about classic Hollywood Icons and their old pads?

The bull horns and matador cape were of special meaning to Dean.  He had read the novel Matador by Barnaby Conrad, and for a while was obsessed with dramatizing it as an internal monologue without words, using just a few props.  Dean also loved to play his bongo drum along to jazz records late into the night.   He hung with a small, close-knit circle of actor/artist friends.  Among them was a young Martin Landau.

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JAMES DEAN IN JACK PURCELLS

james dean jack purcells

This has always been one of my favorite shots of James Dean. We’re used to seeing him highly-stylized, flawless and in technicolor– but here he’s just a guy hanging out like anyone else. There are some shots of Dean that I can’t even look at. In Giant, his character ages over the course of the story, so they shaved into his hairline to make it appear receding, and gave him a creepy (and very Sean Penn-like) mustache.

When James Dean was killed in that horrible crash, he had just finished filming Giant and his natural hairline hadn’t grown back in– so he looked older than he actually was when he died.  That always seemed ironic and troubling to me.

My fascination with Dean started as a teen– he was my idol. I read something deep and mystical into the fact we had the same birthday. It was all about the angst and feeling like there is no one in the world that understands you– no one. I was sure that James Dean would have understood me.

Back then, a lot of the stories about his sexuality weren’t as widely known as they are now. I just assumed he was straight–he kissed girls in movies, so what was there to know? A lot, apparently  It was a shocker for me– a naive, straight kid growing up on Phoenix. The only point of reference I had for a gay person was Liberace, for cryin’ out loud. I remember reading about all the shenanigans on the set of Rebel Without a Cause– teenage star Natalie Wood having a tryst with director Nicholas Ray, who was in his 50s– James Dean (bisexual / bicurious) and fellow actor Nick Adams also supposedly involved– Sal Mineo, gay.Then the big shocker– Rock Hudson too. This was all a big surprise and changed my perception of the world.

It was only 20 years ago that I was in high school, but light years apart from today in terms of tolerance. I didn’t know anyone that admitted being gay or bisexual back then.  You just didn’t. Sure there were rumors and talk. All it took to be labeled as gay was to have what somebody considered a gay hairstyle or voice, or a little extra swish in your step. Being called queer was every kid’s worst fear. You just wanted to conform back then.

That was, and still is the appeal of James Dean, aside from his enormous talent and looks– he made being misunderstood cool.

James Dean in Denim | Safe Driving PSA

Actor James Dean clad in Western garb for his role, holding a coiled rope, on location for the movie "Giant."

James Dean on the set of George Stevens' "Giant".

 

James Dean and I share the same birthday, so I have always felt strangely close to him – kinda like a kindred spirit.  I have seen Dean’s movies countless times over the years, and his enigmatic charm and intensity are just as strong today.  I love watching the scenes in Rebel Without A Cause when the kids are rocking their rolled-up jeans.  Back then, the greaser’s pomade and cigarette ash would get rubbed into the jeans and create an incredible patina.  Oh, how I long for the days before contrived whiskering and washes.  

While still in character as Jett Rink filming George Stevens’ epic “Giant”, James Dean starred in this PSA that addresses safe driving.  Ironically at the end he adds– “Take it easy driving, the life you might save, might be mine”.