Thursday, September 30, 2010

James Dean passed this way?

Fifty five years ago today, James Dean died.  I was reminded of that by an editorial on the Op-Ed page of the Los Angeles Times today.  I actually already knew about it, but the editorial nudged me a little.  He would have been 79 had he not been involved in that car crash along Hwy 46 east of Paso Robles.

Two weeks ago, I passed near the spot where he died coming home from Santa Cruz after dropping my son off for another year at college.  Hwy 46 is littered with all sorts of James Dean memorabilia.  The interchange where the crash occurred is called the James Dean Memorial junction.  There's a James Dean memorial and virtual cache just east of there.  The highway is called the James Dean Memorial Highway.

We in America have an interesting fixation about stars who die before their time.  Marylyn Monroe, Elvis, Michael Jackson and James Dean all seem to fit this bill.  It's hard to know where James Dean fits into this mix.  He made three films, died before two of them were released.  Most people, I think will remember his role in Rebel Without a Cause, staring two other young actors, both of whom died premature deaths, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.  If you've never seen this film, it's a good one to watch, especially if you want to learn about teenage angst of the 1950s.

Giant gives you a glimpse of Dean and how he might have looked had he survived.  Giant is a big set piece set in Texas during the oil rush.  Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor fill out the cast of stars.  Dennis Hopper also makes an appearance.  However, I think Dean's best work, is in the film East of Eden.  I can remember seeing this one in college, after having seen the other two several times while in high school.  East of Eden hardly ever gets shown, but it's a very fine film both from an acting standpoint by Dean and others and the cinematography.  Rent it and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

I bring all of this up mainly because as I was driving on Hwy 46, I ended up geocaching along the road.  One cache took me off the main highway to an old bridge which paralleled the highway.  Little used, the bridge is in a state of decay and will eventually be replaced.  It's interesting to think about, but it's a bridge that James Dean probably traveled over on his ill fated last trip.  Over the years, the highway has been realigned several times to make it wider and straighter and thus, safer for motorists.  Much of the old road is probably gone entirely and the exact spot where the car crash took place isn't on the highway anymore.

I'm actually surprised that some preservation society hasn't come along and decided that this little piece of history deserves to be preserved.  It's probable that this might happen in the future, when the wrecking ball comes into play, but it's also just as likely that this old bridge will slowly drift into obscurity.  Or then again, maybe this is just an old side road with no link to what happened so long ago.

Pictures were taken at the following geocaches:
This Old Bridge - by Scooterman
James Dean - by TahoeTeach

Profile for Webfoot

1 comment:

DAEpp said...

Great post Paul. Dean represented a great part of our unique Americana. And he drove a great car too!