OFFBEAT: James Dean film gets Chicago premiere

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-05-26T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: James Dean film gets Chicago premiereBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Actor Jim Nabors returns this year to sing "Back Home Again in Indiana" during pre-race ceremonies for today's 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 according to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Nabors, who turns 83 next month, missed last year's race because of heart surgery, so a video of him performing the song at his home in Hawaii aired instead. He has performed in person at the race 33 times since 1972.

However, Florence Henderson, one of our Hoosier claims-to-fame, who played Carol Brady on TV's "Brady Bunch," is not attending this weekend.

Henderson, 79, traditionally sings "God Bless America" at the race, but is ill this year and couldn't make the trip.

Legendary Hoosier James Dean loved racing. He had completed only three major movies, appeared in two Broadway plays and worked in just a handful of live television roles and commercials before his fatal car crash Sept. 30, 1955. Even though his acting career was brief, his image and status have become legendary in America and around the world.

I've just been tipped off a new docu-drama film about Dean's life will finally get its Chicago premiere June 7 at Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 164 N. State St. and will also play Jun 8 and 11. FYI:  (312) 846-2800 or

"Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean" is a 93-minute film starring James Preston as Dean and Dan Glenn as his roommate, exploring the complex personality of the young icon of the silver screen.

Here's the film's description: "One private, 'lost' year in the life of 20-year-old pre-stardom James Dean is rendered in a dreamy, noirish style that evokes 1951 to perfection in artful black-and-white with occasional flashes of Kodachrome color. The young Dean pursues ambiguous relationships with the struggling actor who is his roommate, the has-been starlet who grooms prospects for a powerful and predatory agent, and the shy and pretty boys who exist in the shadows of his life."

Dean hailed from Fairmount, Ind., born Feb. 8, 1931, the only child of Winton and Mildred Dean. After his father left the family and his mother died at an early age, 9-year-old "Jimmie" moved to his Uncle Marcus and Aunt Ortense Winslow's farm in Fairmount.

After he graduated from Fairmount High School in 1949, he went to California to attend Santa Monica City College and UCLA as a theater arts major. In 1951, Dean moved to New York and appeared in two Broadway plays where he was discovered by director Elia Kazan. After a screen test, Dean earned the leading role in Kazan's "East of Eden."

After making "Eden," he immediately went to director Nick Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause" starring Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Jim Backus.

His third and last film was Edna Ferber's star-studded classic "Giant" with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. He made all three films in only 16 months.

When Dean's agent informed him that she finalized a million dollar deal with Warner Bros., he celebrated by buying a $6,000 Porsche Spyder, with an eggshell-thin aluminum body, no windshield and no top. It was a race car that could travel more than 150 miles per hour.

According to David Dalton's 1974 biography, "James Dean: The Mutant King," Dean and his car mechanic Rolf Wutherich drove the car up the coast to enter a race in Salinas, Calif.

According to Wutherich, who was thrown from the car, Dean's last words were "That guy up there's gotta stop; he'll see us." The driver of the Ford was a 23-year-old college student, who escaped the accident with only a bruised nose.

According to Dalton's biography, "Jimmy, trapped in the seat behind the wheel, his head practically severed from his body, died instantly at 5:45 p.m." He was 24.

Dean's father accompanied his son's body back to Fairmount for a funeral on Oct. 8, 1955 attracting more than 3,000 people for his burial under a simple tombstone at Park Cemetery.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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