My Sunday column on legendary Hoosier James Dean, his love of racing and a new docu-drama film about Dean's life getting its Chicago premiere June 7 at Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, prompted the following from reader Lee Raskin:
"Hello Mr. Potempa: A nice 'twist' to the new 'Joshua Tree, 1951' movie about an experimental James Dean. BUT you could have been more precise in your background and history of Dean, especially if you did a bit more fact checking from more up-to-date sources. For example...you write 'Dean hailed from Fairmount, Ind. Actually, Mr. Potempa, James Dean was born in Marion, Ind.
And your reference to David Dalton's book 'The Mutant King,' published in 1974, contains stale information about Dean's fatal accident. You mentioned, 'According to Wutherich (Dean's car mechanic who was in the car with him the day of the fatal car crash), 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. Jimmy, trapped in the seat behind the wheel, his head practically severed from his body, died instantly at 5:45 p.m.'
But actually, Mr. Potempa, Rolf Wutherich, Dean's riding mechanic, in his deposition to the States Attorney following the accident, said he could not recall any of the details leading up to immediately before or after the accident. He doesn't recall Dean saying anything at all. Author Dalton made it up. Dean was trapped in the Porsche Spyder because his left foot was entangled (crushed) between the clutch and brake pedal assembly. His seat was ripped out of the car and flung to the ground. Dalton also made up: Dean's head (was) practically severed from his body. It's another example associated with The James Dean Curse, a embellished factoid that continues to be reprinted by those who haven't stayed current with the real facts.
You should take a look at recent published books like 'James Dean At Speed' (2005), and 'History's Greatest Automotive Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed,' for the chapter 'James Dean's Killer Porsche' written by Preston Lerner/Matt Stone (2012) and the most recently updated/edited Wikipedia page for James Dean, with published accounts of his background, acting career, racing endeavors, the accident and the aftermath of the 'Little Bastard Porsche Spyder.'
I hope for your next piece on James Dean, you will take a few more moments to explore and share all new information that has surfaced from the Dean archivists who continue to sniff out the facts. Very truly, Lee Raskin of Baltimore, Maryland; Porsche/James Dean Historian/Author/Producer."