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James Dean: The Mutant King: A Biography

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This is the book that restarted the James Dean cult by celebrating him as the cool, defiant visionary of pop culture who made adolescence seem heroic instead of awkward and who defined the style of rock ’n’ roll’s politics of delinquency. The only book to fully show how deliberately and carefully Dean crafted his own image and performances, and the product of still unequal This is the book that restarted the James Dean cult by celebrating him as the cool, defiant visionary of pop culture who made adolescence seem heroic instead of awkward and who defined the style of rock ’n’ roll’s politics of delinquency. The only book to fully show how deliberately and carefully Dean crafted his own image and performances, and the product of still unequalled research, vivid writing, intimate photographs, and profound meditation, James Dean: The Mutant King has become almost as legendary as its subject.


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This is the book that restarted the James Dean cult by celebrating him as the cool, defiant visionary of pop culture who made adolescence seem heroic instead of awkward and who defined the style of rock ’n’ roll’s politics of delinquency. The only book to fully show how deliberately and carefully Dean crafted his own image and performances, and the product of still unequal This is the book that restarted the James Dean cult by celebrating him as the cool, defiant visionary of pop culture who made adolescence seem heroic instead of awkward and who defined the style of rock ’n’ roll’s politics of delinquency. The only book to fully show how deliberately and carefully Dean crafted his own image and performances, and the product of still unequalled research, vivid writing, intimate photographs, and profound meditation, James Dean: The Mutant King has become almost as legendary as its subject.

30 review for James Dean: The Mutant King: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Hamilton

    I loved this book. I have been a huge James Dean fan since I stumbled upon "Rebel Without a Cause" playing on the television one day after school must have been about a whole 12 years of age. I thought : what an intriguing actor. I had never seen anyone quite like him. My Mother gave me the book, it must have been just released? (1974 ? I think.) My Mother had the author sign it for me. He wrote on the first empty page: "From one earthling to another". I adored that book, then one of the hardest le I loved this book. I have been a huge James Dean fan since I stumbled upon "Rebel Without a Cause" playing on the television one day after school must have been about a whole 12 years of age. I thought : what an intriguing actor. I had never seen anyone quite like him. My Mother gave me the book, it must have been just released? (1974 ? I think.) My Mother had the author sign it for me. He wrote on the first empty page: "From one earthling to another". I adored that book, then one of the hardest lessons I had to learn at a young age was when I loaned it to a friend of mine... when I asked her for it back she said without a care "I don't know where it is, I cannot find it". I persisted asking her again and again for about a year, if she has found it. I was always given the same answer, no I haven't found it. I don't think she was a mean person she was quite a few years older than me so I expected her to be a little bit more mature about the matter of borrowing books and not returning them. During the next 10 years or so I had loaned out other books to friends of mine without ever having them returned. So, now, to this day I have never loaned another book to anyone, unless I didn't expect to have it returned in other words it would be a gift. The fact that I love this book so much from cover to cover. That it had been signed by the author meant the world to me. I can still remember it was a wonderfully written book with wonderful photographs it was a book that I adored with all my heart. If any of you should come across the book with a writing on the front page that says: from one earthling to another. Please please please get ahold of me I would deeply appreciate it. With my overall review it was a great fantastic book .

  2. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Jr.

    Been wanting to read this for a long time, esp. since I am planning a trip over to Fairmount to visit Dean's grave this summer. It's only fifteen minutes from where I live. I've taught REBEL and admired EDEN and GIANT for years, and now I do feel I understand Dean and the films much better. Despite the author's dated '70's lingo, etc., the book is authoritative and nearly exhaustive. Especially fascinating are the interviews in the latter part of the book with Dennis Hopper, and also George Stev Been wanting to read this for a long time, esp. since I am planning a trip over to Fairmount to visit Dean's grave this summer. It's only fifteen minutes from where I live. I've taught REBEL and admired EDEN and GIANT for years, and now I do feel I understand Dean and the films much better. Despite the author's dated '70's lingo, etc., the book is authoritative and nearly exhaustive. Especially fascinating are the interviews in the latter part of the book with Dennis Hopper, and also George Stevens (director of GIANT), who admits he didn't understand Dean's genius and used him badly in the film. Anyway, James Dean was and is many things that interest me, an essential part of American mythology and a native Hoosier being two of them. Totally worth reading.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chryse Wymer

    This was the book that inspired my eventual trip to Fairmount, Indiana. (I thought the James Dean Museum was awesome, for a small town thing.) This book definitely fed my life-long obsession with James Dean. I first read it at 17 and again *repeatedly* over the years. It is poetic, having several passages from Lord Byron included (the source of Dean's middle name). It also has a few of Dean's own poems included. It feels like you are walking through Dean's life through the photographs and storie This was the book that inspired my eventual trip to Fairmount, Indiana. (I thought the James Dean Museum was awesome, for a small town thing.) This book definitely fed my life-long obsession with James Dean. I first read it at 17 and again *repeatedly* over the years. It is poetic, having several passages from Lord Byron included (the source of Dean's middle name). It also has a few of Dean's own poems included. It feels like you are walking through Dean's life through the photographs and stories of those who knew him. It seemed, to me, like all aspects of his life were evenly covered. It speaks about his life growing up on a farm as well as what his personality was like as a boy who had experienced loss at an early age. It chronicles information from his plays, commercials, and then his movies. It goes through his life, death, and how he might be remembered. The book almost seems to posit that James Dean is a modern Osiris risen. The man who lives, even though he has died. Of course, it is not short on facts, but it has a real spine of good storytelling that many biographies lack. I can't recommend this book enough.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    I became interested in the life of James Dean because of the many "nods" to him in popular music. I ran across this paperback (actually a 1974 Dell paperback edition) and decided to read about the person, James Dean. This account is very in depth, poetic and personal. It provides a LOT of detail about his life and about filming and production of the three movies in which he played. (I got a little bogged down in the production details of the movies and laid it aside for a while.) It also gives s I became interested in the life of James Dean because of the many "nods" to him in popular music. I ran across this paperback (actually a 1974 Dell paperback edition) and decided to read about the person, James Dean. This account is very in depth, poetic and personal. It provides a LOT of detail about his life and about filming and production of the three movies in which he played. (I got a little bogged down in the production details of the movies and laid it aside for a while.) It also gives some different theories about the cult following that developed after his early death on September 30, 1955. I grew up familiar with the name and image of James Dean, so it is interesting now to be more acquainted with the person that he was and to learn where he came from and how he accomplished what he did in a short lifetime. To quote Mr. Dalton in the final pages of "James Dean, the Mutant King", "The Depression and two World Wars had bred an oppressive anxiety for security. The country was driven to reach its industrial apex and the Fat Dream had come true. At precisely this point, James Dean appeared as Cal Trask as Jim Stark as Jett Rink, the inevitable Cain in America's Garden of Eden--the destroyer of illusion, the destructive adolescent, the violent agent of change and herald of a new era." Describing the adolescents of the day as "invisible" Dalton goes on to say, "The idols of their parents were lifeless symbols of the status quo. James Dean gave adolescents a face, his face, and with this communal image they could define and defend themselves." He gave his generation an identity that they desperately needed and so.....Dean became an American legend. Quite an interesting phenomena, to say the least. I think he would be pleased to know that he made such an indelible mark.

  5. 5 out of 5

    gazoo

    Fabulous. Beautifully written. Gets you a little under the skin of this enigmatic force who flared out way too early. The chapter on rebel without a cause is gold taking you on a deep dive of the writers intent and how jimmy dean went way beyond that imagination in his stark portrayal of troubled youth. One that became a battle cry for change in the hearts and minds of kids around the world. There is a killer bit in here where jimmy gets pissed for being left to sit on set all day and his retort Fabulous. Beautifully written. Gets you a little under the skin of this enigmatic force who flared out way too early. The chapter on rebel without a cause is gold taking you on a deep dive of the writers intent and how jimmy dean went way beyond that imagination in his stark portrayal of troubled youth. One that became a battle cry for change in the hearts and minds of kids around the world. There is a killer bit in here where jimmy gets pissed for being left to sit on set all day and his retort to the producers bringing in the idea of releasing 'emotional memories'. Pure craft.

  6. 4 out of 5

    ᎤᎶᎩᎳ

    Spoiler: James Dean dies in this book. This book is full of things I didn't know about the myth, the legend, THE James Dean. Coming from a generation of people who had no contact with the original but can still feel the reverberations of his impact, I never knew how completely crazy and genius this guy was. Now I want to watch all his movies and I wanna do something crazy and creative. We should all live as fearless as James Dean.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Van

    I'm a ridiculously obsessed James Dean fan and I've read a lot of stuff about his life, but this is quite simply the very best biography that has ever been written about him. I repeat: the very best. If you're just getting interested in James Dean and you want a respected, reliable, beautifully-written account of his life, this should be your first read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angel

    while walking the hallways of my junior high school, i found this book (with no covers), pages yellowed on the ground. i picked it up and read. probably more than i can count throughout my life. this book probably did more for my angst-ridden teen butt than any other book during that time. and i became a film history buff and studied the art of acting (book only) because of it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    One of my favourite biographies. Not as trashy as some (Boulevard Of Broken Dreams), but one which made me consider that there is always more to movie stars' lives than you think. (I read this before I learned to read between the lines).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Trowa Cloud

    James Dean was a legend, going through life how he chose. This was such a fun read. I actually was sitting in the farmers market at the grove in LA and they started speaking about how he used to go there! Was so cool

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    Before I pursued stunt work, I was pursuing acting which I started around the age of 10. James Dean caught my attention and I found inspiration in his life and tragedy. This brings forth a wonderful exploration of this legends all too short life.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I hear this book is full of suspect facts, but I really enjoyed it despite (or maybe because of) that.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Russell

    My favorite biography of Dean. Ive read all of the bios and this one is the most complete. Avoids sensational ideas, focus is on the facts.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    I just love you so much

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alana

    Second copy of this book that I own!

  16. 4 out of 5

    büşra

    as much as i LOVE james dean, i couldn't get myself to love this book-still appreciate it though.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Grace T

    As someone who admires many old Hollywood stars, James Dean has always been a distant idol. I never knew much about him, just that he was a handsome and talented man who died too soon. I picked up "James Dean, The Mutant King" by David Dalton at a thrift store and was a little thrown off by the title. However, after I purchased it and read a chapter, I was hooked. I never knew how deep Jimmy's personality went. I hadn't heard much other than he was "a bad boy, rebel" which really isn't true. His t As someone who admires many old Hollywood stars, James Dean has always been a distant idol. I never knew much about him, just that he was a handsome and talented man who died too soon. I picked up "James Dean, The Mutant King" by David Dalton at a thrift store and was a little thrown off by the title. However, after I purchased it and read a chapter, I was hooked. I never knew how deep Jimmy's personality went. I hadn't heard much other than he was "a bad boy, rebel" which really isn't true. His troubles go back to the age of nine and continued through the rest of his 24 year life, which is what made his performances in "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause" as a struggling young man so convincing. Going back and watching these films after reading about the way he studied the roles so intensely to put himself into the character makes every movie that much more intriguing and beautiful. My favorite thing about Jimmy Dean throughout the book is his undeniable quirkiness. The way he'd get an animalistic urge to act out in the middle of a crowd or on set to get the attention of his peers for the hell of it is amusing and curious. Personally, I enjoy the Dennis Stock photo of him monkeying around by sitting in a furniture store window with a blank stare as a disturbed woman goes past. There were parts where the author went into the lives of people in his films that didn't have too much to do with his life. It felt like a page filler but that's my only complaint. The rest of the book went in depth and had me glued to the pages. In conclusion, anyone who has an interest in stars/artists of the past or James Dean himself should fall in love with Dalton's book and further in love with the man, the myth, the mutant: James Byron Dean.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    Four and a half stars for the authors' down-to-earth factual research into the life and enigma of James Dean. The author did tireless research, interviews with family and friends, visited James Dean's hometown and other landmarks of this amazing personality's life journey from farm boy to film star and leader of a new generation of adolescence. Four stars for detailing the movie themes, plots, back stories, production details, and how the evolution of James Dean's life and personal identity mesh Four and a half stars for the authors' down-to-earth factual research into the life and enigma of James Dean. The author did tireless research, interviews with family and friends, visited James Dean's hometown and other landmarks of this amazing personality's life journey from farm boy to film star and leader of a new generation of adolescence. Four stars for detailing the movie themes, plots, back stories, production details, and how the evolution of James Dean's life and personal identity meshed with the three movies he starred in: "East of Eden," "Rebel Without a Cause," and "Giant." At age twenty-four, Dean was dead before the last two movies were released. Three stars for the esoteric and somewhat off-the-wall followup explaining James Dean's fame and cults that he inspired after death. The title subtitle "Mutant King" was somewhat offputting at first. The word 'mutant' connotes freakishness; I would have preferred "Hybrid" for a personality that was somewhat this and somewhat that. The polar opposites of his environments from farm boy in an Indiana Quaker town to New York and Hollywood required an effort for Dean to assimilate and assemble his own personality. Much of his identity seemed to be based on trying on roles as a 'Method' actor. But "Mutant" eventually becomes more fitting when the author explains that during evolution, a species must change and adapt in order to survive. Dalton writes that the pain of Dean's mutation was intensely expressed in the movie "Rebel without a Cause." It was the "pain of the new being who is neither one thing nor the other, yet stretches itself recklessly over the space in between." I applaud the many wonderful photographs throughout the book and the helpful index.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    In-depth analysis of Dean's life, both his virtues and flaws. Really portrays him as an ordinary guy, who was more interested in acting as a craft than being in any way famous. I didn't know if I'd enjoy it at the beginning as the author was using lines from biopics that actors portraying Dean said and it left me a bit confused as to whether this guy was analysing Jimmy the person or Jimmy as portrayed by actors in biopics. However, Dalton quickly abandoned this...thankfully. Overall, a very sati In-depth analysis of Dean's life, both his virtues and flaws. Really portrays him as an ordinary guy, who was more interested in acting as a craft than being in any way famous. I didn't know if I'd enjoy it at the beginning as the author was using lines from biopics that actors portraying Dean said and it left me a bit confused as to whether this guy was analysing Jimmy the person or Jimmy as portrayed by actors in biopics. However, Dalton quickly abandoned this...thankfully. Overall, a very satisfying and insightful biography of Dean, that touches all the important points in his life without being over-indulgent.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Hagedon

    I really enjoyed this. The writing was lovely, the details superb. It made me fall in love with James Dean, the Mutant King. Also, if you're a writer, this biography is a fantastic example of character development. 100% recommend.

  21. 5 out of 5

    AL

    I was first introduced to James Dean by my mom right when I was fifteen years old, just about to turn sixteen. I was already a budding fan of old movies and of early twentieth century American literature, so I was very receptive to her recommendation for me to watch "East Of Eden." Needless to say, I was blown away by James Dean. His movements, his moodiness, his attitude, all seemed like he was showing me just what it was like to be a young in modern America. All of the strange internal struggl I was first introduced to James Dean by my mom right when I was fifteen years old, just about to turn sixteen. I was already a budding fan of old movies and of early twentieth century American literature, so I was very receptive to her recommendation for me to watch "East Of Eden." Needless to say, I was blown away by James Dean. His movements, his moodiness, his attitude, all seemed like he was showing me just what it was like to be a young in modern America. All of the strange internal struggles and realizations that were bursting forth, and all the desire to control them within the fragile husks we inhabit were encapsulated by his mere presence. After watching his other films, it was clear to me that he had an alien quality that made him shine brighter than anyone around him. I wanted to be him, and possess that same complex energy that to me erupted with a ferocity for life. His contradictions were what made him believable. He was all aspects of humanity, like all of us really are deep down, but most of us fail to explore or even to admit to ourselves. And his early death made him that much more desirable. His movie career was like a well written pop song whose melody won't leave your head and makes you want to keep singing. I had read so much about James Dean before that I had never got around to reading this book. Now, after reading it, I find that it has reinvigorated my interest in Dean, but it's presentation has left me with much to be desired. It is poetically written, but may be a bit thin on information in many parts. There are some well-researched interviews with people who knew Dean, but I would prefer more interviews instead of the poetic psychological speculations and recaps of his movies that dominate this book. There is very little about his time filming on "Giant" and a lot of the "Rebel..." chapter is just rehashing the story which anyone reading this book is surely already familiar. Dalton's coffee table book "James Dean: An American Icon" has most of the same information without the author's self-indulgent ramblings. Not that they are all bad, but I simply want as much information as can be had on the subject of the book, and not the author's ego-centric hero-worship. It's fast reading, so it's still worthwhile if you're a James Dean fan, but in the end it leaves me unfulfilled because of it's laziness.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer B.

    I've never bought into the whole James Dean myth. Truth be told, he left me cold. I hadn't seen any of his films until a few years ago, and I although I could look at him and see that he was handsome, it wasn't my kind of handsome. It's not because he was before my time. So were Elvis and Marilyn, and I've always liked them. It's not because he wasn't a household name when I grew up, neither was Montgomery Clift, and I adore him. No, it's just something about James Dean that just doesn't do it f I've never bought into the whole James Dean myth. Truth be told, he left me cold. I hadn't seen any of his films until a few years ago, and I although I could look at him and see that he was handsome, it wasn't my kind of handsome. It's not because he was before my time. So were Elvis and Marilyn, and I've always liked them. It's not because he wasn't a household name when I grew up, neither was Montgomery Clift, and I adore him. No, it's just something about James Dean that just doesn't do it for me. So why did I choose to read a book about him? Well, aside from the fact that I'll read just about anything, and I'm always trying to expand my horizons, I figured maybe I just needed to get to know this great American icon a little better to appreciate him. This book does allow one to get to know Jimmy Dean, the legend, and the troubled young man behind it. But why was he so troubled? True, he was basically an orphan at a young age, but he did have kind and loving people to raise him. You see that maybe James Dean was a bit of an arsehole. That's okay, lots of famous people are. That isn't something to make me think anything more or less of him. Without getting too much more into a critique of James Dean the actor, the man, or the myth, I'd like to focus on the book. It's very well written, for even a Dean ignoramus such as myself, it's very clear and has very clear explanations. Not just about Dean and his background, but about the times he lived in, the American psyche at the time, and 1950's attitudes and ideals. It goes on to explain how the James Dean myth began, and why... Although perhaps no one can really explain how our heroes are chosen. Did this book make me understand the James Dean myth and why he has such an important place in American culture? It most certainly did. But, did it make me buy into the myth myself? No, it did not. But at least I can know I tried.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeaninne Escallier Kato

    One of my hobbies is to find inexpensive old classics in Goodwill stores. Since I enjoy biographies, this one on James Dean intrigued me from the first glance. Since the actor, James Dean, is exactly my mother's age, I wanted to read more about the social nuances of her generation. David Dalton goes above and beyond chronicling the life of this meteoric actor, whose star exploded after he made the movie, "East of Eden." Mr. Dalton dissects the myths surrounding this iconic actor and holds a mirr One of my hobbies is to find inexpensive old classics in Goodwill stores. Since I enjoy biographies, this one on James Dean intrigued me from the first glance. Since the actor, James Dean, is exactly my mother's age, I wanted to read more about the social nuances of her generation. David Dalton goes above and beyond chronicling the life of this meteoric actor, whose star exploded after he made the movie, "East of Eden." Mr. Dalton dissects the myths surrounding this iconic actor and holds a mirror up to society. He asks us the question, "Why do we need to deify the famous when they meet untimely deaths?" James Dean's short life on this planet came in the 1950's when America was undergoing much change. Because he died at age 24, James was only able to give us three movie classics: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. However, those classics define the times and categorize a shift in America: namely, a new social class called 'adolescence.' James Dean's life pushed open the doors and introduced America to the Youth Movement; and, all that came after in the 1960's Age of Aquarius.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    I remember my 1st cigarette... I blame this guy, yup. All his fault, no peer pressure needed, I was 11, I enjoyed it and still do! Lol Never been to Fairmont, Indiana but that's definitely on the bucket list. Before reading this, I 'assumed' a lot based on his movies and articles I've read... More to him than just that.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anncap

    Interesting, well written, but often too flowery. Well researched but very little that can't be learned elsewhere at this point (it was written in the 70s and at the time was one of the only biographies on Dean)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zak Cebulski

    I liked this book a lot. But, I also like James Dean a lot, he is one of my heroes. I feel that you will appreciate this book more if you like James Dean. I think that the secret to liking this book is looking up to James Dean and wanting to learn about his history.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Pody Ken

    In the beginning I dont know who is he. Only from my brother who being bigest fans of him. Well, not bad to know Mr. Dean from this. He's really star in his generation.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cassie

    Maybe too much psychoanalysis...but a really good biography of one of my favorite actors, all in all.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sommer Jonez

    good stuff, james dean was such a homo!!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sa'shel Del

    Gave deep insight into the troubled mind of the rebellious star. Who in his brief life touch many souls through his art.

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