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Obituaries

From the Archives: Film Star James Dean Killed in Auto Crash

James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
(AP Photo)

James Dean, 24, one of Hollywood’s brightest new motion-picture stars, was killed early last night in a head-on collision at the rural town of Cholame, about 19 miles east of Paso Robles, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The young actor met death in his German-built Porsche sports car while en route to road races at Salinas. Patrolmen said Dean was dead on arrival at the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital following the crash at the intersection of State Highway 41 and U.S. 466.

Mechanic Injured

His mechanic, identified by the CHP as Rolph Wuetherich, about 27, of Hollywood, suffered a fractured jaw, fractured hip and body lacerations. He was described as in “moderately serious condition.”

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The CHP office at San Luis Obispo said a car driven by Donald Turnupseed of Tulare made a left turn on Highway 41 while traveling east, colliding almost head on with Dean’s tiny sports car. Investigators said Turnupseed suffered minor injuries.

An attending physician was quoted as saying Dean died instantly at about 5:30 p.m. from a broken neck, numerous broken bones and severe lacerations over the entire body.

Completed Role

The Indiana-born star left Hollywood with Wuetherich several hours before the fatal crash for a week end of racing at Salinas. He had just this week completed a role in “Giant,” the film version of Edna Ferber’s book about Texas.

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He became a sports car racing enthusiast only last spring, shortly after he rocketed to stardom in “East of Eden,” made from the John Steinbeck story of early days in the Salinas Valley.

Under contract to Warner Bros. studios, the intense young star frequently had been compared to Marlon Brando and both were products of Director Elia Kazan’s school for tyro actors. Dean’s activity in television earned him his first motion-picture role, plus parts in two New York plays: “See the Jaguar” and “The Immoralist.”

Attended UCLA

Another film still unreleased in which Dean has the starring role is “Rebel Without a Cause,” made at Warner’s last summer.

Born at Marion, Ind., in February, 1931, Dean attended Santa Monica Junior College, later transferring to UCLA, where he majored in dramatics.

He left UCLA to seek an acting job in New York and won the David Blum Award for promising newcomers several years ago, the accolade helping him to starring roles in such television dramatic programs as Studio One, You Are There and Television Playhouse.

George Stevens, who produced and directed Dean’s last picture, termed the young star’s death a “great tragedy . . . he had extraordinary talent.”

James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Giant.”
James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of "Giant."
(Screen Icons, Inc./Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc )
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One of Jimmy’s co-stars in “Giant,” Elizabeth Taylor, broke down when the news reached her: “I can’t believe it; I’m just stunned,” was all she could say.

Stevens and Warner Bros. said Dean had been forbidden to enter any sports car races while the picture was in production.

Just Got Car

A studio photographer, Sanford Roth, a few miles behind the Dean speedster, told the CHP Dean had just received delivery on the new car and was anxious to race it following the enforced studio layoff.

Ironically, Dean decided at the last minute to drive the sports car to Salinas. Stevens said the actor originally planned to travel north in his station wagon but changed his mind in favor of driving the small car just before departure time.

Dean was unmarried. He leaves his father, Winton A. Dean, a dental technician at Veterans Hospital, Sawtelle.

news.obits@latimes.com

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