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James Dean (1976)

A dramatization of the story of legendary movie actor James Dean. The film's writer, William Bast, had roomed with Dean in the early '50s, when both were trying to break into films as actors.


Robert Butler


William Bast

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Michael Brandon ... William Bast
Stephen McHattie ... James Dean (as Steven McChattie)
Brooke Adams ... Beverly
Julian Burton ... Ray
Candy Clark ... Chris White
Dane Clark ... James Whitmore
Meg Foster ... Dizzy Sheridan
Katherine Helmond ... Claire Folger
Amy Irving ... Norma Jean
Robert Kenton Robert Kenton ... Mechanic
Jayne Meadows ... Reva Randall
Heather Menzies-Urich ... Jan (as Heather Menzies)
Jack Murdock Jack Murdock ... Judge
James O'Connell James O'Connell ... Mr. Robbins
Leland Palmer ... Arlene


A dramatization of the story of legendary movie actor James Dean. The film's writer, William Bast, had roomed with Dean in the early '50s, when both were trying to break into films as actors.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Biography | Drama


PG-13 | See all certifications »






Release Date:

19 February 1976 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

James Dean: Portrait of a Friend See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In the early 1950s, this film's director Robert Butler worked at CBS Television in charge of the studio audience ushers. James Dean got a job there as an usher through his friend, William Bast (who wrote this film), who was also an usher. Butler was unimpressed with Dean's "abilities" and fired him. See more »


[opening narration]
Narrator: His name was James Byron Dean. He was an actor. He died in 1955 at the age of 24. He had starred in just three pictures, only one of which had been released prior to his death. Yet before he was in his grave he was already a myth. What you are about to see is one man's recollection - an image of the actor as seen through the eyes of a friend. Like all memories in is intensely personal, elusive and incomplete - yet it refuses to die.
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User Reviews

You always chickened out before the kill
5 March 2011 | by sol1218See all my reviews

Made for TV movie about 1950's Hollywood icon James Dean, Stephen McHattie, based on the memories recounted in the film by his best friend and room-mate screen writer William Bast, Michael Brandon, that goes deep into to life of the crazy mixed up and complicated person that he was.

Bast first got to see Dean in 1950 on stage in the the play "Hamlet" that anything but convinced him what a major impact on the stage and screen,TV and the movies,he was to become over the next 5 years as well as decades after his death. Feeling that Dean was some kind of an oddball Bast soon realized that his talents were far greater then most if not all,including actor Marlon Brando, of the major Hollywood actors at that time. Getting more and more hooked on Dean Bast made things complicated for the actor in him being around when Dean was involved with the many women and young girls who were vying for Dean's attention. One of them young Norma Buckner, Amy Irving, ended up killing herself with an overdose of sleeping pills after Dean in trying to explain, in his far out opinions on the subject, to her what life was all about which made her far more upset-about life-then she already was.

We get to see Dean rise from making coke commercials to become a star in a trio of major Hollywood movies on his more or less, without as he said kissing butt, very unique acting talent alone! This talent was shaped in Dean becoming a member of the Strasbourg School of Method Acting in New York where he was it's youngest member. We also get to see that it was in fact Dean's extreme near sightedness, his vision was 20/400, that brought out that intense and manic acting ability that we see in his movies. Not wearing corrective glasses on the movie set Dean, nicknamed "Squinty" by those who worked with him, had to squint and look like he was in extreme agony to act out his roles! That style of acting on Dean's part made an impact on everyone watching him in the theater as well as on the movie set!It was what made Dean an overnight sensation in his first staring film "East of Eden" as the troubled and sensitive youth Cal Trask.

Even though Dean had a number of lady friends during his stay in both New York City and Hollywood they all, as gorgeous as they were, took second place to his love for acting and improving his acting ability in experiencing everything possible in in, good and bad,life to make him the acting legend that he was to become. Now in the late summer and early fall of 1955 Dean was at the top of his game and about to breakout in two movies,"Rebel Without a Cause" and Giant", that were soon to be released that he got himself killed in a head on car crash on September 30, 1955! That put an end to his life but gave birth to the James Dean legend that has already lasted more then twice as long, over 50 years, as his life did!

Very effective movie on the life times and death of James Dean with a bravo performance by Stephen McHattie who's so good playing the part that at times I had trouble distinguishing him and the character he was playing on screen: James Dean. Michael Brandon is also very effective as Dean's friend who after Dean's tragic death had continuous nightmares in him letting Dean down when he really needed him like,in what the film hinted at, being not only his friend but lover as well!

P.S As tragic as Dean's death was it was the person riding with him on that faithful day in September car mechanic Rolf Wutherich, Robert Kenton, who was an even more tragic figure. Surviving the car crash with a broken jaw and a number of broken ribs and bones Rolf for years got hundreds of hate letters in being responsible for Dean's death just by the fact that he not Dean survived the car accident! Suffering from depression and severe mental illness and attempting a number of suicides,in one case stabbing his wife and himself 14 times, Rolf finally got his wish by driving stone cold drunk into a building in Kupferzell Germany on July 22, 1981 killing himself on impact!

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