Classic Hollywood #30

The Strange Tale Of How Obi-Wan Kenobe (Sir Alec Guinness) Eerily And Accurately Told James Dean He Was Going To Die In His New Car

James Dean Ursula Andress 1955 8 29 ph Earl Leaf

James Dean and Ursula Andress attend a benefit, one month before Dean’s death in a auto crash

James Dean is seen here talking to one of his “girlfriends,” the 19-year-old Swiss actress Ursula Andress. This photograph was taken at a benefit for the “Thalian’s Ball” on August 29, 1955 at Ciro’s in Hollywood and shows them in a non-combative mood. The sexually ambiguous Dean may have been set up on dates with Andress by the studio publicity department. Regardless, press accounts at the time refer to Andress and Dean as dating one another.

Even though Andress spoke very little English, their relationship was considered very stormy.  At one time it was reported by a tabloid that Dean was said to be taking German language lessons so that they could “argue in another language.” Andress would go on to fame as Honey Ryder, the first “Bond Girl” in 1962’s Dr. No.

Dean, an avid auto racer, agreed to purchase a new sports car on September 21 1955, a silver Porsche 550 Spyder that he nicknamed “Little Bastard” which was then painted on the car.

Two days later on September 23, Dean was eating at the trendy Villa Capri Restaurant on McCadden Street in Hollywood and spotted actor Alec Guinness trying to get a table without any success. Guinness was exhausted having just arrived from London on a 16 hour flight for his first trip to Hollywood. As Guinness and his companion, screenwriter Thelma Moss exited the restaurant, Dean ran after them to intercede.

According to Alec Guinness’s 1986 autobiography Blessings In Disguise;

I became aware of running, sneakered feet behind us and turned to face a fair young man in sweat-shirt and blue-jeans.

“You want a table?” he asked. “Join me. My name is James Dean.”

We followed him gratefully, but on the way back to the restaurant he turned into a car-park, saying, “I’d like to show you something.”

Among the other cars there was what looked like a large, shiny, silver parcel wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon. “It’s just been delivered,” he said, with bursting pride. “I haven’t even driven it yet.”

The sports car looked sinister to me, although it had a large bunch of red carnations resting on the bonnet. “How fast is it?” I asked.

“She’ll do a hundred and fifty,” he replied.

Exhausted, hungry, feeling a little ill-tempered in spite of Dean’s kindness, I heard myself saying in a voice I could hardly recognise as my own, “Please, never get in it.”

I looked at my watch. “It is now ten o’clock, Friday the 23rd of September, 1955. If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”

He laughed. “Oh, shucks! Don’t be so mean!”

Exactly one week later on Friday, September 30, 1955, Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wütherich started the drive from Los Angeles to Salinas where Dean was going to compete in a motor race that weekend in his new car.

At about 5:45 pm the most famous car crash in Hollywood history took the life of James Dean, just as Alec Guinness had predicted.

Author Ronald Martinetti tells how the crash happened in The James Dean Story (1975):

At a narrow intersection in the road, about thirty miles from Paso Robles where Highway 466 met Highway 41, a Ford, driven by a young Cal Poly student named Donald Turnupseed, prepared to turn left.

Dean saw the car too late, crying out as it hurled into them.  The impact tore the left front fender off the Ford.  The Spyder was thrown in the air and cartwheeled along the ground, coming to rest near a telephone pole.  The crash threw Wütherich nineteen feet from the car.  His jaw was broken and his hip fractured in several places, but he recovered. (In later years, he became a rally driver for Porsche and was killed in an automobile accident in Germany, in 1981.)

Turnupseed suffered minor injuries; an inquest was held but he was absolved from blame.  He later said that the accident happened ‘in a snap of a finger.’

Dean’s body lay twisted in the car.  His neck was broken and his chest crushed where the steering wheel had smashed into him.

He was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.

One very interesting twist is that there were eyewitnesses who testified at the coroner’s inquest just days after the accident in 1955 that Rolf  Wütherich was the driver of the Porsche, not Dean.

Also an unattributed anecdote on Ursula Andress’ IMDB page says James Dean had originally asked her to accompany him to Salinas. I can find no evidence of this.

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5 thoughts on “Classic Hollywood #30

  1. Lee Raskin

    Author Ron Martinetti wrote a very credible biography about James Dean in the 1970’s. As a more comtempory James Dean/Porsche historian and author…I take exception to the accuracy of your statement: “One very interesting twist is that there were eyewitnesses who testified at the coroner’s inquest just days after the accident in 1955 that Rolf Wütherich was the driver of the Porsche, not Dean.” An official October 11, 1955 Inquest Fact: James Dean had to be extricated by the ambulance driver and assistant from the wrecked Porsche. His left foot was crushed between the clutch pedal and the brake pedal…holding him captive in the cockpit of the Porsche. The Ambulance driver, Paul Moreno, had to use a crow bar to free James Dean’s foot. Dean’s broken and unconcious body was flung at impact to the passenger side and rested over the passenger door. Rolf Wutherich, the mechanic and passenger was tossed completely out of the Porsche and landed on the ground five feet from the Porsche. Whatever confused witness Tom Dooley said was inaccurate and misleading. The Inquest jury members did not concur with Tom Dooley’s testimony. Lee Raskin, James Dean/Porsche historian/author, James Dean At Speed, 20005 (Amazon.com)

    Reply
    1. B.P. Post author

      Hi Lee – I agree with you that Dean was almost certainly driving. But I am making an accurate statement in pointing out that there was a discrepancy at the inquest. There were those two eyewitnesses- Tom Frederick and Don Dooley, that testified Dean was not driving.

      From the San Luis Obispo Tribune October 1 2005:

      But it was the testimony from Shandon beekeeper Tom Frederick, 28, and his 15-year-old brother-in-law Don Dooley, that caused the biggest controversy. Dean was not driving the sports car, they said.

      Wuetherich, who was wearing a red T-shirt, was ejected and came to rest near the driver’s side of the car, while Dean, wearing a white T-shirt, remained in the car and was leaning toward the passenger side.

      “The car was still in motion after the accident, and I could see the man in the red T-shirt on the left side of the car,” Frederick said. “He was on the left (or driver’s) side of the car, closest to us.”

      District Attorney Grundell dismissed that line of discussion, telling the jurors the issue was not who was driving, but whether Turnupseed was responsible for causing the accident.

      “This court is interested first in, who is the deceased person, and how he came to his death,” he said. “It is not really material who had a white T-shirt on. What we want to find out is who this person was, and how he came to his death, whether there was negligence on the part of Mr. Turnupseed, or whether there wasn’t.”

      Thanks for taking the time to clarify the inquest findings for readers.

      Reply
  2. Patti Hartley

    Please stop implying that James Dean was sexually ambiguous. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay or bisexual, but whether Dean was or was not is nothing more than conjecture and gossip. His friends, including Lew Bracker, Dennis Hopper and Martin Landau, all rejected the notion that Dean was gay. Please let up on this because it is not fair to him and has tainted his story to a ridiculous degree. Just say the truth: few know the truth about Dean’s sexuality.

    Reply
  3. Scotty

    Agreed @patty.
    I’m tired of others either projecting their own fantasy/personal agenda/or simply using Dean as a “Mascot” for their “community”.
    How can anyone aside from Dean, and those he MAY, I’ll repeat, MAY have been with or not?!?!?
    Seems a bit sensationalist and frankly, creepy in a mentally unstable sorta way.
    Who cares who he slept with? Who cares who anyone sleeps with?
    How is that another’s business? It’s not. Just another distraction from the realities that SHOULD have our focus, ya know, such as homelessness, an unjust government, racism, , hipsters: problems that need eradication. NOT who some guy who died over SIXTY (60 !) years ago MAY have slept with.
    Christ,, let it go folks,,….
    In the words of the great Cosmo Kramer:
    ” it’s played,… Soo played.”
    Btw, Jimmy Dean is a huge influence in my life, and I really dig your blog Great work friend.
    Scotty

    Reply
  4. Natasha Love

    It’s a wonder why there weren’t any photos of Deans body after the crash, only one that I saw of him being carried into the ambulance, however it does show Rolf Wütherich looking directly at the camera while rescuers came to his aid while still on the ground. I guess it would have been a horrid morbid sight to see if there had been any and so sad he died at only 24. His memory has lasted for decades and always will. In my opinion it was a tragic loss as he had his entire career ahead of him, so sad it ended way too soon and so abruptly.

    Reply

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