Just Above Sunset
February 20, 2005 - 2Z77767, Rolf Wutherich, and Donald Turnipseed

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Book Wrangler

Sunday, February 20, 2005

By Bob Patterson


The fates of race car mechanic Rolf Wutherich, college student Donald Turnipseed, and a Porche Spyder 550 A all converged about a mile East of Cholame, California, at 5:30 p.m. on September 30, 1955.  The fact that rising movie star James Dean was driving the sports car brought world attention to the accident that occurred at the intersection of Highways 41 and 466 (now 46).  (What was the number on the car’s license plate?)


Wutherich was badly injured.  Turnipseed received minor injuries.  The sports car went on tour and disappeared.


The fact that 2005 is the 50-year anniversary of that car collision means that there will be more than one book published this year with that actor and that fatal accident as the subject matter.  We intend to focus on that niche subject from time to time as the year progresses.


We traveled to an event at the Mystery Bookstore in the Westwood Section of Los Angeles because two authors were making an in store appearance there and we wanted to start our look back at the 50’s icon by finding out more about their books. 


The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman ($13 paperback Plume) is an installment in the continuing saga of Moe Prager, a former NYPD patrolman turned Private Investigator. 


Coleman said that he called his bad guys “the James Deans” to symbolize the past era, especially the Fifties.  His story is set in 1983.


He told us that he has learned most of what he knows about James Dean and his death from the Dean fans.  Coleman informed us that Dean’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana will hold a week long series of events this September to mark the anniversary of the star’s death.  (February 8th, would have been James Dean’s 74th birthday.)


Mystery fans will be more interested in the book when they hear that the author considers his investigator an attempt to turn all the usual Manhattan gumshoe clichés upside down.  For readers who know all the best PI series set in the New York City Area, this sounds like a book that should be investigated. 


Robert Eversz book, Digging James Dean ($22 Simon & Schuster), sounds like it will be more germane for Dean fans.  Eversz’s detective hero is a young lady, Nina Zero, who is a citizen of the Goth scene and earns her living by being a paparazzi.  In this episode, Ms. Zero becomes involved with the fans who are obsessed with movie stars, their lives, possessions, and accomplishments and related memorabilia.  Ms. Zero crosses paths with members of the Church of the Divine Thespians, who are suspected of digging up the grave of James Dean and stealing some bones.


During the reading part of the appearance in Westwood, Eversz chose a passage that compares movie memorabilia to relics of the saints.  Sociologists interested in the veneration of holy relics and/or the culture’s fixation with all things Hollywood would probably find the aforementioned excerpt quite insightful and worth the effort of locating.


Mystery genre fans who find the convoluted imaginings of Eversz very creative, based on thumbnail synopsis such as this one, will want to assess the potential for this book more closely.


Eversz teaches a course in the novel every summer in Prague.


If all goes according to plan, the next installment of our look at books about James Dean will be a look at Jack Dann and The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean, which presents an alternative history that tells us what might have happened if Dean had survived the crash.  It may take a week or two to get the information we need to get for that column.


Web surfers who want to learn more about the 1955 accident should go here as a starting point.


The homework assignment for our regular readers (AKA the loyal dozen) follows: Do a Google search for Rolf Wutherich events in Fairmount Indiana during September 2005 and a search in “books” category at amazon.com for James Dean


Marlon Brando has been quoted as saying: “To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty, to interpret it is his problem, and to express it his dedication.”


Now, if the disk jockey will play the Eagles song, James Dean, we’ll soar out of here for this week.  Until the next column, remember the fateful words of caution uttered by James Dean: “Please drive safely, the life you save could be mine.”






Copyright © 2005 – Robert Patterson


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....