By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The minute you glimpsed the flashing red-and-blues, you knew you were sunk. Yep, and now you have a traffic citation to pay for stepping on it, having a lead foot, putting the pedal to the metal. You knew better than to exceed the speed limit, but you couldn’t resist, and—as you’ll see in the new book Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die by Keith Elliot Greenberg—that need for speed could drive you to the grave.
Markie Winslow Jr. adored his cousin Jimmy. A few years older, Jimmy played with Markie and took him on motorcycle rides, but they never went too fast. With Markie, Jimmy wasn’t reckless, though he pushed the motorcycle’s limits on his own. People in their hometown of Fairmount, Indiana, didn’t care—they loved James Dean because he was a local boy who’d done well.
No one was surprised that Dean ended up in Hollywood or that he became a star. He’d always loved to act, he entered and won contests, performed in church plays, and had eschewed prelaw classes in favor of landing a coveted spot in a UCLA production of Macbeth. It was obvious where his career path was taking him.
And it took him there quickly. In just a short time, Dean was a heartthrob movie star, had performed on the new medium of television, and had earned enough money to indulge in the hobby of auto racing. For a guy who signed movie deals worth six figures, $7,000 wasn’t much for a car, and he had his eye on a Porsche 550 Spyder, one of just a few made. He’d almost gotten arrested for just looking at the car one night. What else could he do but buy it?
Overjoyed with his prize, he’d started to break the car in. Some doubted that it was a good purchase; others told Dean to be careful in that car, that it was dangerous, that it could kill him, that it would kill him.
And on September 30, 1955, it did . . .
Though the subtitle James Dean’s Final Hours suggests a limited subject matter, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die is more comprehensive and expansive than that—which has its plusses and its minuses.
A little background is always a good thing, especially when you’re reading about a star who made only three movies and died six decades ago. Author Greenberg finesses that backstory—including Dean’s childhood, his rumored bisexuality, his odd on-set genius, and his rapscallion attitude—but then Greenberg unfortunately combines that with fan-gushing from interview subjects he found at a James Dean festival. That’s charming at first, but it becomes florid and quite overdone.
Still, if you’re a fan and can ignore that, you’ll appreciate this book and its marking of a sad anniversary. If you own the iconic poster or T-shirt and want to know more, you’ll find that here, too. In either case, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die may be just the ticket.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.