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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




Cast overview, first billed only:
Michael Brandon ... William Bast
Stephen McHattie ... James Dean
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 ... Judge
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 »

Did You Know?


Christine White, who plays a secretary, was once James Dean's real-life girlfriend. They were accepted into the Actors Studio together. 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

Refreshing Point of View
4 July 2000 | by abooboo-2See all my reviews

There is a segment in this obscure made for TV bio-pic that ascends to another plane of artistry, and provides a spellbinding glimpse into what made this legendary actor so extraordinary. Dean, played by the gifted Stephen McHattie, has returned home to find his sensitive roommate sulking in the dark over the sudden realization that the mercurial Dean is broadening his horizons and slipping away from him. By no means unmoved, Dean's response is to read aloud a particularly meaningful passage from his favorite book "The Little Prince". And as he reads consolingly, dramatically; you can see the joy he takes in forming the words, the pleasure he derives from sharing them with an audience, the immense respect he has for the piece itself. The scene plays out as a sort of communion, with Dean seeming to re-absorb the passage as a way of purifying himself. His roommate is mesmerized at this level of devotion to craft and only then begins to appreciate what his friend is becoming, has become.

Told from the refreshingly limited viewpoint of his off and on roommate William Bast (who went on to be a reasonably successful TV and Film writer) the movie touches on the pivotal events of Dean's life and career like a stone skipping across water. The focus is very much on Bast's up close witnessing of Dean's improbable, mind-blowing emergence from awkward hayseed wanna-be into the most emblematic actor of his generation.

Considering that he doesn't look incredibly like Dean (McHattie's face is flinty and pentagonal whereas Dean's was chiseled and rectangular) McHattie does a remarkable job duplicating the body language and facial expressions - the slouched shoulders, sudden movements, furtive looks and exaggerated boyishness. The director frames and lights him in clever ways and there are times when, spookily, you really do feel like you're looking in on Dean's life. McHattie also captures that alien, kaleidoscopic, wildly unpredictable quality - no easy task. He gives you a sense of the development of the persona, the fine-tuning of the image he was trying to project to the world. His Dean almost seems like a mad scientist working on his most diabolical Frankenstein creation - himself.

Makes a nice companion to "9/30/55", another poignant meditation on the actor.

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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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