Sunday, February 8, 2009

When Ya Coming Back, Jimmy Dean?

This Day In Boomer History
February 8, 1931
The Birth of James Dean

I really have no personal memory of James Dean. After all, he pulled the ultimate "exit, stage right" by crashing his Porsche at the tender age of 24. The year was 1955, so my own personal story hadn't even begun. That's true of most boomers, I suppose....those who were born at the beginning of the boom were mere babes when the star of that ultimate teen angst movie, "Rebel Without A Cause," was all the rage in drive-in movie theaters across the country.

But Dean's story outlasted his life, and his legacy, that legendary combination of cool and angst, is something we're still looking for today. Heath Ledger, Nic Cage, Sean Penn, Johnny one time or another, each was "the new James Dean." And, of course, the real men pale when viewed through the eyes of those who believe in the legend.

Because, of course, there's nothing like the original. In my dog-earred copy of "The Cheerleader," my favorite novel when I was in high school, author Ruth Doan MacDougall refers to Dean as the movie star her characters - a group of high school kids in the mid 50's - related to more than any other. Of coourse, that generation has moved onto other role models. After all, not many of us can still relate to a kid who died at 24, right when his career was about to take fire. Heck, most of us are on the down side of a lukewarm career, paying our mortgage and raising our kids and wondering where all our dreams went.

But most of us agree that on this - James Dean is still the epitome of "cool." Those eyes, that swagger, the red jacket and dangling cigarette. I can't think of anyone else who ever brought so much cool to the screen....and most of those that come to mind, from Fonzie to Dylan MacKay, from young Elvis to Joe Cool, are mere imitators.

So, who's the current king of cool?

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