The Formal Dedication
of the James Dean Memorial
Former California State Senator and current California Department of Education Director Jack O'Connell introduced and saw initiated (SCR 52 in the 2001-2002 Session) proclaiming the junction of Highways 41 and 46 as "James Dean Memorial Junction."
On Friday, September 30, around six o'clock, Elizabeth (Taylor), Rock (Hudson) and I and a small group were watching rushes. George Stevens was behind us at his desk by the controls. The projection room was dark. The phone rang. The soundtrack screamed to a halt. The picture froze. The lights shot up. We turned and looked at George. The phone dangled from his hand. He was white and motionless. Death was present in that room. Slowly and with great effort, his voice coming from a long and distant tunnel, George said, "There's been a car crash. Jimmy Dean has been killed. " I went numb.--Carroll Baker, costar with James Dean in Giant.
September 30, 1955-A day millions of people around the world keep in their hearts-the Day James Dean died.
Like a shooting star, James Dean, appeared as a streak of brilliance across America's movie screens and was too soon gone. But, unlike a meteor, which shines for a few brief seconds and then vanishes, Jimmy's fire stills burns with the blinding light of a sun.
The story of Jimmy's death has been the stuff of legend, countless books and magazine articles, motion pictures, Television documentaries and spoken memories by those who knew him, those who loved him, those who sat in the dark of their local movie houses and became his fans forever and those who were born after his death but still sense his magic and fire.
The Warner Bros. publicity machine coined a phrase to describe Jimmy for his second of three starring pictures he made for them and it still is the perfect tribute to his talent and memory J. D.--Juvenile Delinquent...Just Dynamite...James Dean!
James Dean's life of just twenty-four years was filled with wonder, pain, loss, hope, adventure, love and speed! It is bitter irony to remember scenes from his films which involve James Dean and movement-huddled and lonely atop a speeding train in East of Eden, discovered lying in the street and then the deadly 'Chicken Run' in Rebel Without a Cause and the mythic image of Jimmy sprawled over the seat of that old car with Reata in the background in Giant.
In fact, Jimmy spent his entire paycheck from East of Eden to buy the equally legendary Porsche 550 'Spyder" in which he lost his life driving to a sports car race at the Salinas Airport.
A story of his last day was reported in the California State University at Fullerton in a story contained in the March 15, 1978 issue of the Daily Titan and written by staff reporter Doug Burns-
Please click on pictures to see enlargements.
California State Highway 46 streaks eastward from the city of Paso Robles, near the northern edge of San Luis Obispo County, and cuts across gentle rolling hills and sweeping fields dotted with an occasional ranch. It is a desolate, windblown vista, broken only by the squatty, weather-beaten buildings that make up the hamlets of Whitley Gardens, Shandon, and Cholame.
Almost twenty-five miles from Paso Robles, and less than a mile east of Cholame, the highway cuts through a gap in the Temblor Mountains, so named because the San Andreas Fault runs at their base. Here the highway splits 46 continues eastward to Bakersfield, and its branch, Highway 41, turns northeast toward Fresno. This junction near Cholame was the epicenter for a shock that reverberated around the world over two decades ago, but not because of the constantly shifting San Andreas Fault. Actor James Dean, idol to millions of moviegoers, was killed in a violent automobile accident at that junction. Cholame, population five, consisting of a Chevron gas station, a small store, and a tiny post office.
James Dean had wrapped up shooting for the Warner Bros. film Giant and was set to compete in an automobile race held at the Salinas Airport. Dean originally intended to pull his new silver Porsche Spyder on a trailer behind his 1955 Ford station wagon. However, at the last minute he decided to drive the sports car to put some pre-race mileage on it.
Accompanying Dean in the Porsche was his mechanic, Rolf WŁtherich, 29. Following in the station wagon-with-trailer were Sanford Roth, a noted photographer, and Bill Hickman, a fellow actor.
Racing down the Grapevine grade on Route 99 (now Interstate 5), the caravan was stopped by a California Highway patrolman for going 65 mph in a 45 mph zone. Both Dean and Roth received citations from the officer.
Resuming their trip, the two cars turned west on Highway 466 (today shortened to 46) just north of Bakersfield and headed for Paso Robles, where they would catch U.S. 101 north for Salinas.
Dean's fast Porsche left the slower station wagon behind as the two cars climbed over Polonio Pass. The downgrade from the pass runs straight as an arrow down to the "Y" intersection of Highways 46 and 41; a short distance beyond, Cholame is visible.
Approaching the intersection from the
opposite direction was a large
black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor
coupe. Dean's Porsche accelerated to a
reported estimate of 85 mph
Donald Turnupseed, a student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, was headed home to Tulare for the weekend to visit his parents. At the "Y" intersection just past Cholame he would veer left onto Highway 41 and head northeast for Fresno. Turnupseed later testified at a hearing held in San Luis Obispo that he slowed as he approached the intersection, glanced up the hill to look for oncoming cars, then crossed over the line to continue his trip on Highway 41.
According to the report, Turnupseed said he never saw the other car. Police later concluded that the color of Dean's car and the twilight dusk camouflaged the Porsche. Turnupseed's Ford and Dean's Porsche hit almost head-on.
The impact of the crash was terrific. Dean's car ended up in a ditch by the roadside, "looking like a crumpled pack of cigarettes," said Roth, who arrived in the station wagon minutes after the crash.
Dean was dead on arrival at Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital. Rolf W√ľtherich, thrown from the wreck, survived with a smashed jaw, a broken leg, and multiple contusions, cuts and abrasions. Turnupseed escaped with a gashed forehead and a bruised nose. No charges were filed against the student.
Dean was buried in Fairmount, Indiana,
a few miles from Marion, his
birthplace. Three thousand mourners
attended the funeral services, a
thousand more that the population of
JamesDeanMemorialJunction.com - A
celebration of all things James Dean.
We include Jimmy's favorite quote and
one whichmost perfectly describes
James Dean to himself and the entire
world--"What is essential is invisible
to the eye,"
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince.