FIFTY-NINE years ago today (September 30), a promising young Hollywood actor gunned his nine-day-old Porsche 550 Spyder, a car he nicknamed the Little Bastard, out of a dealership in Los Angeles, heading for the road races at Salinas. Photographs from the day show him smiling confidently, holding the hand of mechanic and passenger Rolf Wütherich aloft, as if celebrating victory.
A few hours later 24-year-old James Dean, who had made a big impact in the film East of Eden, lay trapped and dying in his car, and Wütherich lay seriously injured on the road. Dean’s Porsche had struck a Ford pick-up being driven by student Donald Turnupspeed. The Ford had crossed Dean’s path and though the young Hollywood star tried desperately to avoid a crash, his Porsche ploughed straight into it.
Before his fatal accident Dean had, by chance, met the actor Alec Guinness outside a Hollywood restaurant. The young actor excitedly invited him to take a look at his new Porsche. When Guinness saw it, he told him the car had a “sinister” appearance and then said: “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”
Seven days later, Dean was killed on the road to Salinas. Rebel Without a Cause, the film that would make his name, was released less than a month later, on October 27.