Last week, the U.S. edition of the French fashion magazine L’Officiel ran a digital spread about James Dean’s clothes to mark the actor’s ninetieth birthday. The spread, written by the magazine’s digital editor, Italian journalist Simone Vertua, fell victim to fake history, spreading very strange lies from a trashy recent faux-biography and deploying a digitally altered photograph to support untrue claims. Granted, we don’t usually hold fashion magazines to exceptional standards of excellence, but it’s still disturbing to find the plague of fake history infecting yet another medium.
Let’s stipulate that Vertua—who typically writes click-bait like “The Most Famous Mullets in Hollywood”—is not a strong writer in the English language. His syntax is awkward at best. The misspellings of authors’ names, given sometimes in Italian form, are baffling. (Clues on the site indicate her articles are translated from Italian originals.) He is also not too careful with facts. The article wrongly dates the filming of the movie Giant to 1956, after Dean was dead, when that year was the year the movie was released.
Then we come to this:
One aspect of Dean's life that never made it to screen was his alleged bisexuality. Though he was reported to have had flings with Marilyn Monroe, Pier Angeli, and many other actresses, Tomorrow Never Comes, the book by Darwin Porter and Daforth Principe, also recounts the secret relationship between Dean and Marlon Brando. It's reported that their affair remained a secret at the time in light of negative public sentiment for queer relationships in the 1950s. According to the book, Brando called Dean "puppy dog" because he spent hours outside his apartment desperate waiting to be invited in.
Vertua illustrates this paragraph with a photograph of the two men kissing. It’s a Photoshop fake, but L’Officiel treats it as authentic.
Basically everything in the paragraph I quoted is false. Dean did not have a fling with Marilyn Monroe. In fact, she hated him. They met, once, in late 1954 en route to a party after a screening of On the Waterfront when Dean more or less tried to kill her—as a weird “joke”—with his motorcycle, weaving in and out of traffic and circling the car she was riding in, as though to push her off the road. Terrified and angry, Monroe spent the party staring icy daggers at him. She thought he was ill-mannered and none too bright. He thought she was a vapid sellout. Ah, the stuff of romance! In fact, the incident was so disturbing that Shelly Winters, who had been driving the car, offered to pay for Dean to go to therapy. Drunk, he agreed but then spent the session sitting in complete silence just to cost Winters $25.
The claim about Marlon Brando is complete fiction. While it’s true that Dean idolized Brando, Brando didn’t like him and thought Dean was too slavishly imitating him. The irony of it was that Dean was imitating Brando, but the parts Brando thought Dean had copied, such as the motorcycle fetish, weren’t actually copied. Dean had a motorcycle years before Brando did.
Anyway, Vertua’s paragraph relies on Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, authors who make their living publishing scurrilous trash biographies of dead celebrities, writing elaborate sexual fantasies about them and carefully avoiding mention of any living person in order to keep clear of libel laws. (They did write about Donald Trump, but getting sued by him would only have helped.) Their James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes (2016) claimed to be the “first comprehensive biography” of Dean, a ridiculously false claim that can only refer to the book being 744 pages long, double the length of any other Dean biography. The authors repeated every scrap of bizarre gossip they could find, sketching out elaborate, pornographic sex scenes running on for pages. The quality of their research can be summed up by noting that they claim Dean was a gay prostitute in New York City at the age of 18, when he was actually in high school in Indiana and then a college student in Los Angeles.
The authors alleged that Brando and Dean were in an S&M relationship and then go into unpleasantly graphic details about the imaginary encounters, which are chronologically impossible.
It’s basically weird erotic fan fiction by authors who are not fans. If I were doing research for a major fashion magazine, maybe I’d skip the biography that splashes “Hot!” on the cover.
Anyway, L’Officiel might be a century-old respected haute couture magazine in print, but it’s fast-fashion knockoff trash online.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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