James Dean memorabilia  -  his legacy has never been stronger


He appeared in just three films yet, when he died today in 1955 aged just 24, young actor James Dean would be remembered forever.

Some psychologists attribute it to people's fascination with idea of 'a wonderful life ending abruptly near its peak' being more desirable than living into old age.

One thing's for sure, whatever the underpinning psychological reasons, Dean is at the forefront of late stars whose legacies won't die. Analysts call it the "James Dean Effect".

Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen and John Lennon also have the James Dean Effect - and nowhere is this more strongly felt than on the collectibles markets.

A small fragment of James Dean's Porsche, in which he died, sold for $11,352.50

Aside from the fact he was young, handsome and charismatic as well as talented, much of James Dean's appeal is down to context.

He died long before Beatlemania, the swinging sixties or the '70s punk explosion. Yet Dean is forever associated the with 1950s first wave of teenage rebellion.

James Dean's jeans sold at Heritage
Nice jeans, Dean: the star's denims sold at auction for $35,850 in 2006

It's therefore of no surprise that Dean's vintage clothing has proved especially popular among wealthy buyers. Big sales include the coat jacket worn by James Dean in East of Eden which sold at Heritage Auctions in October 2006 for $26,680.

The same auction also saw a pair of trousers that Dean wore in East of Eden sell for $15,535.

Aside from clothing, James Dean also remains respected for his 'boys own' lifestyle which - much like later star Steve McQueen - included cars and motor racing.

This extends to the car in which he died, a Porsche 550 Spyder nicknamed the "Little Bastard". (Dean had the moniker spray painted on the car's body, a nickname given to him on a film set.)

"If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week," said British actor Alec Guinness after Dean showed him the car. Spookily the encounter happened on September 23, 1955, seven days before Dean's death.

James Dean signed photograph
Photographs like this signed example of James Dean for sale remain sought-after by collectors all over the world - so-much-so that the term 'James Dean Effect' is now routinely applied to collectibles

Mystery surrounds the Little Bastard, as well as rumours that the "cursed" motor was involved in further crashes in the years after Dean's fatal collision with an oncoming vehicle.

This mystery also extends to the car's present whereabouts. Only three components have been traced by collectors: the transmission/rear axle assembly, its engine and the transaxle.

The Little Bastard's components are among a finite supply of memorabilia items for which demand among collectors shows no sign of fading.


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