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A Case of the Human Condition: The Day James Dean Died — The Eyewitnesses to Speak on February 28

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

This Saturday in Southern California, fans of the legendary film star James Dean will have a chance to meet face-to-face with the California Highway Patrol officer who was first on the scene of the head-on car collision that took Dean’s life more than fifty years ago — as well as the officer who investigated the accident and a third CHP officer who had ticketed Dean for speeding two hours before his death.

What’s more, fans will get the inside story on James Dean’s last meal, which according to local legend, was eaten during a quick stop at Tip’s Coffee Shop in what’s now known as the Santa Clarita Valley, just north of Los Angeles.

The occasion is a screening of Dean’s famous “Rebel Without a Cause” and a panel discussion of Dean’s last days and hours, sponsored by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Panel speakers will include Warren Beath, author of The Death of James Dean, Chris Epting, author of James Dean Died Here, and Tony Newhall (my brother-in-law!), author of a 1985 Newhall Signal article detailing Dean’s stop at Tip’s, which featured interviews with former coffee shop employees.

Thanks to some heavy sleuthing through old telephone books, the Historical Society located both the CHP officer who responded to Dean’s accident near Cholame, California, on September 30, 1955, as well as the officer who participated in the inquest that followed. The two men are still alive and living in California. Also located — the CHP officer who ticketed Dean for speeding near Bakersfield (65 in a 55 mph zone in his Porsche Spyder nicknamed “Little Bastard”).

Armed with video cameras, the Historical Society people drove to three different cities and interviewed each of the three officers. The resulting video will be premiered at the panel discussion.

But that’s not all. “Now they’ve just learned that possibly these three ex-CHP officers want to attend this program,” my brother-in-law reports. “So they may all be there too.”

The event will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, February 28, 2009, at Hart Hall in William S. Hart Park in the town of Newhall, off Highway 14. For the latest details, go to the society’s website at www.scvhs.org.

The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society presents monthly programs on films that have  local significance. Past films include “The General,” (1927) starring Buster Keaton, some of which was filmed locally in Agua Dulce.

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Comments

  1. Great, Tony. Please send a report. I’m curious about what the officer who issued the speeding ticket had to say; 65 in a 55 mph zone — not really that bad. I wonder if the cop cut Dean some slack?

  2. Tony Newhall says:

    Barbara, this is a great story about James Dean. I remember the day he died in 1955, and I still consider him one of the great actors of the 20th century. I’m going to try to attend this event this weekend. I’ll send you a report. –Tony

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