All right, the real James Dean probably never met Houdini's actual ghost, but, James Dean did meet
a young fellow who would one day "ghost" an autobiography for Houdini.
So, if you buy into the idea that "Houdini's Ghost" is Patrick Culliton, you might enjoy reading the
story of my chance meeting with James Dean.
It was September, 1955 and I was 10 years old. My family lived in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood
hills. This day I was walking into the Canyon Country Store with my brother, Joe, my cousin, Kit, and
my mother. A couple of young guys were walking out of the store. One of them was wearing a
matching Hawaiian shirt and trunks and, as I remember, had dark glasses pushed up on his
forehead. He was just unwrapping a twin popsicle. My cousin pointed to it and said, "I want an ice
cream like that man!"
The man broke the popsicle in two and held out half to my cousin. "Here, you want it?" My cousin
got suddenly shy and said, "oh, no thanks."
At that point, I said, "I'll take it!" And James Dean gave me half of the twin popsicle.
It did not mean a lot to me then, I didn't really know who James Dean was, but I thought the guy was
friendly and generous. Everybody else at the store was flipping out. A teen-age girl asked me for
the popsicle stick and I gave it to her. "East of Eden" had come out and James Dean was the
hottest star in Hollywood. In the world!
About three weeks later, when I read the headline that he had been killed, I asked my mother if it
that was the guy that split a popsicle with me at the Canyon Store and she told me it was.
It wasn't until the next year that I got a sense of what the world had lost. That's when I saw "Giant."
The years rolled by, my respect for Dean grew. After a tour of Vietnam, though, I found that the
experience of that war had cost me some childhood memories, meeting James Dean among them.
One day my kid brother said to me, "hey, remember when we met James Dean? He split a popsicle
I said, "my God, that did happen didn't it?"
Years later, I found myself sitting up all night in David Carradine’s motor home with Carradine and
Martin Landau. They were shooting "Kung Fu the Movie" based on characters from the Kung Fu TV
series. Brandon Lee, Bruce’s son, was making his screen debut as Kwai Chang Caine’s son.
Between shots, Marty and Dave talked about many things but at a certain point in the early morning
hours, they began to talk about James Dean. Marty Landau had been one of James Dean's best
friends when they were young actors in New York. Carradine talked about what an inspiration
James Dean was to him as a teen-ager and since. I told my story about the popsicle and I added,
"the thing is, I have looked for another adult who would behave with that kind of openness and
spontaneity, and I've almost never found one."
Marty said, "you know, he made those three pictures a few hundred feet from where we're sitting."
Honestly, in the still of that night, it felt as if James Dean was in the room.
Something occurred to me. I said "do you know what day it is? What day it's been since midnight?
It's 09-30-85. 30 years to the day since he died.
Some time later, I was at the Magic Castle with Frank Mazzola and his wife Catherine. Frank is a film
editor now but when he was younger, he was an actor, and he worked in two of James Dean's three
films. Frank is particularly memorable as gang member "Crunch" in "Rebel Without a Cause." He
knew Jimmy Dean very well. They were great friends.
I told Frank and Catherine my James Dean story. I said, "does that sound like the guy you knew?"
Frank said, "not only does it sound like the guy I knew, I was there."
It was true. Frank was the other guy with James Dean that day.