With the recent passing of Elizabeth Taylor, my mind wandered to her co-star in the Oscar-nominated film Giant. It was the last project he would ever work on, that 1950s icon James Dean. And I was curious about his last days.
Sherman Oaks was the last place he called home. At 14611 Sutton St. In a rustic, log cabin-style villa easily set apart from the stucco homes that littered the hills and lowlands below Ventura Boulevard.
It’s only blocks away from Marilyn Monroe’s first apartment building. Just two streets off Van Nuys Boulevard.
Decades removed. But still, I felt, haunted by his presence.
“I had no idea this was the place,” said local resident Mary Hawkes. “I heard he lived around here but I didn’t know that was the place. Such history. I bet it’s not the same house, though.”
She’s right. Though it stood for years, the home was recently knocked down and renovated. Modernized. You can see a picture of it here. But the serene, placid suburban neighborhood is the same. Almost, you imagine, at odds with the rebel image Dean created. It’s quiet here, almost deafeningly so. A place you could imagine would be trapped in time.
It was here, on the morning of Sept. 30, 1955, that James Dean hopped into his Porsche Spyder. He made a left, then a right, then a left onto Van Nuys and another right onto Ventura. He traveled a mile or so to a gas station that is now a flower shop.
From there he headed to a race in Salinas.
A race he would never run. Dean was killed moments after uttering to his mechanic, who was with him, “He has to see us.” An oncoming car crashed into the Porsche and the star’s light was suddenly extinguished.
The current owners of the Sutton Street property were not at home. A buzz at the gate went unanswered. Maybe there have been too many knocks at the door from historians, fans, tourists and the ghoulish. It's not hard to feel the ghost of a legend on this spot.