Paul Walker Brings Up Another Hollywood Tragedy, James Dean

The sudden and shocking passing of actor Paul Walker in a horrific car accident has deeply affected his fans and friends. His acting career started when he was 2 in a diaper commercial but he will be remembered for his portrayal of undercover officer Brian O’Conner in the successful Fast and Furious movie franchise. They created a moving tribute to Paul on YouTube.

This reminded me of another young star that was also cut down by a car accident, James Dean.  He didn’t star in as many movies as Paul Walker, only three. Most famously as the dark teenaged Jim Stark in Nichols Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. Yes, a bit before most of our times but worth taking a look at.  During the filming of this movie he acquired a new car that he intended to race, a rare Porsche.

On September 30, 1955, James Dean was driving his personalized Porsche 550 Spyder to an auto rally. He had a custom paint job with the number 130 on the hood, trunk, and the doors. Also painted on the rear of the car was Dean’s nickname, “Little Bastard”. When he first acquired the car friends were concerned. Alec Guinness (you know him as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars Episode VI) said the car was sinister and Dean would be dead within a week. Eerily, the car would perhaps prove him right.

As Dean and his passenger, Rolf Wuetherich, headed westbound on what is now State Route 46 in California, a heavy ford sedan pulled out in front of them. Wuetherich was thrown clear of the car but suffered broken bones, the driver of the Ford suffered minor injuries. James Dean was the lone fatality at only 24 years old.

The story certainly doesn’t end there.

George Barris, the man who did the custom paint, paid $2500 to acquire the wreckage of the car with the intent of selling it for parts. As soon as the car got to Barris’ garage it slipped off the trailer and broke a mechanic’s leg.  Barris sold the engine to Dr. Troy McHenry who put it in his racecar. He was killed when his car crashed into a tree at the Pomona fairgrounds. Dr. William Eschrid bought the drive train for use in his car. He was seriously injured when the car rolled on a curve; he later said that it just locked up on him. Another unfortunate recipient of parts bought two tires that simultaneously blew causing the car to crash but the driver survived. A teen boy who tried to steal an emblem from the car slashed his arm open on a piece of jagged metal.

The California Highway Patrol used the remnants of the car for a highway safety program. During this time the car was stored in a garage in Fresno, California. A fire broke out and incinerated the entire contents of the garage with the exception of Little Bastard. On the way to Salinas for a display the flatbed truck hauling the car lost control and ejected the driver. He survived the ejection but then Little Bastard fell off the truck and crushed him to death. In 1960 the car mysteriously disappeared on the way to Miami and its whereabouts are unknown.

Cursed car? Some are convinced it goes beyond the car. Consider James Dean’s cast members from Rebel Without a Cause, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.  In 1976 Sal Mineo was fatally stabbed in an alleyway behind his apartment in West Hollywood. The motive and killer have never been satisfactorily determined. Natalie Wood drowned in 1981 under suspicious circumstances. Originally deemed an accident new evidence in 2012 showed she had bruising prior to drowning pointing to the possibility of foul play. No one has ever been charged.

Cursed car, people, or movie? Coincidences? Unrelated tragedies? You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.

Curses and scary stories aside, my heart goes out to friends, family, and fans of Paul Walker. It’s always a tragedy when someone is taken before their time. He’s left more than a legacy of good entertainment, his charity Reach Out World Wide is providing first-responder type aid all over the globe in disaster situations. Check them out at https://www.roww.org/ and consider making a donation in Paul Walker’s memory.

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