Letters and the lore

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COLLECTING: John Vincent looks at poignant letters from doomed movie star James Dean.

Live fast, die young - and remain forever beautiful in the memory. Such is the case with James Dean, the archetypal Hollywood glamour boy – mean, moody, enigmatic, fragile and impossibly handsome.

He made only three films, and two of those were not released until after his car crash death in a newly-acquired Porsche Spyder in 1955.

Legend has it actor Alec Guinness had seen him in it a few days earlier and told him he would be dead within a week if he continued to drive it.

His premature demise ensured him a legendary status he still retains, adored by many who were not born until decades after his death. Now previously unpublished letters and photos relating to actress Barbara Glenn’s on-off affair with the movie icon are to go under the hammer.

The emotional letters revealing the strains of the two-year, long-distance relationship are for sale at Christie’s in South Kensington, London, on November 23, together with copies of unpublished family pictures of the couple.

They come directly from filmmaker Keith Gordon, son of Barbara Glenn, who starred in the 1950s TV series Man Against Crime.

In one letter, Dean – star of East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant – criticises the Broadway production of The Immortalist, in which he appears, calling it “a piece of s**t” but rightly predicting “it will probably be a monster success”. In another he starts: “Oh baby” but goes on to angrily condemn Barbara for doing a swimsuit photo-shoot, telling her “boy, that’s sellin (sic) out cheap.”

In a third he starts: “Darling, I haven’t written because I have fallen in love.” But it’s not a break-up letter... he is referring to his horse, “Cisco the kid - the new member of the family.” He writes that Barbara’s missives are “the nicest, sweetest letters in the world”.

Barbara’s son, Keith Gordon, says: “Jimmy was her first serious, grown-up relationship. It was apparently very intense and involved numerous break-ups and make-ups. Eventually, my mother met my father, Mark Gordon, an actor and director, and broke it off with Jimmy to go with my Dad.”

The letters are expected to fetch between £3,000 and £6,000 each.