Grave Sightings: James Dean

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

Even though he appeared in just three movies, James Dean is one of the most iconic movie stars of all time, due, in part, to his untimely death. Dean was just 24 when he died, succumbing to injuries sustained in an infamous car wreck in Cholame, California, in 1955.

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Despite his beloved status, you won’t find Dean’s grave at Hollywood Forever, Forest Lawn in Glendale, or any other of the Tinseltown cemeteries known for their A-list clientele. After the crash, Dean’s body was sent home to Fairmount, Indiana. The tiny town—1.5 square miles and less than 3000 residents—was overwhelmed when more than 2000 mourners showed up to pay their respects at the closed casket funeral.

Stacy Conradt

Of course, more than 60 years later, Dean’s legend lives on—and so does the legend of the supposedly cursed Porsche Spyder he was driving at the time of the accident.

Dean was warned about the car, which he called “Little Bastard,” soon after he purchased it with his paycheck from Giant (1956). In fact, Alec Guinness liked to tell people about his premonition that Dean would be dead a week after receiving the Porsche:

Eartha Kitt said she also warned "Jimmy" that the Spyder would kill him; he told her to chill out with the “voodoo” stuff.

After insurance had settled up on the crash, William F. Eschrich purchased the wrecked car for $1092. He removed some of the salvageable parts, then allegedly sold the rest to celebrity car customizer George Barris. In his book Cars to the Stars, Barris claimed that even in its totaled state, Little Bastard managed to do a lot of damage. Here are just a few of the incidents he recounted:

  • When the car first arrived at Barris’ shop, it rolled off of the truck and broke a mechanic’s legs.
  • The engine was sold to a Troy McHenry, who put it into his own Spyder, then hit a tree and died.
  • The car was in a fire in Fresno that destroyed the garage and everything in it—except the Porsche.
  • While being transported to Salinas, the car fell off of the trailer and killed the truck driver.

Of course, Barris was known to embellish the truth, so it’s hard to say how factual any of those things really are. Snopes did some digging and found that a Troy McHenry did die in a car wreck while driving a Porsche Spyder in 1956, but whether that car contained Little Bastard’s engine is unknown.

What is known, however, is that Barris eventually contracted with the National Safety Council to exhibit the Porsche at car shows around the country to emphasize the need for safe driving. The car had been at one of these shows in Miami and was being shipped back to Los Angeles when it mysteriously disappeared in 1960. More than 50 years later, Little Bastard still hasn't resurfaced.