Sunday, April 24, 2016

JAMES DEAN WAS IN AN INFOMERCIAL BUT NOT A PSA


Let's set the record straight on a misconception or mistake in labeling. You've seen it on YouTube or on video compilations for years. It still circulates on social media still, but has been misidentified. I first saw it on a video compilation of old TV commercials that I bought in high school. It was put out by a company called Goodtimes. It also appeared on the Floor Sweepings videos sold through Filmfax magazines. It also turned up on the old USA network Night Flight program.

It became popular because it is the definition of irony caught on film. Gig Young talks to James Dean, on the set of the film, Giant, on the subject of safe driving in your teen years. The only thing that could make this more ironic would be if Gig Young told kids not to drink alcohol. People have marveled at the spooky irony of James Dean telling teenagers to drive safe, because they might have a wreck with him, in a 50s PSA for TV. However, it is not a PSA, but a loose segment from a very staged infomercial.

I discovered this when I bought a special edition DVD of Rebel Without a Cause. One of the extra features on the DVD was an ABC TV show called Warner Brothers Presents. It was a wheel program that consisted of the popular Western, Cheyenne, and TV shows based on the movies Casablanca and King's Row. At the end of the show was a 15 minute infomercial for the latest Warner Brothers movie called Behind the Camera, hosted by Gig Young.

One episode promoted Rebel Without a Cause. The first segment featured Gig Young schmoozing with Natalie Wood about "growing up on a movie set." The second segment, Gig talks to Jim Backus about being a comedian playing a serious role. Backus makes some bad jokes, but never gets too deep into Gig's question. The third segment is what we have always been told is a safe driving PSA. Gig Young ask James Dean about his hobby of automobile racing. Gig then asked Dean to advise young people on the dangers of drag racing in traffic.

What is odd watching this with the other segments, not out of context, is that Gig Young sort of veers off (no pun intended) the subject of movie making into safe driving.

Many websites have different versions of the history of this clip, which has lead to the confusion over it. There is also some debate on whether it ever aired or not.

Now we know what it is we are watching. Of course, this still doesn't make this any more eerie watching James Dean talk about the possibility of being involved in a car accident.

     

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