All Dolled Up

Fifty years after his death, James Dean still gives rebels a cause.

Has there been pressure put on Barbara Inman Beall, Ph.D., to take down her website, Of course. When you dedicate an entire site to the wacky photo-adventures of Hollywood's most famous rebel without a cause using your enormous doll collection to advance the plots, you're inevitably going to ruffle a few feathers.

"You always pick up a nut or two," Beall explains. "There was this one woman who used to fill my guest book with comments like 'I want Jimmy's stuff; I want Jimmy's stuff right now!' -- like I was going to just give my entire doll collection to her. I must have blocked about 27 to 30 different addresses from this woman! I don't know what that was all about. I think she was trying to get me to pull the site, but I wouldn't do it."

Beall, a 62-year-old great-grandmother who teaches composition courses at Metro State, Community College of Denver and Colorado Community College online, has spent far too much time working on the site to allow one cyber-wacko to thwart her efforts. She's crossed the point of no return, and it's now onward and upward for Dean and his merry band of plastic cohorts.

Jim tries out for a college production. He doesn't get 
the part.
Jim tries out for a college production. He doesn't get the part.

On the website currently are nearly thirty James Dean adventures, each of them starring the same figure named Jim -- an American Legend Timeless Treasure doll by Mattel -- navigating different scenarios that Beall has laid out for him. In these elaborately staged vignettes, digitally photographed by Beall in locations around her home, it's not uncommon for Jim to bump shoulders with the likes of Frank Sinatra or Elvis atop a computer keyboard or on bookshelves lined with James Dean tomes. In one scene from a Valentine's Day episode titled "Trouble in Paradise," fifteen Dean dolls, clad in costumes from his various film and television roles, relax together alongside Garfield and a plush pink Care Bear in sunglasses, with an action-figure motorcycle squeezed in for good measure. Sometimes Jim even takes to the road, as visitors to Beall's site can see for themselves by clicking on the "Travels With Jim" section.

Yes, Jim's enjoying the good life, and for that he can thank a skunk.

"I had rescued Jim off of eBay in 2002," Beall says, recalling the photo of Jim hanging from a chandelier that had drawn her to him. "But I didn't really do anything with him until I had this weird experience one night. We live in the mountains, and this was back during the Hayman fire, when the forest fires started early. There were a number of wild animals fleeing to escape, and one night I looked out the window, and I saw a skunk heading down the street. For some crazy reason it went right up our walk, right under the big picture window and down the driveway! That kind of inspired me to do the website. I already had Jim, so I thought this could be funny, you know? Why not get a skunk doll now and try to do something humorous?"

Not content to simply allow Jim to frolic about with the newly acquired Beanie Baby "Skunk," Beall, a longtime James Dean aficionado who once ran her own doll shop in Iowa, began reading biographies of the legendary Hollywood actor. She was surprised to discover that in addition to the three films for which he is so well known -- Giant, Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden -- Dean had over thirty acting credits, from spots on television programs to bit roles in films, even parts in Broadway plays. For the next two years, Beall busily acquired the many dolls and costumes she felt necessary to properly tell Dean's story her way: a homespun, tongue-in-cheek version of a Hollywood life.

The result, issued just in time to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the actor's death in a 1955 car crash, is The Legacy -- A Fifty Year Tribute (1955-2005), self-published by Beall through AuthorHouse. In full-color photographs, Beall's dolls turn out en masse to attend a gala celebration honoring Dean's legacy. Following a cover shot showing Jim in the actor's iconic red Rebel jacket -- posed dramatically outside a Gunther Toody's in Arvada -- are page after page of stars arriving for the event: Rhett Butler, Marilyn Monroe, elaborately dressed Barbies and Portuguese Princess dolls. It's a tribute fit for a star, with "The League of Hopeful Brides" harassing a James Dean look-alike on one page and three stuffed cockatoos chiming in for no real reason on another. Yes, everything runs smoothly in this elaborate tribute -- until Harvey arrives and all hell breaks loose.

"That Harvey," Beall says. "He's always in trouble."

Like Jim, Harvey -- named after the incorrigible rabbit in Denver playwright Mary Chase's classic -- is also a James Dean doll. Although they're close to identical, Harvey has more blond in his hair so the careful reader can tell them apart. Through his off-the-wall antics, Harvey quickly became the star of both the website and the book.

Throughout the tribute, Harvey appears at the most inopportune times, inexplicably carrying a giant piece of chalk. "You bring that chalk out here one more time before it is time," says MC Jim, "I'm going to feed it to you."

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