A Trove of James Dean Memorabilia Is to Heading Auction, From Hand-Written Letters to Photos

James Dean had a relatively short career, yet he left a lasting impact on Hollywood and pop culture. Now, fans of the late actor have a chance to own pieces of his legacy.

Nearly 400 photographs and other Dean memorabilia are being offered by auctioneer Nate Sanders. Among the collection is a photo of the legend smiling with a cigarette hanging from his mouth (at top). He wears a leather jacket and a glove in the classic Hollywood-style image.

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It bears an inscription in dark blue ballpoint pen, from Dean addressed his agent Jane Deacy: “To Mom / My heart and thanks / Jim.” He regarded “Lady Jane,” as she was known, as his second mother because his own mother died of uterine cancer when he was nine years old, according to The Guardian

“It’s gorgeous,” Sanders told The Guardian. “To find James Dean 8in x 10in signed photos is rare. To find an oversized photo is super rare. This may be the best signed photo one could ever hope for. I bet it breaks records.”

Bidding starts at $7,500 for the picture. The collection was discovered through Deacy’s estate; she kept artifacts about the actor until her death in 2008. Since then, they have remained within her family, but Sanders told the paper: “One of the relatives is getting old and frail and decided to sell it—it’s going to be great for her golden years to live out with plenty of money.”

The memorabilia also includes letters from the actor. For instance, he penned a two-page note in blue fountain pen speaking openly about personal matters, like his attempts to find a dentist. The star was reportedly sensitive about his false front teeth.

A photo of a letter written by James Dean being sold by Nate D. Sanders Auctions.
A note written by James Dean.

“Have found a good dentist after a long and discreet search. Cliffton Webbs dentist (oh well). Have been going to a throat specialist because of a pigmented tongue. Too much smoking. Has stopped completely, also stopped drinking. Taking vitamins also. I was really run-down. I’m fatter now and feel much better. Tear myself up in New York. Build myself up in Calif. (health and maybe career huh?)” Dean wrote in part, according to The Guardian. 

Films like Rebel Without a CauseEast of Eden, and Giant solidified Dean as an actor capable of emotionally complex roles. His ability to convey a sense of being troubled and misunderstood resonated with young people and made him an icon for generations to come. He died in 1955 at the age of 24 in a car accident.

Bidding for the items end Thursday.

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