Here then is the promised follow-up to last week’s post introducing my novel LITTLE BASTARD and detailing the urban legend behind ‘the curse of Little Bastard’ – Jimmy Dean’s Porsche.
The idea behind this post is to attempt to separate fact from fiction regarding the legend – however, as you will discover, this is perhaps easier said than done…and, in many ways, the waters remain thoroughly muddy.
Wikipedia tells us that George Barris (the ‘King of Kustomising’ – who modified Little Bastard in the first place) was not the intial purchaser of the wreckage. Instead, physicians Troy McHenry and William Eschrid were said to have purchased it directly from the insurance company.
Eschrid and McHenry removed the drivetrain, steering and other mechanical parts to use as spares in their own cars…and then they did indeed sell the remaining bodyshell to George Barris. Eschrid used Little Bastard’s engine in his Lotus – and was badly injured racing the car. McHenry did indeed die racing – but in a car without Little Bastard’s modified components.
Wikipedia further reports that several large parts of Little Bastard are known to still exist. The website uses car part numbers to substantiate the claims. The passenger door was apparently on display at the Volo Auto Museum. The engine (#90059) is reported to still be owned by the son of the late Dr. Eschrid. Lastly, the restored transaxle–gearbox assembly (#10046) is said to be in the possession of car collector Jack Styles.
However, this is all wikipedia is able to add to the story. Hardly a wholesale debunking of the myth – more a case of clarifying a few details. Interestingly, several elements of the legend survive even wikipedia’s ‘debunking’ scrutiny.
Among the ‘facts’ concerning the legend of Little Bastard NOT contested by wikipedia are the following:
- The wreckage owned by Barris was loaned to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) for use in exhibitions. The reported incidents in connection to these exhibitions (injuries and deaths caused while Little Bastard was being exhibited/transported and the fire at the storage garage) have been reported as fact and remain uncontested as such (at the time of writing). Ditto the final disappearance of the wreckage in transit.
- At least three separate sources report the story of Barris selling the tyres that blew out simultaneously.
(A greater sleuth than I can perhaps investigate these matters in greater depth – and shed further light on the legend).
What is, however, definitely uncontested (and documented fact) is the repeated sense of disquiet attributed to those who saw Little Bastard prior to Jimmy’s death – George Barris, Ursula Andress, Jimmy’s friend Nick Adams and the scarily prescient Alec Guinness. One cannot help but wonder if so many people getting ‘bad vibes’ about the same object at the same time can purely be due to coincidence?
The mystery deepens further when you consider the views of John Howlett, Jimmy’s principal biographer (who editied the book ‘Jimmy Dean on Jimmy Dean’ which I thoroughly recommend – as it describes Jimmy in his own words and in the testimony of those who actually knew him).
Howlett confirms the latest wikipedia update that the wreckage of Little Bastard was bought directly by Eschrid (although Howlett lists him as ‘Dr William Eschrich’ – and states that the physician bought the wrecked car directly from a salvage yard).
Howlett then diverges from both the legend and wikipedia by reporting that ‘Eschrich’ sold the crumpled bodyshell to a young couple who exhibited it in a Los Angeles bowling alley and charged the public to view the ghoulish display. Apparently 800,000 tickets were sold before the couple cancelled the exhibition (or were coerced into doing so).
(Again, I would be very interested if any sleuths out there can investigate this one).
As you can see, the waters surrounding the urban legend that is ‘the curse of Little Bastard’ are far from clear – even today. Some of the facts are truly outlandish. At one point the Vampira actress, Maila Nurmi, was accused in a magazine article of using Black Magic to place the curse on Jimmy’s car that killed him – and she suffered personal attacks as a result.
In a further bizarre twist, it is also true that while Jimmy was filming Giant (and before he set off on his fateful journey to Salinas) he was interviewed by actor Gig Young for an episode of the TV show Warner Bros Presents. In reference to a road safety campaign of the time that used the phrase “The life you save may be your own”, Jimmy ad-libbed: “The life you might save might be mine.” His sudden death prompted the studio to re-film the section, and the piece was never aired. The original segment (including the ad-lib) can, however, be viewed on the 2005 DVD edition of Rebel Without a Cause among the ‘extras’.
Either way, myth or reality, the legend of Little Bastard endures – a spectral adjunct to the legend of Jimmy himself.
It is the story that has inspired my novel – although it remains wholly in the background and thematic; sub-text rather than central narrative. As mentioned, the other tragic car crash death of an icon that features in the novel is that of Marc Bolan – and a future entry on this blog concerning my work-in-progress novel will focus on this topic too. Also, as stated, the novel LITTLE BASTARD will be dedicated to the memories of Bolan and Dean.