Gig Young and James Dean

Gig Young, who died 36 years ago after a steady career in Hollywood –– and one now-eerie interview with James Dean. (Wikimedia Commons)

Gig Young, who was born Nov. 4, 1913, was a well-respected actor who worked steadily through the 1940s, '50s and '60s. As a character actor and supporting player, he appeared in movie after movie, often playing the brother or the best friend. On television, he guest starred all over the place, as well as hosting Warner Brothers Presents for its lone season. According to his fourth wife, Elaine Williams, Young was tired of continually being cast in supporting roles and longed to be the featured player. He wanted to star in "a Gig Young movie."

The lead role wasn't to be, although Young finally received major recognition toward the end of his acting career, winning an Oscar in 1969 for his supporting role as a dance marathon emcee in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Young was widely praised for that performance, which brought the movie its only Oscar. But it's not what many remember him for today. Search YouTube for "Gig Young" and you'll find that some of the top hits are for a different role, one that brought him into brief but unforgettable contact with a doomed icon of the silver screen.

It was Young's hosting job on Warner Brothers Presents that led to his onscreen conversation with James Dean in September 1955. The program began each week with an episode from one of three series: Kings Row, Cheyenne or Casablanca. The episodes ran 45 minutes each, followed by 15 minutes of promotion for upcoming Warner Bros. movies. One of those movies was Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and, of course, Dean. In the segment, a clip from an earlier Dean movie, Rebel Without a Cause, was shown, emphasizing the reckless driving displayed in the movie. Young then sat down with Dean to discuss driving safety. Dean, an avid auto racer, advocated "extra cautious" driving and finished with an odd quip: "Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be … mine."

 

 

Had Dean not died in a car crash less than a month later, the interview might have been forgotten and Gig Young be remembered more for his Oscar-winning movie role than for the strange coincidence of his connection with Dean in his final days. But fate put Young in the driver's seat of a short-lived TV show and face-to-face with one ill-fated driver and soon-to-be icon.

Young's own final days would be equally tragic, though for very different reasons. On Oct. 19, 1978, Young and his fifth wife, Kim, were found dead in their home. Authorities believe that Young, who struggled with alcohol addiction, shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. It was a sad end to the life of a man who had been a talented and respected actor with a long and award-winning career –– and at least one unusual brush with fate.

Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.