Photo by Richard C. Miller, available for $10,350.
Dead at 24, the Hoosier native, the Hollywood icon, James Dean became the first actor to be nominated posthumously for an Oscar in 1955 for East of Eden and is the only actor to be twice nominated after death, the second time for Giant in 1956. That same year saw the publication of his first biography, which, no surprise, was also the first in a long line of books and biopics to degay him, even though it was written by one of his lovers, William Bast. Exactly 50 years later, in 2006, Bast finally came clean about their affair in a second book, Surviving James Dean. Just a few of the many others beyond Bast to say Dean was definitely gay, not bi, or experimenting, or 'confused about his sexuality,' are the director Nicholas Ray, the screenwriter Gavin Lambert, and biographer Paul Alexander, author of Boulevard of Broken Dreams. One book that cheaply sidesteps his homosexuality is George Perry's recent James Dean, nonetheless worthwhile for its photos. He would be 82 today, the same age as Clint Eastwood.
Elizabeth Bishop's father died before her first birthday and at five she saw her mother institutionalized for mental illness, from which she never recovered. It is said Elizabeth never again saw her mother, who died eighteen years later, still locked up. Orphaned, Elizabeth grew up happily with her grandparents in Nova Scotia, then unhappily with her other grandparents in Worcester, then with an aunt's family in Revere. In the fall of 1929 she entered Vassar where she later met Marianne Moore. After graduation, an inheritance allowed her to travel and write poetry. She lived in France and shared a house in Key West with a college friend, the stationery heiress Louise Crane (whose father was governor of Massachusetts and a US senator and whose mother was a founder of MoMA). Bishop published her first book of poems, North & South, in 1946 and three years later was Poet Laureate of the United States. In 1951 she set off to go around South America by boat. Expecting to stay in Brazil for two weeks, she stayed seventeen years, thanks to her long relationship with Lota de Macedo Soares. In 1956 Bishop won the Pulitzer Prize, but happy times gave way to depression, tantrums, and alcoholism. Lota killed herself in 1967. Two years later, Bishop won the National Book Award for her Complete Poems. In 1976 she published her final volume of new work and became the first woman to receive the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (and she's still the only American to have won it). A lesbian and a self-described feminist, she lived through the 60s and 70s shunning the women's movement and always refused to let her work be included in anthologies of female writers. Her second long-term relationship, with Alice Methfessel, lasted until her death at 68 in 1979. Intelligent readers now have three important places to start with Bishop: her Poems, her Prose, and Michael Sledge's novel The More I Owe You [Kindle], winner of the Ferro Grumley and a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Award.