A Doppelganger for James Dean? (Movie World, July 1958)

This post is a part of TMP's Historical Context series, where I share excerpts on classic film and midcentury culture from my collection of vintage magazines.

This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, where I share excerpts on classic film and midcentury culture from my collection of vintage magazines.

Hollywood lost a magnificent talent when James Dean passed away on September 30, 1955. Having performed in just three starring film roles (two of which were released prior to his death) and already a major star, there’s no telling where Dean’s career may have gone, had he survived the car accident that killed him.

It seems that ever since his passing, one question has loomed, and is still asked today: “Can there be another James Dean?,” or, alternately, “Who is the next James Dean?” Hollywood thought it found its answer in 1958 when a young man named Wes Bryan was discovered through a newspaper photo.

In an odd twist of fate, the photo was one from an accident. Bryan had blown a tire and been thrown from his motorcycle, but made it out okay. Movie World featured the man in the July 1958 issue, a little three-page article titled “New life for the DEAN legend,” peppered with photos of Dean’s supposed doppelganger.

Wes Bryan, the man Hollywood wanted to make "the next James Dean" (Photo from Movie World July 1958 issue/My collection)

Wes Bryan, the man Hollywood wanted to make “the next James Dean” (Photo from Movie World July 1958 issue/My collection)

According to the mag, readers of the Midwestern paper that first published the photo were “astonished by the similarity of the face to James Dean of tragic memory” and “deluged the editor’s desk with calls and letters, asking ‘Who is he?'” Their answer: He was a 5’10”, blue-eyed, 21-year-old who grew up in Oregon but was born in North Carolina. He was an Army man, having been discharged in 1956. And he was a great find for a Hollywood talent scout who quickly flew him to the Coast for a screen test.

I personally don’t see a dead-ringer resemblance between the two men (and Wes also told Movie World, “I can’t see it, but I’m flattered.”). Some of their features are slightly similar, but the pictures accompanying this article can credit Bryan’s poses/the photographer’s directions for emphasizing the little resemblance.

Apparently his look wasn’t the only thing Bryan shared with Dean. His screen test, the mag reports, “proved him a ‘natural'” and he seemed poised to fill Dean’s shoes as Hollywood’s resident moody young man, an easy-to-relate-to star for the era’s “troubled” youth. Would he become a star in his own right, or would he forever be known as “that actor who kinda looks like James Dean?,” Movie World questions.

Since we’re several decades removed from the publication of this magazine, I decided to see exactly what came of Wes Bryan’s apparently-burgeoning Hollywood career after 1958. While the mag focuses on his potential as a film star, it does mention that he sometimes sang “for his supper when jobs were scarce,” and following his 15-minute fame as James Dean’s somewhat-lookalike, he seems to have had more success with his voice and songwriting talents than with his acting.

I can’t find any record of him starring in a film, but he released several records from the late ’50s onward and, according to his own blog (which was last updated in 2014), wrote/co-wrote over 800 songs! According to some comments on the blog from 2007 (written by Wes himself and the blog’s co-writer), United Artists was “grooming” him for a Dean biopic, but the project was shelved. Back to music he went. If you’d like to hear some of his tunes, there are some videos listed in the sidebar of his blog.

James Dean remains one of old Hollywood’s best-remembered stars — huge shoes to fill for anyone once dubbed “the next James Dean.” Wes Bryan may not have filled those shoes, but it all seems to have worked out quite well for him, allowing him a career in music which he seems to have adored.

Wes Bryan (Photograph from Movie World July 1958 issue/My collection)

Wes Bryan (Photograph from Movie World July 1958 issue/My collection)

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