James Dean, My Sixth Cousin on My Father’s Side

DEAN, JAMES 2Today is September 30, 2015, which all good movie fans–at least, those of a certain vintage or those who read MovieFanFare’s This Week in Film History column–know marks 60 years to the day that actor James Dean was killed at the age of 24 in a California car crash. As a second-half Baby Boomer who came of age in the mid-1970s and got his doses of ’50s pop culture second-hand through Happy Days episodes, I grew up aware of Dean and saw his trio of starring films–East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant–on TV every now and again. The cult of personality that evolved around the generational icon, however, never had much of an impact on me. Never, that is, until late last year, when I found out that James Dean and I were cousins.

Okay, distant cousins…very distant cousins, to be sure. But while I was doing some research on a genealogical website, I found a shared link that connected one James Byron Dean, born in Indiana in 1931, through his paternal grandmother Emma Woollen’s family to my own Cahall clan. The source of the connection went all the way back to our common (deep breath) great-great-great-great-great grandfather, James Cahall, Sr., a resident of 18th-century Maryland. This, according to the site, makes Dean my sixth cousin on my father’s side.

Now, I’m not about to say that there’s any physical resemblance between James and myself (all the better for him). Neither, aside from small roles in school plays and church skits, have I shown any particular thespian abilities. I would tend to ignore my parents and read in my room rather than yell at them that they’re “tearing me apart” à la Rebel, and while I will confess to a speeding ticket or two over the years, I have tried to obey the rules of the road.

DEAN, JAMES 3Nonetheless, it is certainly nice to have so legendary a Hollywood notable on one’s family tree, even if it is on a rather faraway branch, and it makes for a (very) small topic of conversation. But it also got me to wondering about the vast MovieFanFare audience, and who else out there might have some Tinseltown blood flowing through their veins. So what about it, readers? Are you a great grand-niece of Walter Brennan? Was Joan Crawford’s uncle once married to your grandmother’s second cousin? Do you share ancestors with Alfred Hitchcock? Write in the comments below and share your show business roots with us. (Drew Barrymore, Michael Douglas, Melanie Griffith, Charlie Sheen and the like, don’t bother; we’re already familiar with your pedigrees).