Book Review: Dizzy & Jimmy

Dizzy & Jimmy by Liz Sheridan.

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Here’s the first part of the very long blurb from the dust jacket:

A long time ago, when I was a young dancer in New York City, I fell in love with Jimmy Dean and he fell in love with me.

So begins this beguiling memoir of Liz “Dizzy” Sheridan’s passionate yet ill-fated romance with the young, magnetic, soon-to-be-supernova James Dean. The year was 1951. Dean had recently arrived in Manhattan in search of Broadway stardom. Sheridan was a tall, graceful aspiring dancer. They met one rainy afternoon in the parlor of the Rehearsal Club, a chaperoned boarding house for young actresses–and before long Dizzy and Jimmy were inseparable. Together they hunted for jobs, haunted all-night bars and diners, and gloried in the innocent rebellion of early ’50s bohemian New York. Dizzy Sheridan and James Dean were lovers; they lived together; as even ardent Dean fans may be surprised to learn, they were engaged to be married. But when Dean began to find success on the Broadway stage and then was lured to Hollywood, the couple parted amid tears and broken dreams–dreams that would be dashed forever when Dean died in a car crash in 1955, not long after seeing Dizzy for the last time.

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This is James Dean. Unless you’re interested in him (or Liz Sheridan herself), this book probably won’t be interesting to you unless you really enjoy memoirs about young love.

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Ms. Sheridan, “Dizzy”, was a dancer and an actress. You might recognize her from Alf or from playing Jerry’s mom on Seinfeld.

Dizzy and Jimmy were best friends and lovers for over a year, and this book is her memoir of those times. It is fantastically classy and tasteful, relatable, funny, and romantic (aching heart, tears flowing, warm romance). She shares personal moments and the intimate details of their relationship. Because the book was published about fifty years after the romance there’s no way the included dialogue is verbatim, but one never really forgets the way another person spoke or behaved. And it’s those little details that really made me feel like I was living through the romance with them. This book, more than any other I’ve read, really helped me to understand what spending time with a man as complicated as James Dean would have actually been like.

As a great big James Dean fan, I’ve read several James Dean biographies in the last twenty years. Most of them leave a lot to be desired. But what was always conspicuously absent from those books was Dizzy Sheridan. Typically they would give her what amounted to a footnote: “Oh yeah, he also, um, dated Dizzy Sheridan for a year and they were engaged.  Moving on!” She wasn’t even featured as a character in the James Franco movie based on his life. This always bugged me. Those biographies would be filled with anecdotes from random people who only met Jimmy once in passing, but the biographer didn’t even bother to speak to Dizzy?

But now I know–she didn’t speak to them. Their relationship was theirs, and not for the public. When James Dean died so suddenly, only one of his movies had been released. And as Rebel Without a Cause came out, and then Giant, the public were in a frenzy to get everything James Dean they could find. The studios capitalized on this and produced all kinds of photos and fictitious interviews, even an entire movie, anything they could conjure to satisfy the public. But Dizzy remained silent.

I don’t know why she finally decided to write about her relationship with Jimmy, but I am grateful to her and I hope she doesn’t regret it. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her, both to experience Jimmy’s passing and then to write about it. Hopefully writing it down brought her some kind of peace or closure. After finishing the book, I think Dizzy would be a wonderful person to know, and I completely understand why Jimmy was in love with her.

If you’re interested in reading about James Dean, this book would be a great place to start.