As a re-read, I already knew what to expect from this one. Liz Sheridan tells us the story about when she fell in love during her early 20s to a shy young boy named Jimmy. Why would we want to read this? Because Jimmy is only a few years away from becoming the icon we now know as James Dean.
In Dizzy & Jimmy, Sheridan takes us through her world of being a 20-something year old struggling dancer in new York in the early ’50s. on one rainy day she chances upon a spectacled and awkward out-of-work actor named Jimmy. The attraction is instantaneous and the pair are soon falling in love and – ignoring society’s rules – living together. But just as their fantasies of sharing a life together start to come true, Jimmy’s career begins to take off, threatening to shatter everything the couple have created.
To be honest, I’d never heard of Liz Sheridan. She’s not often mentioned when you read a lot about James Dean. Pier Angeli is often named as the great love of his life: The pair had supposedly planned to marry until Angeli’s strict Catholic mother stepped in and arranged that her daughter marry Vic Damone instead. Legend has it that Dean sat outside the church, revving the motor of his bike as the vows were being said.
So when I saw that there might have been another young woman who also shared her life with Dean before he became famous, I immediately jumped at the chance to read about it.
I think I was only about 17 when I first read this – so naive and innocent in the ways of love and completely immersing myself in the ‘Dizzy’ role to live out my own fantasies of romancing the rebel without a cause. I remember really enjoying it and being quite disappointed when I’d later read about how many doubts that were cast on Sheridan’s story from critics and Dean fans alike.
Having decided to read it again for an (only slightly) older point of view, I was actually quite surprised at how differently I felt about this book. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoyed it. just in a different way. having experienced my own love and heartbreak, I could relate to Sheridan in ways I couldn’t before. The youthful eagerness and excitement one has as a new romance begins to blossom is conveyed perfectly:
I ran upstairs, undressed, and jumped right into bed. I didn’t want to wash the evening off. I couldn’t remember ever being so happy. I closed my eyes and replayed the whole evening in my mind, and just as I was wondering how I would ever be able to sleep, I fell asleep.
That time in your life when all you can think about is him … when everything is still perfect and exciting and awkward and you’re still getting to know each other. Moments like that are captured beautifully in Dizzy & Jimmy and that’s what makes it real.
She completely lets us in to all the little ‘inside jokes’ and quirks that her and Jimmy share – something all couples have: things that aren’t that interesting to others but will always remind the couple of one another.
Sheridan’s also not afraid to turn a spotlight to the darker side of Dean.
As an out-of-work actor, almost obsessed with the idea of becoming the next Marlon Brando, Dean isn’t the ideal boyfriend at times and with every failed audition comes moodswing after depression after moodswing. Sheridan isn’t afraid to admit to us that, at times, Dean could be intolerable to be around when he was feeling sorry for himself and even wallowed in self-pity while she was getting dancing jobs.
I don’t know which was more difficult to live with, the Jimmy who worked a little, or the Jimmy who didn’t work at all. Each of them took his share of opportunities to vent and carry on. It never occured to me when we began living together that I was getting not only Jimmy but also the full bag of neuroses that came with him. Vile moods, interminable silences, anger, guilt and tantrums. his mercurial mood shifts were integral to hia personality, woven into the texture of his being. I found the best way to combat these negative forces was with humor, but that didn’t always work.
But this is what I like about the book. The fact that it isn’t the perfect Hollywood love story. this is a true story of a young boy and a young girl who fell in love, worked through the lows, celebrated the highs, then grew apart. And, these days, that’s what happens with your first love. you love each other but can’t be together … because a lot of the time life takes you in different directions.
If you like a good love story, are fascinated with learning about James Dean before he became famous, or are even interested in how young people came into their own in the ’50s, this is definitely worth a read. It’s funny, compelling and, at times, utterly moving.
I can see why the skeptics did come out in droves for this one though. For one thing there are no pictures of Sheridan and Dean together. There’s a picture of Sheridan from the ’50s, dancing, and then a picture of Dean in 1955 hanging out at a popular bar in new York Sheridan says they attended together often (which makes no sense to include because, according to Sheridan, she was no longer living in the States by then and her and Dean had already broken up).
Furthermore, upon hearing of Dean’s death, Sheridan claims she burned all the letters the couple exchanged – I guess she’s not the sentimental type – so there’s no hard evidence that they ever kept in touch after she moved to Puerto Rico and he moved to California.
But, like I said, this is what’s there if you’re skeptical. if you’re not, give it a go. It’s a nice memoir and, whether you believe Sheridan’s story or not, a love story like this is always nice to read.