Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Jan and Dean Story

This is the type of movie that you would normally see after someone has died and other people get to tell their story. The story will tell how the person wasn't very nice and since they're no longer alive to disagree, they can't repudiate it. The strange thing is that Jan Berry was alive when this TV movie was made in 1978. It's interesting to read what Jan has to say about his own personality: CLICK HERE. I was surprised to find that he readily admits that he was a Type-A, Control Freak, Asshole.

Below is the story of Jan and Dean as shown in Deadman's Curve: The Jan and Dean Story (DMC). I emphasize shown since, as with any biopic, some facts are condensed for the movie and other facts are put into the movie for dramatic reasons. When I know something is obviously wrong, even for a casual fan like me, I have made a note of the real fact(s).

DMC opens with Jan (Richard Hatch) and Dean (Bruce Davison) hanging out and this is a shorthand way to let us know that they are friends. The puzzling fact that is never shown in DMC is
WHY Dean would remain friends with someone who belittled and mistreated him over so many years. I've even read the biographical chapters that Dean has written on The Jan and Dean website and I cannot quite get a grasp on why they remained friends. My only guess is that Dean is the type of person that once he's your friend, he'll be your friend for life.

Up next we find Jan and Dean and another friend harmonizing in the showers after high school football practice . DMC immediately cuts to Jan recording the three of them in his garage. The friend drops out, but Dean stays on. The friend's name in the movie is Billy, I assume this was supposed to be Arnie Ginsburg (even though they do mention the name Arnie a couple of times in the movie) who originally recorded with Jan as the duo Jan and Arnie. When Dean asks Jan "what about football?", Jan says football season is over and he's going to create "the sounds of summer" ....I kid you not, that line was actually in the movie, I even backed it up several times to be sure I heard it correct. Now Jan was smart (his IQ was supposedly 181 before the accident), but I don't think he was smart enough to have thought that far ahead or to have been a prophet. This is just an example of DMC making up its own history for the sake of a good story, as I mentioned above.

Dean joins the army and Jan releases their song with ONLY his name on the label, according to the scene we see in DMC. Actually "Jennie Lee" was a song released by Jan and Arnie. Needless to say Dean's not real happy about this; but, after Dean gets out of the army, the pair hook up again and start their successful recording career.

It just happens that one time while they are touring, they get lost in a town somewhere in Texas....right in front of a radio station! The DJ at this station is Bob Smith: The Jackal (who is played by Wolfman Jack, whose real name was Bob Smith!). The actual truth is that Jan and Dean continued their college careers and recorded and performed on weekends or during college breaks. It is very doubtful that they would have been driving from California to Texas. Jan and Dean get The Jackal to play "Sidewalk Surfin'" from one of their albums and at the end of this scene, Dean gets on his skateboard and Jan pulls him with his car as they leave town with the song playing on the radio.

Jan is going to get drafted and he goes to the induction station and tells them they can't draft him "He's Jan and Dean". The Sergeant tells him "We took in Elvis and he was a lot bigger star than you are Boy!". Jan huffs out of the office and according to the movie, this is when he had his wreck on Dead Man's Curve. This scene is all fabrication and you can read the real story HERE

This is about the half-way point of the movie and the latter half is about Jan and his recovery. Jan finally gets to the point where he wants to perform again and grudgingly asks Dean to help him. Jan decides he will have to lip synch his part. The crowd catches on and tries to boo him off stage. After an emotional address to the audience, Jan sings live and the audience gives him a standing ovation. At the start of this scene look for Bruce Johnston and Mike Love (in one of his sartorial disasters) of The Beach Boys. If you look carefully at the audience you can see the real Jan Berry watching his movie self performing on stage.

DMC began with Dick Clark introducing Jan and Dean in 1966, after which the movie flashed back to 1957 carrying us from that year until the early 1970s. I have read that DMC was supposed to have been a mini-series, instead 15 years of the lives of Jan and Dean were condensed into approximately 100 minutes. Thankfully the director Richard Compton was used to working in TV and should be given credit for being able to make such a coherent story in the time frame he was given. The only real problem with DMC was that I felt it skewed more toward Jan and could have easily been called: Dead Man's Curve: The Jan Berry Story featuring Dean Torrence. I would have liked to have seen a little more about Dean, but then that would have probably required another 100 minutes!

A special Thanks to skippercollector who sent me the photo of the the rare vhs Video Gems release.


  1. Deadman's Curve has always been my all-time favorite TV movie. I don't know how many times I've watched it. It was released on VHS in the mid-80s, with numerous covers. I notice you have the one pictured that ISN'T correct; that is, it's the one with the name Jan over Bruce Davison and Dean over Richard Hatch. My copy has the names correctly switched.
    People have been asking for years if DMC will ever come out on DVD. I doubt it. The problem is the expense of paying the music copyrights, and even who owns which song. Copies of the VHS tape are kind of pricy on ebay because of it.

  2. Hi - I never even noticed the cover mistake....I grabbed that photo from the internet....I bought my copy on the "gray" market and it came in a plain white sleeve. Thanks for your comments they are much appreciated. When I look in my stats, DMC usually holds 5th place in all of my write-ups.

  3. If you'd like me to, I can email you a copy of the cover of the VHS that I own. It's correct, and it's a little more elaborate than the picture you have.
    I am glad to see that so many people remain so fond of this movie. Despite parts of the plot that are historically inaccurate, it still is both inspiring and touching.

  4. I met Richard Hatch appearing at some store in LA a number of years ago (not related to DMC) and brought a copy of a different VHS to autograph, which I had ironically found new for $1 the day before somewhere. He and his manager/agent were VERY surprised to see it, never knew it was out on video, and were kind of upset. I was able to go back and find him a copy. He seemed to feel he was entitled to some residuals.

  5. Johnno - thanks for sharing that story about Richard Hatch. I really enjoyed reading it.


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