By Amy Ryan
September 30, 2005 at 12:00 PM EDT

Today is the 50th anniversary of James Dean’s fatal car crash, and MTV News is marking the occasion by asking a bunch of his Method-loving heirs (Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino) whether he was actually any good. My own short answer would be: Duh!, but it’s still fun to read Shirley MacLaine dismissing Dean by saying, ”He was an expert mumbler. So I think people still love him because he got away with obscuring clarity with English.” Robert Duvall, also not much of a fan, may have the clearest explanation for why Dean’s reputation never soured the way his peer Marlon Brando’s did: ”Dean was talented, obviously. But he died at a good time.”

By the way, if you thought there were no more secrets and trivia to be mined from Dean’s short and much-studied life, there’s an illuminating article in last week’s Guardian about a secret Dean love affair that helped him get his big break. (It seems to be missing from the U.K. paper’s website, but it’s reprinted here.)

What do you say, PopWatchers? Was Dean overrated, or does he deserve his enduring popularity?

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