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09 November 2012

Dean Reed

American actor, singer and political activist Dean Reed (1938 – 1986) was one of the most unusual European film stars ever. While he was unknown at home in the US, he was a superstar in communist Eastern Europe. Over the years ‘the Red Elvis’ played in 23 films, mostly westerns, in Argentine, Italy and East-Germany.

Dean Reed
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 86/75, 1975. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Schwarz.

Dean Reed
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 87/74, 1974. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Damm. Publicity photo for Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts/The life of a ne'er-do-well (1973).

Dean Reed
East-German postcard by VEB Lied der Zeit Musikverlag, Berlin. Photo: Hartmut Schorsch.

Groomed To be A Teen Idol
Dean Cyril Reed was born in Denver, USA in 1938. His father, Cyril Reed, was a teacher, and his mother Ruth Anna Hansen, a housewife. He had two brothers, Vern and Dale. He moved with his family many times, living in various cities in California, Utah, and Colorado. He graduated from Wheat Ridge High School in 1956, where he was a star athlete on the track team. After a couple of years at the University of Colorado, Reed moved to Hollywood to start a career as musician. He recorded the song Once Again for Imperial Records as a one-off single to see if reaction to it would justify a full contract. No contract was offered by Imperial, but Reed subsequently signed a long-term recording contract with Capitol Records in 1958. Capitol groomed him to be a teen idol and he produced some modestly popular singles, including Annabelle, The Search, No Wonder, A Pair of Scissors, I Kissed a Queen, and Our Summer Romance. He also made guest appearances on family television programs such as Bachelor Father. His third single, Our Summer Romance, proved to be so popular in South America that he stayed on in Argentina following a South American tour. His fame, and record sales in Argentina, Chile and Peru, made him more popular there than Elvis. His film debut was the Argentinean production Mi primera novia/My first girlfriend (1965, Enrique Carreras), a romantic teen comedy about the rivalry between an Argentinean man and a young American for the love of a beautiful girl from a rich family. While living in South America, Reed made numerous albums, films, toured extensively, and even appeared on his own television program in Buenos Aires. In Chile, he developed a left-wing political philosophy, and began to speak out against oppression and poverty. Known as Mr. Simpatia, he performed shows free in poor neighbourhoods and in prisons. He protested against nuclear weapons and US foreign policy, and his politics eventually ran afoul of Argentine government policies after the 1966 Argentine Revolution. So he was deported.

Dean Reed
German promotion postcard by Icestorm for the DVD box Dean Reed, Der Amerikanische Rebell. Photo: Tassilo Leber.

Dean Reed
German promotion postcard by Icestorm for the DVD box Dean Reed, Der Amerikanische Rebell. Photo: Tassilo Leber.

Dean Reed
German promotion postcard by Icestorm for the DVD box Dean Reed, Der Amerikanische Rebell. Photo: Tassilo Leber.

Zorro
Dean Reed went to live in Rome for a time and acted in TV commercials. In 1966 he made a concert tour of the Soviet Union and became a mega star there and in Eastern Europe. He started to appear in Spaghetti Westerns like Buckaroo, il winchester che non perdona/Buckaroo: The Winchester Does Not Forgive (1967, Adelchi Bianchi) with Monika Brugger, and as Zorro in I nipoti di Zorro/The Nephews of Zorro (1968, Marcello Ciorciolini). Later he also appeared in European thrillers as Blonde Köder für den Mörder/Death Knocks Twice (1969, Harald Philipp) opposite Fabio Testi. With Yul Brynner, he co-starred in the western Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di.../Adiós, Sabata (1970, Gianfranco Parolini). Reed again got into trouble with US State Department for protesting the Vietnam War and attending International Peace Conferences. In 1973, Reed chose to settle permanently in East Germany. There he continued to write, direct, and perform in films. His first DEFA production was the musical adventure Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts/The life of a ne'er-do-well (1973, Celino Bleiweiß) with Hannelore Elsner. Very successful was the western Kit & Co. (1974, Konrad Petzold) with Rolf Hoppe and his future wife Renate Blume. In his next western, Blutsbrüder/Blood Brothers (1975, Werner W. Wallroth), he acted with Gojko Mitic, the other superstar of the DEFA. He directed the TV-film El cantor (1978), about the coup in Chile in 1973 when Pinochet became dictator and hundreds of people were killed. He himself performed the part of the popular musician Victor Jara, ‘El Cantor’. According to Wikipedia, rumours arose around Reeds sexual orientation and alleged affairs with Czechoslovak singer and actor Václav Neckář. They collaborated frequently, e.g. in the film Sing, Cowboy, sing (1981, Dean Reed). However, Reed married three times. His first marriage was circa 1964 to Patty Hobbs, an American woman, with whom he had a daughter, Ramona, born 1968. She left him in 1971, returned to the United States with their daughter, and divorced him. Reed married his second wife, Wiebke Dorndeck Schmidt, in 1973. He had a second daughter with her, Natasha (1975). The couple divorced in 1978, in 1981 he married his third wife, East German actress Renate Blume. They adopted a son, Alexander (1969) and stayed together until his death.

Dean Reed
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 103/74, 1974. Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: Damm.

Dean Reed
German promotion postcard by Icestorm for the DVD box Dean Reed, Der Amerikanische Rebell. Photo: Tassilo Leber.

Dean Reed
German promotion postcard by Icestorm for the DVD box Dean Reed, Der Amerikanische Rebell. Photo: Tassilo Leber.

Marxist
The last film of Dean Reed was the Japanese-German production Uindii/Races (1984, Masato Harada) with Patrick Stewart. Over the years he had played in 23 films. While committed to the politics of his adopted socialist home, he did not join the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) and preferred to define himself as a Marxist rather than a communist. Despite his opposition to many US policies, he professed his love of America until the end of his life, and his songs often reflected his fondness for his homeland. He never renounced his US citizenship and continued to file tax returns for the Internal Revenue Service. His last visit to the States in late 1985 encouraged him to dream of making a career for himself back home, especially if he could return with his current project in hand, a film about the war between AIM and the FBI at Wounded Knee, 1973. A GDR/Soviet Union co-production, the film had taken years to get off the ground. However, in a 1986 television interview on CBS's 60 Minutes, he defended the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the building of the Berlin Wall, and compared Ronald Reagan to Joseph Stalin. Following the interview, Reed received an incredible amount of negative, hate mail. Six weeks after his appearance on 60 Minutes and just days before shooting of the Wounded Knee film was due to start in the Crimea, Reed's fully clothed body was found floating in Zeuthener See, a lake near his home outside of East Berlin. He had been missing for several days. Though it was officially ruled an accidental drowning, his friends in Germany suspected that his death was a suicide and his family in the U.S. claimed that he had been murdered. He was 47. For the biography, Rock 'n' Roll Radical: The Life & Mysterious Death of Dean Reed, author Chuck Laszewski gained access to Reed's Stasi file, which contained a suicide note and an apparent apology written on the back of a movie script to the East German leader, SED General Secretary Erich Honecker. This was covered up by the GDR authorities, who feared that the discovery of his suicide would disparage their state. The University of Colorado sponsors the Dean Reed Peace Prize, an annual essay contest held in Reed's memory. Tom Hanks has optioned a biography by Reggie Nadelson, titled Comrade Rockstar (1991), finally published in the U.S. by Walker & Company in 2006. Hanks is planning to produce a film on Reed's life, which was also the subject of the documentaries American Rebel: The Dean Reed Story (1985), Dean Reed – Glamour und Protest/Dean Reed: Galmor and Protest (1993) and Der Rote Elvis/The Red Elvis (2007).


Trailer Dio li crea... Io li ammazzo!/God Forgives: His Life Is Mine (1968, Paolo Bianchini). Source: LindbergSWDB (YouTube).


Dean Reed and Václav Neckář perform Thunder and lightning. Source: Cmosvid (YouTube).


Trailer Der Rote Elvis/The Red Elvis (2007). Source: Tommy Blank (YouTube).

Sources: DeanReed.de, Jennifer Dunbar Dorn (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

What an amazing story! Thank you Bob for researching this. I'm looking forward to the Hanks movie