Born this day in 1928
Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever
Jimmy Ray Dean was originally from Plainview, Texas and like a number of other Bond alums, wore many hats. Dean was a musician, an actor and an entrepreneur. He seemed to usher in popular culture trends such as being instrumental in bringing country music to mainstream, an actor who worked with Jim Henson just as he was starting out and he successfully founded his own line of food, which provided him another avenue to market himself. And, if that was not enough, he was a distant cousin another Dean, James Dean.
|Dean's big hit, "Big Bad John"|
After the war, Dean entered the music industry and toured with his band The Texas Wildcats, which included lead guitarist Roy Clark, who some may remember from the television show Hee Haw. Dean became the host of a television program, Town and Country Time, in which he got to spotlight top talent and up-and-coming musicians such as Clark and Patsy Cline. He won a Grammy for his song “Big Bad John” leading to occasional opportunities for guest appearances on The Tonight Show and eventually his own variety show on ABC network. Again, he was able to provide exposure to new country music talent as he done in his prior show. It was on this show that audiences were introduced to Rowlf the Dog, a muppet from the creative mind of Jim Henson.
In 1969, Dean founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company in his hometown. He sold the company to Sara Lee in 1984 and you can still find Jimmy Dean in your local grocers’ freezer sections today.
|Dean with Rowlf the Muppet|
Dean was offered the role of Willard Whyte because of his number one hit ten years prior being so popular in England. In Diamonds Are Forever, Dean played a billionaire recluse, modeled on Howard Hughes. Whyte was one of nine acting credits, which I found rather surprising – I thought he had more acting credits! I guess that has to be a credit to his ability to work in more than one popular culture medium.
Later in life, he turned to writing. He released an autobiography Jimmy Dean’s Own Story: Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham, which he co-authored with his wife Donna Meade Dean. He passed away in June 2010 at the age of 81.
|Dean as Willard Whyte, next to Sean Connery's Bond in Diamonds Are Forever|
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