'Monkeemobile' Creator Dean Jeffries Dies

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
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Steve Marcus

Dean Jeffries, the car customizer who created the "Monkeemobile" for The Monkees TV show, "Black Beauty" for The Green Hornet and who painted two famous words on actor James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder, died last weekend at his Hollywood home. He was 80. A son says Jeffries died in his sleep.

As NPR's Nina Gregory tells our Newscast Desk, Jeffries was a legend of California car culture. Jeffries' website says he began by "pinstriping cars with the legendary Von Dutch in Lynwood, California, in the early 1950s. Jeffries' pinstriping lead to custom painting, and then to custom fabrication."

It was "while filming Rebel Without A Cause," Jalopnik writes, that James Dean "upgraded from the 356 to the 550 Spyder and decided that he wanted to make it uniquely his. Dean called upon George Barris, of movie car fame, to customize the Porsche. [Barris] gave it tartan seats, two red stripes over the rear wheels and plastered the number '130' on its doors, hood and engine cover. The name 'Little Bastard' ... was later painted on the car by master pinstriper, Dean Jeffries."

Stunt driver Bill Hickman (famous for his work in movies such as Bullitt and The French Connection) has been credited with giving Dean the "little bastard" nickname. Jeffries put the words on the Spyder's tail. On Sept. 30, 1955, less than a month after the words were painted on, according to the Los Angeles Times, Dean crashed the car and died at age 24.

Jeffries would later work on vehicles for stars including Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen and Jay Leno. He would become famous for his TV cars. The Times says that "Jeffries created the sleek 'Black Beauty' from a 1966 Chrysler Imperial for The Green Hornet TV series. The Monkeemobile, a modified 1966 Pontiac GTO convertible, was built in just 10 days."

He was also, according to his website, "enamored with the Indianapolis 500, where he crewed for many years for the legendary A.J. Foyt. Jeffries also painted many of the Indy 500 entries, and in fact one year painted 22 of the 33 starters in the field."

The news of Jeffries' death means there have been two Hollywood passings of note this week: "Ray Harryhausen, Master Of Stop-Motion Animation, Dies."

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