Barris Vs. Jeffries
At the GNRS earlier this year, Rod Powell introduced me to Dean Jeffries. He was exactly as every one says he is – down to earth, sharp, and just flat out interesting. At the time, Dean was really excited about his book that was just about to be released to the public – “Dean Jeffries: 50 Fabulous Years In Hot Rods, Racing & Film” by Tom Cotter. He had a copy on hand and I was able to take a long enough glance to know it was one for the bookshelf. I wrote a note.
Upon returning home from the show, I noticed a package from Motorbooks sitting on my desk. Sure enough, it was Dean’s book. I read it cover-to-cover and was really impressed with the job Cotter and his crew did. The layout of the book is gorgeous, the writing is perfectly light, and the photography collection is nothing short of damned impressive. If you are into Dean’s work or customs in general, this book is probably a must have for you.
The stories make it for me… And one of those stories covers the relationship between George Barris and
Dean Jeffries. It’s common knowledge that George got Dean into the business (among many others), but their relationship ended on a sour note and the two have never really recovered. Here’s how Tom put it into words:
Bring up the name George Barris to Jeffries, and his reaction is so intense and emotional that you can almost see the hairs on the back of his neck raise. Even though the two once worked side by side, they’ve had a personal and professional rivalry for the past four decades.
Jeffries’ beef with Barris is based on his belief that Barris has taken credit for custom cars that Jeffries had in fact built.
“Barris ended up buying one of the two Monkeemobiles I built,” said Jeffries, as he cites just one example. “Then he went to the people who make toys and models and hustled them into taking my name off the boxes and putting his name on. And inside the boxes, it says he built the car!”
“So I went to my attorneys and wanted to fight it, but they said I would shell out a whole lot of money and I’d fight, fight, fight and barely get a dollar for it. [My attorney] said, “Don’t mess with it,” because Barris would just turn around and do it again.”
The book goes on to describe a few other instances in which Barris allegedly wronged Jeffries – at public auctions, in magazine articles, etc… Cotter even went so far as to seek out others opinions and get quotes. One of those was from Junior Conway – famed customizer and Barris employee from 1955 to 1961.
“I think it’s terrible,” Conway said. “For George to do what he’s doing is wrong. George Barris doesn’t need to take credit for anyone else’s work. At 82, he’s done enough to get his own accolades.”
“It’s sad because I look at George as a father. I have a hard time beating up on him, but he’s really and totally unfair at what he does.”
“And Jeffries painted ‘Little Bastard’ on the back of James Dean’s Porsche, no matter what Barris says.
Of course, Cotter also attempted to get Barris’ side of the story as well. He wasn’t willing to be interviewed initially, but eventually did have a short sit down for the book. You’ll have to get your own copy to read his reaction.
My own reaction? I’m not old enough to really have one. At 33 years old, I wasn’t around then and even now don’t really know the players. That said, it all reminds me of something a fairly smart French guy once said:
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Editor’s note: I just noticed this book is almost $14 cheaper at Amazon. Check it out.