DEAR JERRY: In the early 1960s, most of my girl friends were crazy about Ricky, Frankie, and Fabian. But, the teen idol I adored most was Dean Reed. He resembled a young Robert Redford.
Dean didn't have nearly as many hits in America as the others, but he did appear on several Bandstand-type TV shows.
Then he just vanished, and I've never heard a thing about him since.
Plus, we never hear any of his songs on the radio, especially “The Search,” “Our Summer Romance,” and “I Wonder.”
Any idea what happened to Dean Reed?
Clarice Hoover, Racine, Wisc.
DEAR CLARICE: Sorta. Kinda. Maybe.
I am sure of one thing. The correct title of the beautiful ballad you mention is “No Wonder.”
We know Dean picked up the acting bug in 1960 when cast as himself in “Bentley and the Majorette,” an episode of Bachelor Father.
By 1985, Reed had more than two dozen films to his credit, though you probably would not recognize a single title. None were made or even distributed in the U.S.
The astonishing popularity of “Our Summer Romance” in South America in the '60s prompted him to tour there, especially in Chile and Argentina.
He liked the area so much he settled down for a few years in Buenos Aires.
In 1966, Dean jumped the Atlantic, and found his popularity in Europe even greater than in South America.
After touring in dozens of European countries, on both sides of the Berlin Wall, Reed chose Soviet-controlled East Berlin for his permanent home. For the next 20 years, he was often described as the most famous American in that part of the world.
Dean was an admitted follower of Marxism, but some Americans confused his ideology with Communism, and that is a label he categorically refused.
In a 1985 interview he offered this brief explanation:
“Marxism is about each of us helping other human beings. We should give of our love and our resources to help others. That is what a Marxist believes. There's nothing that divides Marxists from Christians. There's much more that unites us than divides us.
“Not all Communists are Marxists, and not all Marxists are Communists.”
In the spring of 1986, Mike Wallace interviewed Reed for a segment on CBS-TV's 60 Minutes. Some of Dean's comments enraged American viewers. Others irritated the Soviets.
Within weeks (June 13, 1986), Dean Cyril Reed's body was found in an East Berlin lake near his home.
What really happened to Dean? An accidental drowning? Suicide? Homicide? Each of these theories is held by one group or another.
Even Reed's family is uncertain, as explained in this letter I received a few years ago from his older brother:
DEAR JERRY: As Dean Reed's brother, I spend a lot of my time correcting incorrect information about him, especially online. And those are just sites in English. Most are either German or Russian, neither of which I understand.
Not that even I know all that much. Though Dean and I were only three years apart in age, we went our separate ways. We did meet every few years and exchanged many letters (no e-mail in those days). We were different in almost everything, especially economics and politics.
Our dad used to tell his three boys about people that “lived fast, died young, and left a beautiful memory.” Well, that was Dean. It is the beautiful memory part I am trying to ensure for him by spreading the truth about him. Though not perfect, he was instrumental in causing the fall of the East German Wall and that is more than most of us accomplish.
For sure he did not throw away his precious American citizenship. He was preparing to return home to Colorado but he must have crossed the Stasi (German Secret Police), the CIA, his wife, or someone. Maybe he fulfilled his purpose in life and decided to call it quits.
Even I do not know how Dean died, but I hope one day to learn the answer.
Dale Reed, Seattle
IZ ZAT SO? Before the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and German unification of the East and West sectors (1990), entering East Berlin could be a cultural shock.
Phil Everly, of the Everly Brothers, recalls arriving to do a concert with Dean Reed:
“It was very depressing. It had me scared when I got off the plane. There was a corrugated steel building, with an armed guard, and all of that. Fortunately I saw Dean waiting for me on the other side.
“Dean was so popular and well-known that the treatment, once you got in there, was phenomenal. Actually, I was scared until I saw him, and I told him that.
“My hotel had a total of only two televisions, but Dean got one of them for me. I picked up a West Berlin channel and watched “Bonanza,” dubbed in German. But it was still something American, and I loved it.
“Politically, Dean and I were far apart. Still, I respected Dean and his views. He had political views that he lived up to.”