James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American film actor. He is a cultural icon, best embodied in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled teenager Jim Stark. Though he only starred in 3 films, his premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status.
Released less than a month after his death, Dean's second major film, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), is the story of Jim Stark, a new kid in town who hopes to find the love he doesn't get at home among new friends but seems to find only trouble.
"Oh, boy," Depp responded when told of such sentiments. "I think if a lot of actors think he's overrated, they have to go back and look at some of the stuff he did."
James Dean's last interview - Warner Bros. Presents (1955) [sub ITA]
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But for those growing up in the the 1950s, when many young people felt alienated and frustrated with the apparent hypocrisy of their elders, James Dean proved to be that elusive archetype.
Dean lives today because, in a remarkably brief span of time, he created a new and still very modern kind of hero--the nakedly sensitive, beleaguered youth whose need to feel what others choose to ignore or forget is the ultimate source of his strength.
In his last film he let us see him not as a beautiful, disturbed, narcissistic youth, but as an actor who was starting to grow up. When his car crashed James Dean was still, in the finest American tradition, learning on the job, making himself up as he went along. The pity is that he, and we, never got to find out if he had more in him than his myth.
Dean had bought a Porsche Spyder, which he planned to race in Salinas, California. On September 30, he and his mechanic, Rolf Wuetherich, were involved in a head-on collision at Paso Robles, California. Dean died in the crash. He was buried in Fairmount, Indiana, on October 8, 1955. Three thousand people attended his funeral.
James Dean starred in just three major movies, more than half a century ago. But his presence was so magnetic, his skill so unique, that he remains one of our culture's most enduring icons.
Less than a month later, Rebel Without a Cause opened in New York City and the Dean legend began. Warner Brothers received mountains of mail. Young people all over the world considered Dean a symbol of their frustrations. In 1956 he was nominated for Best Actor Oscars for his roles in East of Eden and Giant.
On 8 March, 1954, Dean left New York City and headed for Los Angeles to begin shooting 'East of Eden'. Much of Dean's performance in the film is completely unscripted, and he received a posthumous Best Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award nomination for this role, the first posthumous acting nomination in Academy Awards’ history.
After graduating from high school, he returned to California where he attended Santa Monica Junior College and UCLA. James Dean began acting with James Whitmore's acting workshop, appeared in occasional television commercials, and played several roles in films and on stage. In the winter of 1951, he took Whitmore's advice and moved to New York to pursue a serious acting career.
The family spent some years there, and by all accounts Dean was very close to his mother. He attended Brentwood Public School until his mother died of cancer in 1940. It’s been said that Dean's moodiness and antisocial behaviour is attributed to her loss.
Although he was fast becoming a Hollywood star when he was alive, he was elevated to cult status after his death.
"I saw the scene where James Dean goes to bring the money on the birthday, and his father says to him it's not good enough, and he has the breakdown. That was so painful to watch, and it was so real to me, that I knew that acting was what I wanted to do. It affected me more than any song or painting or TV show."
Imagining an alternative history in which Dean is now a Hollywood elder statesman, it shows the Rebel Without a Cause star on his family ranch, racing his own-brand sports car and receiving a lifetime achievement Oscar.