December 07, 2015

A Look at a Legend: James Dean


Those smouldering eyes, that chiselled jawline, and unmistakable pout, decorated with a Marlboro red dangling carelessly from its sultry bottom lip. It’s fair to say that James Dean had a ‘look’ like no other star ever to have graced the big screen. But it wasn’t just the enigmatic actor’s beauty that gave him such widespread appeal, and an iconic status that continues to survive as the generations pass.

On and off screen, Dean embodied all of the qualities of the angst-ridden male as well as the rebel hero. His was an image both grown men and confused adolescents could identify with. The external ‘tough guy’ persona combined with a delicate vulnerability underneath also made women go weak at the knees. It was a rare combination for an actor back in the 1950s.

But what most people don’t realise is that this timeless legend was relatively unknown when he was still alive. It was Dean’s premature death, at the age of just 24, which led to his eternal and extraordinary fame.

The Early Years
The son of a dental technician and a farmer’s daughter, James Byron Dean was born on 8 February 1931, in Marion, Indiana. His family moved to Santa Monica, California when he was five but Dean’s mother, Mildred, died of cancer four years later. He was then sent by his father to live with his aunt and uncle on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana, where he was raised in a Quaker society.

At high school in 1945, the young Dean excelled in sports, art, and unsurprisingly, drama. But his acting career didn’t take off until after he graduated and moved back to Los Angeles to live with his father, where he studied drama at UCLA before heading off to New York to pound the pavements of Broadway for two years.

His first role was in the play See the Jaguar followed by a role as a blackmailing Arab in The Immoralist. Even then it was clear Dean was a natural on stage and he won the Daniel Blum Award as the most promising newcomer of 1954. It wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling with his first film role in the 1955 film East of Eden.

The movie – which tells the story of a son who craves the affection of his father against his favoured brother – was an overnight hit. Dean’s acting skills impressed the critics and he was nominated for an Academy Award and also received the first Audience Poll Award for Best Actor in 1955. 

In his second film, Rebel Without a Cause, he played rebellious teenager Jim Stark, alongside Natalie Wood.

A promising star, he sadly only made one more film, Giant, in 1956 with Elizabeth Taylor,(below), and Rock Hudson, before his untimely death. Oddly, it happened the day after filming was completed.



Like the typical rebellious teen he played, Dean had a passion for fast cars. One of his first purchases when he hit the big time was a $7,000 Porsche. During the making of Giant, the studio banned him from doing any racing in his new car. But the day after, on 30 September 1955, Dean immediately set off for one of the year’s biggest racing events. He was going along the highway near Paso Robles, California, when another car collided with his and he was instantly killed.


Because he was already an actor of promise, Dean’s death made headline news. Although only one of his films had been released before his demise, when the other two followed he became something of an enigma – a young man with a captivating presence on screen whom the world would now never really get to know.

Dean was the first ever actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, for his role in East Of Eden in 1955. He also became the only actor to receive two posthumous Academy Award acting nominations, after receiving a second the following year for Giant.

Many images of Dean have graced the covers of books and T-shirts since his death. But the last official photograph of him was actually taken on the day of his fatal car crash. 

The movie legend can be seen looking relaxed and happy in the driver’s seat of his beloved Porsche 550 Spyder with mechanic Rolf Wutherich sitting alongside him on a bright California morning. It is a moving image, with Dean grasping his mechanic’s hand in a gesture of triumph. How could he have known that just days later, his body would be laid to rest in Fairmount, Indiana, near his uncle’s farm where he grew up.

The spot now houses a James Dean memorial sculpture around a ‘tree of heaven’ which features a handwritten description of one of Dean’s favourite lines from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince: ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye’.

By Nilufer Atik
With many thanks to Billionaires Newswire

Picture credit "Little Prince": Pinterest





James Dean (James Franco in James Dean)

James Dean Photographs by Dennis Stock 


James Dean and his cousin Markie at the grave of the actor’s great-grandfather in Fairmount’s Park Cemetery.

Dean returns to the Indiana farm belonging to the aunt and uncle who raised him after his mother died of cancer.

Dean in a scene from Rebel Without a Cause, which was released after his death

In a barber shop near Times Square, New York. ‘He was not at all fastidious about his looks,’ recalls Dennis Stock.

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