Although James Dean only made three movies much can be said about his life. He put so much into those three movies that they live on today. Cal Trask, Jim Stark and Jett Rink are the characters James Dean brought to life on the screen in electrifying performances. He studied method acting at The Actors Studio and was often compared to Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando. With the release of Rebel Without a Cause he became a cultural icon. James Dean is the only actor in history to receive more than one Oscar nomination posthumously. East of Eden was the only movie to be released while Dean was still alive. He loved to race cars, play the bongos and loved life.
Dean had several television appearances in shows like Hill Number One (1951), I Am a Fool (1954) with Natalie Wood, The Bells of Cockaigne (1953) The Thief (1955) and the Unlighted Road (1955). His first television appearance was in a Pepsi Cola commercial.
Thanks to his role in the Broadway show The Immoralist, Hollywood came calling. His first role of Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955) had him stealing scenes from Raymond Massey. Dean improvised many of his scenes. In one such scene Cal’s father rejects money he has made in the bean business. Instead of walking away as the scene called for, Cal emotionally embraces his father. Elia Kazan kept this scene in the film. The film also co-stars Julie Harris and Richard Davalos.
James Dean became the quintessential 1950s teenager with Rebel Without a Cause (1955). It was a movie many of the teenagers at the time could relate to. Dean played troubled teen Jim Stark. The movie features a chickie run and a knife fight with switchblades. Co-stars in Rebel also include Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Corey Allen, Dennis Hopper, Jim Backus and Ann Doran.
James Dean’s final film was Giant were he portrayed Jett Rink. In the scenes Dean is in he steals them all. Whether it was walking off his little piece of land or playing with a lariat. Giant also stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Dennis Hopper was also in this epic movie.
In 1955 Dean went home to Fairmount one last time with photographer Dennis Stock in tow. Stock photographed Dean on the Winslow farm and around Fairmount.
Live Fast Die Young
In September 1955 Dean made a safety commercial with Gig Young. He said, “I used to fly around quite a bit, you know, I took a lot of unnecessary chances on the highway. Now when I drive on the highway, I’m extra cautious.” When asked if he had advice for young drivers, Dean said, “Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be mine.”
On September 30, 1955 on the way to a race in Salinas, California, Dean in his Porsche 550 Spyder was traveling on Route 466 when a Ford Tudor started to turn left off the highway. The Porsche hit the Ford. His mechanic was thrown from the car but Dean was pinned inside. He died instantly and an icon was born. A few hours before Dean had been ticketed for speeding. However I don’t believe he was speeding at the time of the accident.
The James Dean Gallery is located in James Dean’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana. It houses the largest collection of memorabilia by archivist David Loehr. David is a kind and generous man. Thank you for sharing your memorabilia with thousands of fans who stop by the gallery each year.
James Dean may be gone but his image is everywhere on T-shirts, mugs, posters and even a postage stamp.