8 February 1931 , Marion, Indiana, USA
30 September 1955 , Cholame, California, USA (road accident)
James Dean was born in 1931 and raised on a farm by his aunt and uncle in Fairmount, Indiana. After grade school, he moved to New York to pursue his dream of acting. He received rave reviews for his work as the blackmailing Arab boy in the New York production of Gide's "The Immoralist", good enough to earn him a trip to Hollywood. His early film efforts were strictly bit parts: a sailor in the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis overly frantic musical comedy ¡Vaya par de marinos! (1952); a GI in Samuel Fuller's moody study of a platoon in the Korean War, A bayoneta calada (1951) and a youth in the Piper Laurie-Rock Hudson comedy ¿Has visto a mi chica? (1952).
He had major roles in only three movies. In the Elia Kazan production of John Steinbeck's Al Este del Edén (1955) he played Caleb, the "bad" brother who couldn't force affection from his stiff-necked father. His true starring role, the one which fixed his image forever in American culture, was that of the brooding red-jacketed teenager Jim Stark in Nicholas Ray's Rebelde sin causa (1955). George Stevens' filming of Edna Ferber's Gigante (1956), in which he played the non-conforming cowhand Jett Rink who strikes it rich when he discovers oil, was just coming to a close when Dean, driving his Porsche Spyder race car, collided with another car while on the road near Cholame, California on September 30, 1955. He had received a speeding ticket just two hours before. James Dean was killed almost immediately from the impact from a broken neck. He was 24. His very brief career, violent death and highly publicized funeral transformed him into a cult object of apparently timeless fascination.
Frequently played angry youths
Squinty, sleepy blue eyes
Light brown hair greased back
Impulsive emotional acting style
Known for playing well-meaning but deeply troubled charactersThe red jacket, white T-shirt and blue jeans from Rebelde sin causa (1955)
. Chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#42).
. Ranked #33 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
The famous Failure Analysis Associates, from Menlo Park, California, re-constructed and re-created all details of the accident at the same approximate time on September 30th and have concluded that James Dean was travelling 55 to 56 m.p.h. when the fateful accident occurred, thereby proving he had not been speeding, as rumor had it.
Most of his so-called affairs with various starlets were made up by the Warner Brothers PR. He did have love affairs with Pier Angeli and Liz Sheridan.
He also worked as a "stunt tester" on the game show Beat the Clock (1950), testing the safety of the stunts that some of the studio audience members would later perform. However he proved so agile at completing the stunts that his results couldn't be used to set time limits for contestants to complete them. So he was reluctantly let go.
Interred at Park Cemetery, Fairmount, Indiana, USA.
Reportedly, Dean was very much in love with Pier Angeli and they planned to marry, but her mother blocked the union because Dean wasn't Catholic and she helped arrange Pier's marriage to Vic Damone. Before she committed suicide, Pier wrote that Dean was the only man she had ever really loved.
Briefly studied dance with Katherine Dunham.
Won the Bloom Award as "Best Newcomer" for early Broadway work in "The Immoralist".
He was issued a speeding ticket only two hours and fifteen minutes before his fatal accident.
Eagles penned a lyric about him that went: "Too fast to live, too young to die."
Was the first actor to receive an Academy Award nomination posthumously, for his role in Al Este del Edén (1955). However, he did not win.
Cousin of Marcus Winslow Jr.
Immortalized in 1974 by the song "Rock On" sung by David Essex.
Only actor in history to receive more than one Oscar nomination posthumously.
Pictured on a 32¢ US commemorative postage stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series, originally issued on Monday, June 24th, 1996.
Pledged Sigma Nu fraternity but dropped out of college before being initiated.
As promotion for Rebelde sin causa (1955), Dean filmed an interview with actor Gig Young for the "Behind the Camera" segment of the ABC series "Warner Bros. Presents" in July 1955. Dean told Young, "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 concluded the interview, "Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be mine." Dean died soon afterward and the interview was never aired.
Donald Turnupseed, the driver of the other car involved in Dean's accident, died of cancer in 1995. Turnupseed couldn't swerve out of the way of Dean's Porsche Spyder, but he successfully swerved journalists who frequently pestered him for interviews about the accident.
He is one of several famous and tragic figures from history to be featured on the front and back sleeves of rock band Marillion's "Clutching at Straws" album, released in 1987.
Al Este del Edén (1955) was the only one of the three movies in which he had major roles to be released while he was alive.
One of only four male actors to be posthumously nominated for an Oscar as best actor in a leading role. The others were Spencer Tracy, Peter Finch, and Massimo Troisi.
Contrary to popular belief, Dean's middle name was not taken from Lord Byron, but from a relative, "Byron" Dean.
During the filming of Gigante (1956), he and Rock Hudson did not get along. This tension heightened their on-screen clashes. However, according to Hudson's ex-wife Phyllis Gates, he cried after hearing the news of Dean's death. Gates wrote, "Rock couldn't be reached. He was overcome by guilt and shame, almost as though he himself had killed James Dean."
At the time of his death, Dean did not leave behind a will, so most of his possessions went to his father, Winton Dean, whose relationship with him was distant at best.
In her book "Dizzy and Jimmy", Liz Sheridan claims she and Dean were engaged.
Dean's acting breakthrough came on Broadway in the drama "See the Jaguar", despite its run of less than a week (only 4 days).
Referenced by name in the John Mellencamp song "Jack and Diane".
He was voted the 22nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Was a graduate from Santa Monica College, a California junior college that boasts its elite drama program. Went on to UCLA but left after appearing in one stage production, as Malcolm in "Macbeth", as he was anxious to get his acting career started.
According to "The Mutant King", David Dalton's 1974 biography of James Dean, the rumor that Dean was a masochist who liked to have cigarettes stubbed out on his naked body can be traced to a pencil sketch of his called "The Human Ash Tray". The sketch featured a human body, in the guise of an ash tray, with many cigarette stubs in it. Dalton speculates that the sketch has nothing to do with Dean's sexual proclivities but much to do with the fact that he was a heavy smoker.
Marlon Brando, in his 1994 autobiography "Songs My Mother Taught Me", says that Dean, who idolized him, based his acting on him and his lifestyle on what he thought Brando's lifestyle was.
Elia Kazan, in his 1988 autobiography "A Life", says that during the production of Al Este del Edén (1955), he had to have Dean move into a bungalow near his on the Warner Bros. lot to keep an eye on him, so wild was his nightlife.
Director Elia Kazan did not believe that Dean would have been able to sustain the momentum of his career. He felt that Dean's career, had he lived, would have sputtered out, as he was not well-trained and relied too much on his instincts, as opposed to his idol Marlon Brando, who, contrary to what people believed, had been very well-trained by his acting teacher Stella Adler and relied on that training to create his characters.
His favorite book was "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
He was voted the 30th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.
Was named #18 greatest actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends list by the American Film Institute.
Loved playing practical jokes on friends and reading.
Hilary Duff's 2005 "Most Wanted" album includes the song "Mr. James Dean", which is all about him.
Is one of the many movie stars mentioned in Madonna's song "Vogue"
Had a fondness for auto racing and had purchased the 1955 Porsche Spyder sports car, one of only 90 made of that year model, planning to participate in the upcoming races in Salinas, CA on Oct 1, 1955.
He was descended largely from early British settlers to America.
One of the many personalities mentioned in Billy Joel's song "We Didn't Start the Fire" (1989).
Received posthumous Oscar nominations for his his first and last ever screen performances: Al Este del Edén (1955) and Gigante (1956).
Aping Marlon Brando, he also bought a Triumph motorcycle. Instead of Brando's 650cc 6T Thunderbird model, which he used in the film, Salvaje (1953), he bought the smaller 500cc TR5 Trophy model. This Triumph featured in a famous series of photographs by Phil Stern, the motorcycle itself being recovered, restored and currently displayed at the "James Dean Museum" in Fairmount, Indiana.
Lost his two front teeth in a motorcycle accident in his youth.
President Ronald Reagan referred to Dean as "America's Rebel".
His tastes in music were eclectic. He liked African Tribal music and Afro-Cuban music, as well as classical (Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky); jazz/blues(Billie Holiday) and pop (Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra). His favorite song was Billie Holiday's "When Your Lover Has Gone" and his favorite album was Sinatra's "Songs for Young Lovers".
His first professional acting gig was in a Coca-Cola commercial, handing out bottles of Coke to teenagers who were riding a merry-go-round.
His final screen test for Al Este del Edén (1955) was shot with Paul Newman, who also was in the final running for one of the roles. Originally, director Elia Kazan had considered casting Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift in the roles of the two brothers, but they were too old to play teenagers as they were both in the their 30s in 1954. Newman's age, 29, also put him at a disadvantage. Dean, 23 years old and Richard Davalos, aged 19, were cast as the fraternal twins.
At the time of his death, Dean was signed to appear in Marcado por el odio (1956) at MGM and El zurdo (1958) at Warner Bros. Both parts subsequently were taken by Paul Newman and helped make him a star. Newman's career may very well have been retarded if Dean had lived as, while still alive, they competed for the same roles (Al Este del Edén (1955)).
Signed a nine-picture, $1-million deal with Warner Bros. before his death. He did not live long enough to honor it.
Like his hero Marlon Brando (Dean had been separated from his own father as a child and was distant from him. Brando apparently served as a role model for Dean) Dean wanted to write. He told gossip columnist Hedda Hopper that writing was his supreme ambition.
According to Marlon Brando, Dean would often call him, leaving messages with Brando's answering service. Brando would sometimes listen, silently, as Dean instructed the service to have Brando call back. Brando, disturbed that Dean was copying his life-style (motorcyle, bongo drums) and acting techniques, did not return his calls. The two met at least three times: on the set of Al Este del Edén (1955); on the set of Desirée (1954) and at a party, where Brando took Dean aside and told him he had emotional problems that required psychiatric attention.
While a struggling actor in the 1950s, he once lived at 19 West 68th Street, off Manhattan's Central Park West.
Was good friends with Martin Landau.
His performance as Jim Stark in Rebelde sin causa (1955) is ranked #43 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
Just before his death, his agent, Jane Deacy, negotiated a 9-picture deal over 6 years with Warner Bros. worth $900,000. Dean's next project was to be a television version for NBC of Emlyn Williams' play "The Corn is Green", in which he was to star with Judith Anderson. His next film was to be Marcado por el odio (1956), a biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano, for which Warners were loaning him to MGM and in which he was replaced by Paul Newman. Newman also replaced him in the role of Billy the Kid in El zurdo (1958). Three other roles with which he was being linked were the leads in Una pistola para un cobarde (1957), This Angry Age (1957) and La gata sobre el tejado de zinc (1958).
Was Oscar nominated in two-thirds of his films, a record which will probably never be bettered.
Known to have loved animals as he spoke fondly of being raised around cows, pigs and chickens when he was young. He also was given a Siamese kitten named Marcus as gift by Elizabeth Taylor.
Was terribly near-sighted and wore thick glasses when not on screen.
Referenced by name in the Skid Row song, "Forever" ("wild cigarettes like James Dean").
Was biggest idol of Elvis Presley.
Mentioned in Don McLean's hit song "American Pie".
Was originally considered for the leading role in Oklahoma! (1955).
His closest and most intimate friend for the last five years of his life was William Bast.
Much like Dean himself was with Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley emulated and idolized James Dean. He would talk to friends for hours about his reverence for Dean, and got into acting as a way of following in Dean's footsteps. He confessed to his friends and close ones that Dean had the acting career he always wanted.
His father inherited his estate, which was valued at the time of his death at $96,438.44 after taxes. The bulk of the estate came from his life insurance policy as well as $6,750 in insurance claims from his Porsche Spyder. His checking account had a balance of $3,256.48.
While filming El cisne (1956) in Hollywood, Alec Guinness he met James Dean, just days before the young actor's death. Sir Alec later recalled predicting that Dean would die in a car crash: when Dean showed Guinness his newly-bought Porsche, Guinness advised him to "Get rid of that car, or you'll be dead in a week!" Guinness unfortunately proved right.
At the time of his death, he was signed to play in "The Battler" on the Playwrights '56 (1955) television series. The role went instead to Paul Newman.
'Rolf Weütherich', the German auto mechanic who was riding with Dean in the passenger seat during his fatal auto crash, was thrown from the car by the impact and received multiple injuries. After Dean's death, he fell into a depression from the trauma of the incident and made several suicide attempts. He died in Germany in 1981 in an auto accident similar to the one that James Dean died in.
Mentor and friend of Dennis Hopper.
One of only six actors to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his first screen appearance. The other five actors are: Orson Welles, Lawrence Tibbett, Alan Arkin, Paul Muni and Montgomery Clift.
Is referenced in the Lady Gaga song Speechless, "I can't believe how you looked at me with your James Dean glossy eyes".
According to Dennis Hopper, he once threatened to kill a director with a switchblade.
According to Elizabeth Taylor, Dean was molested consistently by a trusted clergy member at the age of 11 years and in a state of having been bereft of his mother.
Mentioned in the song "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed.
Former lover William Bast wrote a book about their relationship titled "Surviving James Dean".
Was very close friends with Elizabeth Taylor.
Lived in Los Angeles from the ages of 6 to 9 before his mother's death.
He had originally majored in pre-Law but switched to Drama, which angered his father.
Was a mediocre student in high school although he was a very popular athlete.
He suffered from very erratic mood swings and it is believed that he may have had undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder.
Madonna's song "Jimmy Jimmy" from her True Blue album was written in his honor.
He did a promo for Highway Safety on TVs "Warner Bros Presents"(1955), just prior to his death. His last line, "The life you save could be mine".
One version of how Dean acquired the nickname Little Bastard was that Warner Bros. stunt driver Bill Hickman , who was known as 'Big Bastard', bestowed it on him. But another more vouched for version is that studio boss Jack Warner once referred to Dean as a 'little bastard' after the young star had refused to give up his trailer parked on the temporary spot assigned it during production of Al Este del Edén (1955).
In 1952 when Dean and two friends hitchhiked to Indiana, Clyde McCullough, catcher for the Major League Pittsburgh Pirates gave them a ride from the end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Des Moines, where he was scheduled to play and exhibition game.
His headstone was stolen twice but recovered.
At the time of his death, Dean was set to star in Marcado por el odio (1956) at MGM, a loan-out from his home studio Warner Bros. ironically in exchange for Elizabeth Taylor's services in Dean's last film Gigante (1956).
Actor James Whitmore, whose class Dean was attending recommended to the actor that he apply to th Actor's Studio. Among his friends at the studio were Roddy McDowall, Vivian Nathan, and David Stewart.
Ironically on the night Dean was killed, four of his co-stars: Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, Nick Adams, and Dick Davalos, were all having dinner together in New York. The conversation turned to Dean, his new Porsche, and speculation that his speeding would cause him to have an accident during the coming year.
His three well-known film characters in Rebelde sin causa (1955), Al Este del Edén (1955) and Gigante (1956) share some odd similarities. The full name of all of his three roles are formed by eight letters (Jim Stark, Cal Trask and Jett Rink); all of them are finished with a 'K'; and two of them have a surname with the exact same letters (Stark and Trask).
Was a skilled painter and excelled in art class.
Ironically, he said on numerous occasions that he did not expect to live past the age of 30.
Before his acting career took off, Dean would often sleep in his car if he couldn't afford rent.
Had an interest in bullfighting.
Personal Quotes (26)
Only the gentle are ever really strong.
Gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.
Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.
An actor must interpret life and, in order to do so, must be willing to accept all the experiences life has to offer. In fact, he must seek out more of life than life puts at his feet. In the short span of his lifetime, an actor must learn all there is to know, experience all there is to experience, or approach that state as closely as possible. He must be superhuman in his efforts to store away in the core of his subconscious everything that he might be called upon to use in the expression of his art.
It was an accident, although I've been involved in some kind of theatrical function or other since I was a child: in school, music, athletics. To me, acting is the most logical way for people's neuroses to manifest themselves, in this great need we all have to express ourselves. To my way of thinking, an actor's course is set even before he's out of the cradle.
To grasp the full significance of life is the actor's duty; to interpret it his problem and to express it his dedication. Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. You are all alone with your concentration and imagination, and that's all you have. Being a good actor isn't easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I'm done.
Studying cows, pigs and chickens can help an actor develop his character. There are a lot of things I learned from animals. One was that they couldn't hiss or boo me. I also became close to nature and am now able to appreciate the beauty with which this world is endowed.
[when told he was too short to be an actor] How can you measure acting in inches?
[to Hedda Hopper] Trust and belief are two prime considerations. You must not allow yourself to be opinionated. You must say, "Wait. Let me see". And above all, you must be honest with yourself.
When an actor plays a scene exactly the way a director orders, it isn't acting. It's following instructions. Anyone with the physical qualifications can do that. So the director's task is just that to direct, to point the way. Then the actor takes over. And he must be allowed the space, the freedom to express himself in the role. Without that space, an actor is no more than an unthinking robot with a chest-full of push-buttons.
I'm not going to go through life with one arm tied behind my back.
If a man can bridge the gap between life and death ... I mean, if he can live on after his death, then maybe he was a great man.
[on acting] You can do Hamlet while performing cartwheels . . . as long as the audience sees your eyes - you can make the performance real.
(When speaking to a friend) Death can't be considered, because if you're afraid to die there's no room in your life to make discoveries.
I think I am gong to make it because on one hand I am like Clift saying help me and of the other hand I am Brando saying, 'Screw you!', and somewhere in between is 'James Dean'.
I think the prime reason for existence, for living in this world, is discovery.
Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. You are all alone with your concentration and imagination, and that's all you have.
My purpose in life does not include a hankering to charm society.
The cinema is a very truthful medium because the camera doesn't let you get away with anything. On stage you can even loaf a little, if you're so inclined.
To me, acting is the most logical way for people's neuroses to manifest themselves.
[Being asked about his sexual orientation] No, I am not a homosexual. But, I'm also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.
[on the risk of racing cars] What better way to die? It's fast and clean and you go out in a blaze of glory!
The only greatness for man is immortality.
There is no way to be truly great in this world. We are all impaled on the crook of conditioning.
You can't show some far off idyllic conception of behavior if you want the kids to come and see the picture. You've got to show what it's really like, and try to reach them on their own grounds.[on raising children and teenagers] I think the one thing this picture shows that's new is the psychological disproportion of the kids' demands on the parents. Parents are often at fault, but the kids have some work to do, too.