No one has ever been so cool as James Dean.
The young actor embodied a sense of turmoil, rebellion and alienation that has never been reproduced.
Dean made his mark in a remarkably short span of time, dying at just 24 in a terrible car accident.
He’s only made three major films – as an unloved son in the family drama East of Eden, a provocative teenager in Rebel without cause, and a tough Texan ranch Giant – and exploded into Hollywood stardom.
He had a brooding sensuality, a boastful air, a sense of daring, an aura of confusion and thoughtfulness towards him. With his signature t-shirt, jeans and leather motorcycle jacket, his sense of style seems everlasting.
“Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world,” he once said. “You are on your own with your focus and your 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.”
Stacker has compiled 25 facts about the life of James Dean that you might not know, from media accounts, movie archives, historical stories, and fan websites.
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1931: Born in Indiana
James Byron Dean was born February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana, where he spent his childhood on a farm. Her mother was Mildred Marie (née Wilson) and her father, Winton Dean, was a farmer who later became a dental technician.
1940s: California and back to Indiana
Dean’s family moved to California, where his mother died of cancer when he was nine. He returned to Indiana, where he was raised by an aunt and uncle, who were Quakers.
1940s: losing your teeth
Dean’s two front teeth were fake, thanks to a childhood accident in Indiana. He knocked them out while swinging on a trapeze in a barn at his aunt and uncle’s house. He will later say that he lost them in a motorcycle accident.
1940s: high school athlete and pole vault champion
Dean was a star athlete at his high school in Indiana. He played basketball and baseball, and he also did track and field. He set the county pole vault record before graduating in 1949.
1949: graduation from high school
At Fairmount High School in Indiana, Dean was involved in theater as well as sports. He won a statewide competition for “Dramatic Declamation” reading an article written by Charles Dickens. He pronounced the blessing at his graduation ceremony.
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1949: attended university in California
Dean returned to California after graduating from high school. He enrolled in Santa Monica College in 1949, studying pre-law to satisfy his father. But he took acting lessons and workshops at UCLA, where he played Malcolm in Macbeth.
1950: Do stunts for “Beat the Clock”
In California, Dean had a job as a “stunt tester” on a game show for the TV contest. Beat time. He was supposed to test out the stunts that studio audience members would be asked to perform. He was found to be so good at performing the stunts that his results were not useful in predicting audience skills, and he was released.
1950-51: Pepsi commercials and Easter TV special
In 1950, Dean appeared twice as appearing in Pepsi-Cola commercials. The producer of the commercials also asked him to play the role of Saint John the Apostle in an Easter television special, “Hill Number One”, which aired in 1951.
Early 1950s: Living and Playing in New York
Dean moved to New York City, where he studied at the Actor’s Studio run by drama teacher Lee Strasberg. The actor landed a few roles in New York theatrical productions and then in Hollywood, where he had a small role as a sailor in the comedy of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Beware of sailors, as a soldier during the Korean War in Fixed bayonets! and as a teenager in Has anyone seen my daughter with Rock Hudson.
1955: in competition for “East of Eden”
In screen tests for Dean’s breakout movie East of Eden in 1955, Paul Newman had also been a candidate for the film, but director Elia Kazan ultimately decided Newman was too old. Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift were also in consideration to play the two brothers at the center of the film, who were once again dismissed as too old. The roles were Dean, 23, and Richard Davalos, 19.
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1955: A leading role and a nod to the Oscars
Director Elia Kazan has chosen Dean, an unknown, to play Cal Trask in East of Eden, adapted from the 1952 novel of the same name written by author John Steinbeck. Dean turned out to be a star and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance.
1955: Clash with co-star Raymond Massey
In his 1988 autobiography, director Elia Kazan wrote about how Raymond Massey disliked Dean, who played his son in East of Eden. Massey was extremely religious and Dean provoked him, and the young actor often didn’t know his lines. The director wrote that he used the tension between the two for dramatic effect when making the film.
1955: Not so calm on the set
During the filming of East of Eden, director Elia Kazan worried about Dean’s unruly behavior. Kazan asked Dean to share an apartment with his co-star Richard Davalos. When that failed to subdue him, Kazan brought Dean to life in a dressing room on the Warners Bros. field. and moved into an adjoining room.
1955: fall in love
Dean fell in love with Italian actress Pier Angeli, whom he met while visiting Paul Newman on a film set. Apparently, Angeli’s mother didn’t want the two to marry because Dean wasn’t Catholic, and the actress married Vic Damone. Many of Dean’s high-profile love stories were actually inventions of Warner Bros.
1955: A stopper
A switchblade used by Dean in a Rebel without cause Knife fight scene was auctioned in 2015 for $ 12,000. In the fight scene, Dean and actor Corey Allen used real switchblades and they wore chain mail vests under their clothes for protection.
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1955: Prohibition to participate in road races
Dean started participating in road races, using his movie earnings to buy a Porsche and a motorcycle. When he was filming Giant, his contract specifically stated that he could not run until it was finished.
1955: Fatal accident on the road
Dean was driving his Porsche 550 Spyder on US Highway 466 in California with a friend, heading for a car race on September 30, 1955, when he was killed in a head-on collision with a 1950 Ford Tudor, driven by Donald Turnupseed , a 23-year-old Student. Dean had been cited by police for speeding earlier in the day.
1955: almost instantaneous death
Dean suffered a broken neck in the fatal accident and died almost instantly. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital.
1955: Dean’s passenger is injured but survives
Rolf Weütherich, a German auto mechanic and race car driver, was Dean’s passenger in the fateful 1955 collision. He suffered multiple injuries. He then suffered from depression and attempted suicide several times. He died in a car accident in 1981.
1955: A funeral attended by thousands of people
Dean’s funeral was held at Fairmount Friends Church in Fairmount, Indiana, where 2,400 fans gathered outside. He is buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, not far from his aunt and uncle’s farm. His gravestone has been stolen twice.
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1955: A contract for nine films left behind
Dean had signed a nine-movie, six-year, $ 1 million deal with Warner Bros. His next projects were to be a TV version of the play on NBC. Corn is green and a Rocky Graziano biopic titled Someone up there loves me.
1956: Shooting with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor
When making Giant, Dean didn’t get along well with Rock Hudson, who played a wealthy rancher. But the young star became a close friend of Elizabeth Taylor, who gave her a Siamese kitten named Marcus. After Dean’s death, Taylor was absent from the set and hospitalized with depression.
1956: the roles return to Paul Newman
With the loss of Dean, Warner Bros. signed Newman for the role in Someone up there loves me. Newman also filled Dean’s intended role as Billy the Kid in the 1958 film. The left-handed pistol.
1956: posthumous Oscar nominations
Dean was the first actor to be nominated, posthumously, for his role in the 1955 film. East of Eden. He was also nominated after his death for his role in the 1956 film Giant.
1960: A star on Hollywood Boulevard
Dean received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. The California highway near Cholame where Dean was killed has since been hijacked, and the actual crash site is now an open field. In Fairmount, Indiana, about an hour’s drive north of Indianapolis, a museum houses many of the star’s belongings, including her homework, clothes, movie props, and two of her motorcycles.
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