James Dean

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James Dean, US Actor

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James Dean and Sal Mineo

James Byron Dean (8 Feb 1931 – 30 Sep 1955) was a two-time Oscar-nominated American film actor. Dean's status as a cultural icon is best embodied in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause, in which he starred as troubled high school rebel Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his star power were as the awkward loner Cal Trask in East of Eden, and as the surly farmer Jett Rink in Giant. His enduring fame and popularity rests on only three films, his entire starring output. His death at a young age helped guarantee a legendary status. He was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only person to have two posthumous acting nominations (although other people had more than one posthumous nomination in other Oscar categories).


Early life

James Dean was born to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson Dean at the "Seven Gables" apartment house, at the intersection of 4th and McClure Streets in Marion, Indiana. Six years after his father had left farming to become a dental technician, James and his family moved to Santa Monica, California. The family spent some years there, and by all accounts young Jimmy was very close to his mother. According to Michael DeAngelis, she was "the only person capable of understanding him".(Michael DeAngelis, Gay Fandom and Crossover Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves (Duke University Press, 2001), p.97,) He was enrolled in Brentwood Public School in Los Angeles County, California until his mother died of cancer in 1940.

Unable to care for his nine-year-old son, Winton Dean sent the young James to live with Winton's sister Ortense and her husband Marcus Winslow on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana, where he entered high school and was brought up with a Quaker background. Here Dean sought the counsel of, and formed an enduring friendship with, Methodist pastor Rev. James DeWeerd. DeWeerd seemed to have had a formative influence upon the teenager, especially upon his future interests in bullfighting, car racing, and the theater. According to Billy J. Harbin, "Dean had an intimate relationship with his pastor... which began in his senior year of high school and 'endured for many years.'"

For more details concerning this homosexual relationship, see Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra and Robert A. Schanke, eds., The Gay And Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary Of Major Figures In American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era (University of Michigan Press, 2005), 133. See also Joe and Jay Hyams, James Dean: Little Boy Lost (1992), p.20, who present an account alleging Dean's molestation as a teenager by his early mentor DeWeerd and describe it as Dean's first homosexual encounter (although DeWeerd himself portrayed his relationship with Dean as a completely conventional one).

In high school, Dean's overall performance was mediocre, but he successfully played on the baseball and basketball team and studied public speaking and drama. After graduating from Fairmount High School on 16 May 1949, Dean moved back to California with his beagle, Max, to live with his father and step-mother. He enrolled in Santa Monica College, majoring in pre-law. Dean transferred to UCLA and changed his major to drama, which resulted in estrangement from his father. He pledged the Sigma Nu fraternity but was never initiated. While at UCLA, he beat out 350 actors to land the role of Malcolm in Macbeth. At that time, he also began acting with James Whitmore's acting workshop. In January 1951, he dropped out of college to pursue a career as an actor.

Acting career

Dean initially had little success in Hollywood, then got his first acting job in a Pepsi Cola television commercial.(Youtube: 1950 Pepsi commercial) He quit college to act full time and was cast as John the Beloved Disciple in "Hill Number One", an Easter television special, and three walk-on roles in movies, Fixed Bayonets, Sailor Beware, and Has Anybody Seen My Gal. His only speaking part was in Sailor Beware, a Paramount Pictures comedy starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; Dean played a boxing trainer. While struggling to get jobs in Hollywood, Dean also worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios, during which time he met Rogers Brackett, a radio director for an advertising agency, who offered Dean professional help and guidance in his chosen career, as well as a place to stay.(Bast, W., Surviving James Dean, New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2006, On Dean's relationship with Brackett, see also Hyams, James Dean: Little Boy Lost, p.79.)

In October 1951, following actor James Whitmore's and his mentor Rogers Brackett's advice, Dean moved to New York City. In New York he worked as a stunt tester for the Beat the Clock game show. He also appeared in episodes of several CBS television series, The Web, Studio One, and Lux Video Theater, before gaining admission to the legendary Actor's Studio to study "Method acting" under Lee Strasberg. Proud of this accomplishment, Dean referred to the Studio in a 1952 letter to his family as "The greatest school of the theater. It houses great people like Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Arthur Kennedy, Mildred Dunnock.... Very few get into it... It is the best thing that can happen to an actor. I am one of the youngest to belong."(Surviving James Dean). His career picked up and he performed in further episodes of such early 1950s television shows as Kraft Television Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger and General Electric Theater. One early role, for the CBS series, Omnibus, (Glory in the Flower) saw Dean portraying the same type of disaffected youth he would later immortalize in Rebel Without a Cause (this summer, 1953 program was also notable for featuring the song "Crazy Man, Crazy", one of the first dramatic TV programs to feature rock and roll music). Positive reviews for his 1954 theatrical role as "Bachir", a pandering North African houseboy, in an adaptation of André Gide's book The Immoralist, led to calls from Hollywood.(Reise, R. The Unabridged James Dean, 1991)

East of Eden

In 1953, director Elia Kazan was looking for an actor to play the role of "Cal Trask" in screenwriter Paul Osborn's adaptation of John Steinbeck's 1952 novel East of Eden. The book dealt with the story of the Trask and Hamilton families over the course of three generations, focusing especially on the lives of the latter two generations in Salinas Valley, California in the mid-1800s through the 1910s. However, the film chose to deal predominantly with the character of Cal Trask, who is essentially the rebel son of a pious and constantly disapproving father (played by Raymond Massey), and estranged mother, whom Cal discovers is a brothel-keeping madam (Jo Van Fleet).

Elia Kazan said of Cal before casting, "I wanted a Brando for the role." Osborn suggested to Kazan that he consider Dean for the part. After introducing Dean to Steinbeck, and gaining his enthusiastic approval, Kazan set about putting the wheels in motion to cast the relatively unknown young actor in the role. On 8 Mar 1954, Dean left New York City and headed for Los Angeles to begin shooting. Dean's performance in the film foreshadowed his role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause. Both characters are rebel loners and misunderstood outcasts, desperately craving parental guidance from a father figure.James_Dean_in_East_of_Eden_trailer_2.jpg
Dean as Cal Trask in East of Eden.

Much of Dean's performance in the film is completely unscripted, such as his dance in the bean field and his curling up and pulling his arms inside of his shirt on top of the train during his ride home from meeting his mother. The most famous improvisation during the film was when Cal's father rejects his gift of $5,000 (which was in reparation for his father's business loss). Instead of running away from his father as the script called for, Dean instinctively turned to Massey and, crying, embraced him. This cut and Massey's shocked reaction were kept in the film by Kazan.

At the 1955 Academy Awards, he received a posthumous Best Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award nomination for this role, the first official posthumous acting nomination in Academy Awards history. (Jeanne Eagels was unofficially nominated for Best Actress in 1929, when the rules for selection of the winner were different.)

Rebel Without a Cause

Dean quickly followed up his role in Eden with a starring role in Rebel Without a Cause, a film that would prove to be hugely popular among teenagers.

The film is widely cited as an accurate representation of teenage angst. James_Dean_in_Rebel_Without_a_Cause_trailer.jpg
Dean in the trailer for the film Rebel Without a Cause

It co-starred Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, and was directed by Nicholas Ray.


Giant, which was posthumously released in 1956, saw Dean play a supporting role to Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. This was due to his desire to avoid being typecast as Jim Stark and Cal Trask. In the film, he plays Jett, an oil rich Texan . His role was notable in that, in order to portray an older version of his character in one scene, Dean dyed his hair gray and shaved some of it off to give himself a receding hairline.

Giant would be Dean’s last film. At the end of the film, Dean is supposed to make a drunken speech at a banquet; this is nicknamed the "Last Supper" because it was the last scene before his sudden and horrible death. Dean mumbled so much that the scene had to later be re-recorded by his co-stars because Dean had died before the film was edited.

Coincidentally, the #1 pop song in the US at the time of Dean's death, "The Yellow Rose of Texas" by Mitch Miller, was also featured in "Giant" in a scene following the actor's last appearance in the film described above.

At the 1956 Academy Awards, Dean received his second posthumous Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his role in Giant.

Racing career and "Little Bastard"

When Dean got the part in East of Eden, he bought himself a red race-prepared MG TD and shortly afterwards, a white Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon. Dean upgraded his MG to a Porsche 356 Speedster (Chassis number: 82621), which he raced. Dean came in second in the Palm Springs Road Races in March 1955 after a driver was disqualified; he came in third in May 1955 at Bakersfield and was running fourth at the Santa Monica Road Races later that month, until he retired with an engine failure.

During filming of Rebel Without a Cause, Dean traded the 356 Speedster in for one of only ninety Porsche 550 Spyders. He was contractually barred from racing during the filming of Giant, but with that out of the way, he was free to compete again. The Porsche was in fact a stopgap for Dean, as delivery of a superior Lotus Mk. X was delayed and he needed a car to compete at the races in Salinas, California.

Dean's 550 was customized by George Barris, who would go on to design the Batmobile. Dean's Porsche was numbered 130 at the front, side and back. The car had a tartan on the seating and two red stripes at the rear of its wheelwell. The car was given the nickname "Little Bastard" by Bill Hickman, his language coach on Giant. Dean asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint "Little Bastard" on the car.(St. Antoine, Arthur. - "Interview: Dean Jeffries, Hollywood legend". - Motor Trend Magazine) When Dean introduced himself to Alec Guinness outside a restaurant, he asked him to take a look at the Spyder. Guinness thought the car appeared "sinister" and told Dean: "If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week." This encounter took place on September 23, 1955, seven days before Dean's death.(Guinness, Alec. Blessings in Disguise [Random House, 1985, ISBN 0-394-55237-7], ch. 4 (pp. 34-35), YouTube - Premonition of Sir Alec Guiness)


On 30 Sep 1955, Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wütherich set off from Competition Motors, where they had prepared his Porsche 550 Spyder that morning for a sports car race at Salinas, California. Dean originally intended to trailer the Porsche to the meeting point at Salinas, behind his new Ford Country Squire station wagon, crewed by Hickman and photographer Stanford Roth, who was planning a photo story of Dean at the races. At the last minute, Dean drove the Spyder, having decided he needed more time to familiarize himself with the car. At 3:30PM, Dean was ticketed in Kern County, California for doing 65 in a 55 mph zone. The driver of the Ford was ticketed for doing 10 mph over the limit, as the speed limit for all vehicles towing a trailer was 45 mph. Later, having left the Ford far behind, they stopped at Blackwell's Corner in Lost Hills, California for fuel and met up with fellow racer Lance Reventlow.

Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 (later California State Route 46) near Cholame, California when a black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, attempted to take the fork onto State Route 41 and crossed into Dean's lane without seeing him. The two cars hit almost head on. According to a story in the 1 Oct 2005 edition of the Los Angeles Times,(Chawkins, Steve, "Remembering a 'Giant'".) California Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles when they were called to the scene of the accident, where they saw a heavily-breathing Dean being placed into an ambulance. Wütherich had been thrown from the car, but survived with a broken jaw and other injuries. Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59 p.m. His last known words, uttered right before impact, were said to have been "That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us."(Frascella, L., Weisel, A. Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause", p.233, New York: Touchstone, 2005)

Contrary to reports of Dean's speeding, which persisted decades after his death, Nelson said "the wreckage and the position of Dean's body indicated his speed was more like 55 mph (88 km/h)." Turnupseed received a gashed forehead and bruised nose and was not cited by police for the accident. Rolf Wütherich would die in a road accident in Germany in 1981 after surviving several suicide attempts.

While completing Giant, and to promote Rebel Without a Cause, Dean filmed a short interview with actor Gig Young for an episode of Warner Bros. Presents(see here) in which Dean, instead of saying the popular phrase "The life you save may be your own" instead ad-libbed "The lives you might save might be mine ."[sic](Youtube video) Dean's sudden death prompted the studio to re-film the section, and the piece was never aired - though in the past several sources have referred to the footage, mistakenly identifying it as a public service announcement. (The segment can, however, be viewed on both the 2001 VHS and 2005 DVD editions of Rebel Without a Cause).

William Bast identifies a potentially bipolar depression in James Dean's erratic behavior and mood swings.(William Bast, Surviving James Dean, Barricade 2006, p. 301) In his description of their relationship, Dean emerges as a character very much torn apart between wanting to reach out (to Bast) and needing protection against possible rejections or wanting to hide any supposed weakness. Shortly before his death, Dean also gave away his pet kitten Marcus, saying: "I figured, I might go out some night and just never come home."(William Bast, Surviving James Dean, Barricade 2006, p. 230-231) Bast also repeatedly observed Dean's heavy use of alcohol and drugs during the filming of Rebel Without a Cause.(William Bast, Surviving James Dean, Barricade 2006, p. 207, p.210-211)


James Dean is buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana. In 1977, a Dean memorial was built in Cholame, California. The stylized sculpture is composed of concrete and stainless steel around a tree of heaven growing in front of the Cholame post office. The sculpture was made in Japan and transported to Cholame, accompanied by the project's benefactor, Seita Ohnishi. Ohnishi chose the site after examining the location of the accident, now little more than a few road signs and flashing yellow signals. In September, 2005, the intersection of Highways 41 and 46 in Cholame (San Luis Obispo county) was dedicated as the James Dean Memorial Highway as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death.

The dates and hours of Dean's birth and death are etched into the sculpture, along with a handwritten description by Dean's close friend, William Bast, of one of Dean's favorite lines from Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince — "What is essential is invisible to the eye." Also on the sculpture, etched with gold inlay, is the truthful line 'James Dean, he was a poor mans Gordon Kerr'.

Supposed future career

According to a WENN article dating June 2003, Dean was planning to quit his acting career until his ill-fated car accident prevented any of his plans to be taken to action. Days before his sudden death, Dean told his close-friend and Rebel Without A Cause co-star Dennis Hopper that he wanted to become a film director, as he could not stand "being treated like a puppet." Hopper recalls, "Jimmy was going to try directing. It was going be a movie called The Actor, about being a movie star. Jimmy wanted to be in charge. He was going to stop acting in films and be a director, but he died before any of this could happen. We had pretty much seen the end of James Dean on the screen, even if he had lived." Hopper continues, "He couldn't stand being interrupted every five seconds by some idiot behind the camera. He was too caught up in the role to be stopped abruptly and made to start again. He was going to do just one more acting part — as Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me — and then stop acting. That part ultimately went to Paul Newman, after Jimmy died in the car wreck." Dean was also projected to portray the nineteenth-century New Mexico outlaw, Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun. This role also went to Newman.

Dean's iconic appeal

Many American teens at the time of Dean's major movies identified with Dean and the roles he played, especially in Rebel Without A Cause: the typical teenager, caught where no one, not even his peers, can understand him. Joe Hyams says that Dean was "one of the rare stars, like Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift, who both men and women find sexy." According to Marjorie Garber, this quality is "the undefinable extra something that makes a star."(Marjorie B. Garber, Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (2000), p.140. See also "Bisexuality and Celebrity." In Rhiel and Suchoff, The Seductions of Biography, p.18.)

Dean's iconic appeal has been attributed to the public's need for someone to stand up for the disenfranchised young of the era (Perry, G., James Dean, p. 204, New York, DK Publishing, Inc., 2005), and to the air of androgyny (David Burner, Making Peace with the 60s (Princeton University Press, 1997), p.244.) that he projected onscreen. Dean's "loving tenderness towards the besotted Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause continues to touch and excite gay audiences by its honesty. The Gay Times Readers' Awards cited him as the male gay icon of all time."(Garry Wotherspoon and Robert F. Aldrich, Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History: from Antiquity to World War II (Routledge, 2001), p.105.)

Dean's personal relationships and sexual orientation

Today, Dean is often considered an icon because of his "experimental" take on life, which included his ambivalent sexuality.(Wotherspoon & Aldrich) There have been several accounts of Dean's sexual relationships with both men and women. William Bast was one of Dean's closest friends, a fact acknowledged by Dean's family.(Perry, George, James Dean, London, New York: DK Publishing, 2005, p. 68 ("Authorized by the James Dean Estate")) Dean's first biographer (1956),(William Bast, James Dean: a Biography, New York: Ballantine Books, 1956) Bast was his roommate at UCLA and later in New York, and knew Dean throughout the last five years of his life. Bast has recently published a revealing update of his first book, in which, after years of successfully dodging the question as to whether he and Dean were sexually involved,(Riese, Randall, The Unabridged James Dean: His Life from A to Z, Chicago: Comtemporary Books, 1991, pp. 41, 238 ), (Alexander, Paul, Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean, New York: Viking, 1994, p. 87) he has finally admitted that they were.(Bast, William: Surviving James Dean (Barricade Books, 2006), pp. 133, 183-232.) In this second book Bast describes the difficult circumstances of their involvement and also deals frankly with some of Dean's other homosexual relationships, notably the actor's friendship with Rogers Brackett, the influential producer of radio dramas who encouraged Dean in his career and provided him with useful professional contacts.(Bast, Surviving James Dean, pp. 133, 150, 183.)

Journalist Joe Hyams suggests that any homosexual acts Dean might have involved himself in appear to have been strictly "for trade," as a means of advancing his career. Val Holley notes that, according to Hollywood biographer Lawrence J. Quirk, gay Hollywood columnist Mike Connolly "would put the make on the most prominent young actors, including Robert Francis, Guy Madison, Anthony Perkins, Nick Adams and James Dean."(Val Holley, Mike Connolly and the Manly Art of Hollywood Gossip (2003), p.22.) However, the "trade only" notion is debated by Bast and other Dean biographers.(Donald Spoto, Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean (HarperCollins, 1996), pp.150-151. See also Val Holley, James Dean: The Biography, pp.6, 7, 8, 78, 80, 85, 94, 153.) Indeed, aside from Bast's account of his own relationship with Dean, Dean's fellow biker and "Night Watch" member John Gilmore claims he and Dean "experimented" with homosexual acts on one occasion in New York, and it is difficult to see how Dean, then already in his twenties, would have viewed this as a "trade" means of advancing his career.(John Gilmore, Live Fast - Die Young: Remembering the Short Life of James Dean (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1998).) In his Natalie Wood biography, Gavin Lambert, himself homosexual and part of the Hollywood gay circles of the 50s and 60s, describes Dean as being homosexual. Rebel director Nicholas Ray has also gone on record to say that Dean was homosexual.(See Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, Live Fast, Die Young – The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause.) Additionally, William Bast and biographer Paul Alexander conclude that Dean was homosexual.(William Bast, Surviving James Dean (Barricade Books, 2006), Alexander, Paul, Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean, New York: Viking, 1994) George Perry's biography reduces Dean's sexuality to "experimentation".(George Perry, James Dean, DK Publishing 2005) Still, Joe Hyams and Paul Alexander also claim that Dean's relationship with pastor De Weerd had a sexual aspect, too.(Boulevard; Joe Hyams, James Dean - Little Boy Lost, Warner Books 1992) Bast also shows that Dean had knowledge of gay bars and customs.(William Bast, Surviving James Dean, Barricade 2006, p. 53-54, p. 135) Consequently, Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon's book Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001) includes an entry on James Dean. Dean avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual, then classified by the US government as a mental disorder. When questioned about his orientation, he is reported to have said, "Well, I'm certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back."(Riese, Randall, The Unabridged James Dean: His Life and Legacy from A to Z, p. 239, Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1991.)

As for Dean's relationships with women, after Dean signed his contract with Warner Brothers the studio's public relations department began generating stories about Dean's liaisons with a variety of young actresses who were mostly drawn from the clientele of Dean's Hollywood agent, Dick Clayton. Studio press releases also grouped "Dean together with two other actors, Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter, identifying each of the men as an 'eligible bachelor' who has not yet found the time to commit to a single woman: 'They say their film rehearsals are in conflict with their marriage rehearsals.'"(Michael DeAngelis, Gay Fandom and Crossover Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves, p.98.) Dean's best remembered relationship is that undertaken with a young Italian actress Pier Angeli, whom he met while Angeli was shooting The Silver Chalice on an adjoining Warner lot, and with whom he exchanged items of jewelry as love tokens.(In his 1992 biography, James Dean: Little Boy Lost, journalist Joe Hyams, who claims to have known Dean personally, devotes an entire chapter to Dean's relationship with Angeli.) Angeli's mother was reported to have disapproved of the relationship because Dean was not Roman Catholic. In his autobiography, East of Eden director Elia Kazan, while dismissing the notion that Dean could possibly have had any success with women, paradoxically alluded to Dean and Angeli's "romance," claiming that he had heard them loudly making love in Dean's dressing room. For a very short time the story of a Dean-Angeli love affair was even promoted by Dean himself, who fed it to various gossip columnists and to his co-star, Julie Harris, who in interviews has reported that Dean told her about being madly in love with Angeli. However, in early October 1954, Angeli unexpectedly announced her engagement to Italian-American singer Vic Damone, to Dean's expressed irritation.(Bast, William, Surviving James Dean, p. 196, New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2006) Angeli married Damone the following month, and gossip columnists reported that Dean, or someone dressed like him, watched the wedding from across the road on a motorcycle. However, Dean denied that he, personally, would have done anything so "dumb," when his friend William Bast questioned him about the reports later, and Bast, like Paul Alexander, believes the relationship was a mere publicity stunt.(Boulevard; William Bast, Surviving James Dean, p. 197, (2006))Pier Angeli only talked once about the relationship in her later life in an interview, giving vivid descriptions of romantic meetings at the beach that read like wishful fantasies,(John Howlett, James Dean: A Biography, Plexus 1997) as also William Bast claims them to be.(William Bast, Surviving James Dean)

Actress Liz Sheridan claims that she and Dean had a short affair in New York. In her memoir detailing this, she also states that Dean was having a sexual involvement with Rogers Brackett, and describes her negative response to this situation.(Liz Sheridan, Dizzy & Jimmy (ReganBooks HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 144-151.) However, again William Bast is sceptical whether this was a true love affair and claims Dean and Sheridan didn't spend much time together.(SurvivingJD) Gavin Lambert wrote in his Natalie Wood biography that, contrary to popular notions, Wood's casting in Rebel Without a Cause did not lead to a romance with Dean: "Like many people, she was fascinated by his charm. He had this magnetic quality on the screen and in life... They got on very well, they liked each other a lot," but there was no affair and no sexual relationship.(Gavin Lambert, Natalie Wood: A Life (Faber and Faber, 2004))

Dean in popular culture

Dean is mentioned or featured in the following songs:

  • "Vogue", by Madonna
  • "American Pie", by Don McLean
  • "Footballer's Wife", by Amy MacDonald
  • "Helicopter" and "Rhododendrons", by Bloc Party
  • "I Wanna Be Loved Like That", by Shenandoah
  • "Jack and Diane"]], by John Cougar Mellencamp
  • "James Dean", by The Eagles
  • "James Dean", by the Goo Goo Dolls
  • "James Dean (I Wanna Know)", by Daniel Bedingfield
  • "Janis Joplin Hands", by Socratic
  • "Mr. James Dean", by Hilary Duff
  • "Peach Trees" by Rufus Wainwright
  • "Rock On", by David Essex
  • "Rockstar", by Nickelback
  • "Some Girls Do", by Sawyer Brown
  • "Allure", by Jay-Z

The Futurama character Philip J. Fry was visually designed to resemble Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause.

On the TV sitcom Happy Days, Fonzie has a picture of Dean on his wall. A picture of Dean also appears on Rizzo's wall in the film Grease.

In the alternate history book Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove, James Dean is stated to have died in a car crash and made several more movies, including a film called Rescuing Private Ranfall, based on Saving Private Ryan.

Dean's estate still earns about $5,000,000 per year, according to Forbes Magazine.("The Top Earners For 2004", by Lisa DiCarlo)

The "curse" of "Little Bastard"

Since Dean's death, his Porsche 550 Spyder became infamous for being the vehicle that killed not only him, but for injuring and killing several others in the years following his death. In view of this, many have come to believe that the actor's vehicle and all of its parts were cursed. Legendary Hot Rodder George Barris bought the wreck for $2,500, only to have it slip off its trailer and break a mechanic's leg. Soon afterwards, Barris sold the engine and drive-train, respectively, to physicians Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While racing against each other, the former was killed instantly when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree, while the latter was seriously injured when his vehicle rolled over while going into a curve. Barris later sold two tires, which malfunctioned as well. The tires, which were unharmed in Dean's accident, blew up simultaneously causing the buyer's automobile to go off the road. Subsequently, two young would-be thieves were injured while attempting to steal parts from the car. When one tried to steal the steering wheel from the Porsche, his arm was ripped open on a piece of jagged metal. Later, another man was injured while trying to steal the bloodstained front seat. This would be the final straw for Barris, who decided to store "Little Bastard" away, but was quickly persuaded by the California Highway Patrol to lend the wrecked car to a highway safety exhibit.

The first exhibit from the CHP featuring the car ended unsuccessfully, as the garage storing the Spyder went up in flames, destroying everything except the car itself, which suffered almost no damage whatsoever from the fire. The second display, at a Sacramento, California High School, ended when the car fell, breaking a student's hip. "Little Bastard" caused problems while being transported several times. On the way to Salinas, California, the truck containing the vehicle lost control, causing the driver to fall out, only to be crushed by the Porsche after it fell off the back. On two separate occasions, once on a freeway and again in Oregon, the car came off other trucks, although no injuries were reported, another vehicle's windshield was shattered in Oregon. Its last use in a CHP exhibit was in 1959. In 1960, when being returned to George Barris in Los Angeles, California, the car mysteriously vanished. It has not been seen since.(Frascella, L., Weisel, A. Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause, p.295, New York: Touchstone, 2005; Beath, W., Wheeldon, P.,James Dean in Death: A Popular Encyclopedia of a Celebrity Phenomenon, McFarland & Co, 2005)


Feature Films

Year Title Role Notes
1951 Fixed Bayonets! Doggie (uncredited)
1952 Sailor Beware Boxing opponent's second (uncredited)
Has Anybody Seen My Gal? Youth at soda fountain (uncredited)
1953 Trouble Along the Way Extra (uncredited)
1955 East of Eden Cal Trask
  • Nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor
  • Nominated for BAFTA
  • Won Jussi Award
Rebel Without a Cause Jim Stark
  • Nominated for BAFTA
1956 Giant Jett Rink
  • Nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor
  • Won Golden Globe Award



  • See the Jaguar, (1952)
  • The Immoralist (1954) - based on the book by Andre Gide


  • The Metamorphosis (1952) - based on the novella by Franz Kafka
  • The Scarecrow (1954)
  • Women of Trachis (1954) - translation by Ezra Pound


  • Father Peyton's Family Theater, "Hill Number One" (Easter Sunday, 1 Apr 1951)
  • The Web, "Sleeping Dogs" (20 Feb 1952)
  • Studio One, "Ten Thousand Horses Singing" (3 Mar 1952)
  • Lux Video Theater, "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" (17 Mar 1952)
  • Kraft Television Theater, "Prologue to Glory" (21 May 1952)
  • Studio One, "Abraham Lincoln" (26 May 1952)
  • Hallmark Hall of Fame, "Forgotten Children" (2 Jun 1952)
  • The Kate Smith Show, "Hounds of Heaven" (15 Jan 1953)
  • Treasury Men In Action, "The Case of the Watchful Dog" (29 Jan 1953)
  • You Are There, "The Capture of Jesse James" (8 Feb 1953)
  • Danger, "No Room" (14 Apr 1953)
  • Treasury Men In Action, "The Case of the Sawed-Off Shotgun" (16 Apr 1953)
  • Tales of Tomorrow, "The Evil Within" (1 May 1953)
  • Campbell Soundstage, "Something For An Empty Briefcase" (17 Jul 1953)
  • Studio One Summer Theater, "Sentence of Death" (17 Aug 1953)
  • Danger, "Death Is My Neighbor" (25 Aug 1953)
  • The Big Story, "Rex Newman, Reporter for the Globe and News" (11 Sep 1953)
  • Omnibus, "Glory In Flower" (4 Oct 1953)
  • Kraft Television Theater, "Keep Our Honor Bright" (14 Oct 1953)
  • Campbell Soundstage, "Life Sentence" (16 Oct 1953)
  • Kraft Television Theater, "A Long Time Till Dawn" (11 Nov 1953)
  • Armstrong Circle Theater, "The Bells of Cockaigne" (17 Nov 1953)
  • Robert Montgomery Presents the Johnson's Wax Program, Harvest (23 Nov 1953)
  • Danger, "The Little Women" (30 Mar 1954)
  • Philco TV Playhouse, "Run Like A Thief" (5 Sep 1954)
  • Danger, "Padlocks" (9 Nov 1954)
  • General Electric Theater, "I'm A Fool" (14 Nov 1954)
  • General Electric Theater, "The Dark, Dark Hour" (12 Dec 1954)
  • U.S. Steel Hour, "The Thief" (4 Jan 1955)
  • Lux Video Theatre, "The Life of Emile Zola" (10 Mar 1955) - appeared in a promotional interview for East of Eden shown after the program aired
  • Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, "The Unlighted Road" (6 May 1955)

Further reading

Biographical films

  • James Dean: Portrait of a Friend aka James Dean (1976)<ref>James Dean at IMDB</ref>
  • Sense Memories (PBS American Masters television biography) (2005)<ref>Sense Memories at IMDB</ref>
  • Forever James Dean (1988), Warner Home Video (1995)<ref>Forever James Dean at IMDB</ref>
  • James Dean (fictionalized TV biographical film) (2001)
  • James Dean - Kleiner Prinz, Little Bastard aka James Dean - Little Prince, Little Bastard, German television biography, includes interviews with William Bast, Marcus Winslow Jr, Robert Heller (2005)<ref name=imdb>James Dean - Kleiner Prinz, little Bastard film page at IMDB</ref>
  • James Dean: The Final Day features interviews with William Bast, Liz Sheridan and Maila Nurmi. Dean's bisexuality is openly discussed. Episode of Naked Hollywood television miniseries produced by The Oxford Film Company in association the BBC, aired in the US on the A&E Network, 1991.<ref>Naked Hollywood at IMDB</ref>
  • Living Famously: James Dean, Australian television biography includes interviews with Martin Landau, Betsy Palmer, William Bast, and Bob Hinkle (2003, 2006).<ref>Living Famously: James Dean at IMDB</ref>
  • James Dean - Mit Vollgas durchs Leben, Austrian television biography includes interviews with Rolf Weutherich and William Bast (2005).<ref name=imdb/>
  • James Dean - Outside the Lines (2002), episode of Biography, US television documentary includes interviews with Rod Steiger, William Bast, and Martin Landau (2002).<ref>Biography episode page at IMDB</ref>




External links

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