HLRGazette Archives

Relive some of our best stories.

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

James Dean

E-mail Print PDF

James Byron Dean

(February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American film actor.[1] He is a cultural icon, best embodied in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled Los Angeles teenager Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his stardom were as loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955), and as the surly ranch hand, Jett Rink, in Giant(1956). Dean's enduring fame and popularity rests on his performances in only these three films, all leading roles. His premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status.[2]Dean was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only actor to have had two posthumous acting nominations. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Dean the 18th best male movie star on their AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars list.[

James Dean was born on February 8, 1931, at the Seven Gables apartment house in Marion, Indiana, to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson. 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 several years there, and by all accounts young Dean was very close to his mother. According to Michael DeAngelis, she was "the only person capable of understanding him".[4] He was enrolled at Brentwood Public School in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles until his mother died of cancer when Dean was nine years old.

Unable to care for his son, Winton Dean sent James to live with Winton's sister Ortense and her husband Marcus Winslow on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana, where he was raised in a Quaker background. Dean sought the counsel and friendship of Methodist pastor, the Rev. James DeWeerd. DeWeerd seemed to have had a formative influence upon Dean, 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."[5] Their sexual relationship was earlier suggested in the 1994 book, Boulevard of Broken Dreams: the life, times, and legend of James Dean by Paul Alexander.[6] In 2011, it was reported that he once told Elizabeth Taylor, his co-star in Giant, that he was sexually abused by a minister two years after his mother's death.[7]

In high school, Dean's overall performance was mediocre. However, he was a popular school athlete, having successfully played on the baseball and basketball teams and studied drama and competed in forensics through the Indiana High School Forensic Association. After graduating from Fairmount High School on May 16, 1949, Dean moved back to California with his beagle, Max, to live with his father and stepmother. He enrolled in Santa Monica College (SMC) and majored in pre-law. Dean transferred to UCLA[8] 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 was picked from a pool of 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 UCLA to pursue a full-time career as an actor.[

Dean's first television appearance was in a Pepsi Cola television commercial.[10] 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 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 him professional help and guidance in his chosen career, as well as a place to stay.[11][12]

In October 1951, following actor James Whitmore's and his mentor Rogers Brackett's advice, Dean moved to New York City. There he worked as a stunt tester for the game show Beat the Clock. He also appeared in episodes of several CBS television series, The Web, Studio One, and Lux Video Theatre, before gaining admission to the legendary Actors 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."[11]

Dean's career picked up and he performed in further episodes of such early 1950s television shows as Kraft Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger, and General Electric Theater. One early role, for the CBS series Omnibus in the episode "Glory in the Flower", saw Dean portraying the 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.) Positive reviews for Dean's 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.

Screenwriter William Bast was one of Dean's closest friends, a fact acknowledged by Dean's family.[20] According to Dean's first biographer (1956),[21] Bast was his roommate at UCLA and later in New York, and knew Dean throughout the last five years of his life. Fifty years after Dean's death, he stated that their friendship had included some sexual intimacy.[22]

Early in Dean's career, 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.'"[23]

Shortly before filming began on East of Eden, Dean befriended horse trainer Monty Roberts. Roberts introduced Dean to the area and the two became close friends. Dean had planned to meet with Roberts shortly after the race on September 30 to discuss plans for the construction of a ranch, which would be owned by Dean but managed by Roberts. Roberts and his wife were the first people to learn of Dean's death through a telephone call placed by Dean's mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, immediately following the incident, in which Wütherich mumbled through a broken jaw that Dean had died. Roberts and his family did not attend Dean's funeral because, although the two considered themselves 'brothers', their friendship was unknown to Dean's family.[24]

Dean's best-remembered relationship was with 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.[25] 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 had unexpectedly announced her engagement to Italian-American singer Vic Damone, to Dean's expressed irritation.[26] 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, when Bast questioned him about the reports, Dean denied that he would have done anything so "dumb", and Bast, like Paul Alexander, believes the relationship was a mere publicity stunt.[27][28] Pier Angeli only talked once about the relationship in her later life in an interview, giving vivid descriptions of romantic meetings at the beach. Dean biographer John Howlett said these read like wishful fantasies,[29] as Bast claims them to be.[30]

Actress Liz Sheridan claims that she and Dean had a short affair in New York. In her memoir, she also states that Dean was having a sexual involvement with director Rogers Brackett, and describes her negative response to this situation.[31] However, again Bast is skeptical whether this was a true love affair and says Dean and Sheridan did not spend much time together.[11]

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, "No, I am not a homosexual. But, I'm also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back."

Death

On September 30, 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 Sanford 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 3:30 p.m., Dean was ticketed in Mettler Station, Kern County, for driving 65 mph (105 km/h) in a 55 mph (89 km/h) zone. The driver of the Ford was ticketed for driving 20 mph (32 km/h) over the limit, as the speed limit for all vehicles towing a trailer was 45 mph (72 km/h). Later, having left the Ford far behind, they stopped at Blackwells Corner in Lost Hills for fuel and met up with fellow racer Lance Reventlow.

After leaving Lost Hills, Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 (later State Route 46) east of Cholame, San Luis Obispo County, when a black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed (1932–1995), moved to take the fork onto State Route 41 and crossed into Dean's lane. The two cars hit almost head-on. According to a story in the October 1, 2005, edition of the Los Angeles Times,[33] 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 an unconscious, heavily breathing Dean being placed into an ambulance. Ambulance attendants were attending to a barely conscious Wütherich who had been thrown from the car and was lying on the shoulder of the road next to the mangled Porsche Spyder. Wütherich 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. by the attending emergency room physician. His last known words, uttered right before impact when Wütherich told Dean to slow down when they saw the Ford coupe in front of them about to drive into their lane, were said to have been: "That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us."[

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Dean

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 October 2011 00:47