James Byron Dean († September 30, 1955 near Cholame, California) was a US theater and film actor. His early death in a car accident and his role in … for they know not what they do made him a youth idol. He received two posthumous Oscar nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his roles in Beyond Eden and Giants.
Childhood and education
James Dean was born on February 8, 1931, in Marion, Indiana, in the home of his parents Winton (1907-1995), a dental technician, and Mildred Marie Wilson Dean (1910-1940). Dean”s parents moved to live with relatives in Fairmount, Indiana, after the birth of their son, whom they called by the pet name “Jimmy,” first living with his father”s parents and then moving to the farm of Winton Dean”s brother-in-law and sister, Marcus and Ortense Winslow. After another move back to Marion, the mother began to encourage the artistic talents of her son, who was characterized by great curiosity and stubbornness. She enrolled him in the College of Dance and Theatre, a private acting school run by a former entertainer. There he learned tap dancing in a few weeks and already performed in a public show in June 1936; he also received violin lessons.
Shortly thereafter, at the age of five, he moved with his parents to Santa Monica, California, where his father took a better-paying position as head of a dental laboratory at Sawtelle Veterans Hospital. In California, Dean initially attended Brentwood Public School. After an inner-city family move, he transferred to McKinley Elementary School on Santa Monica Boulevard after first grade, attending until third grade. During this time, young Dean”s artistic inclination was expressed primarily in sculpting and creating clay figures with his bare hands.
In 1940, Dean”s mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer; she died on July 14 at the age of 29; Dean was nine years old at the time. Shortly thereafter, he was placed in the care of his grandmother and paternal aunt, who had traveled to California because of Mildred Dean”s illness, by his father, Winton, who is described as rather indifferent. Eighteen months later, Winton Dean was drafted into military service as a medic and served in Europe during World War II.
Return to Indiana
From then on, James Dean lived again in Fairmount, Indiana, where he grew up on the farm of his uncle Marcus Winslow, his wife Ortense and their older daughter Joan, about five kilometers north of the city. In the two-story, 13-room white farmhouse with an L-shaped front porch, the couple even ceded him their bedroom because Dean particularly liked the furniture inside. Both encouraged Dean to continue drawing, painting and sculpting with clay, and soon he was addressing aunt and uncle as Mom and Dad. But he found it difficult to come to terms with the blow of fate; according to relatives, he broke down in tears more often over the loss of his mother. He also soon gave up playing the violin and dancing.
Dean found diversion in the fall of 1940 when he transferred to the fourth grade at Fairmount”s West Ward Elementary School, which, unlike North Ward Elementary, was attended mainly by children from surrounding farms. He was described by teachers as a well-behaved, nice student who did not stand out and displayed a certain reserve and reserve. He became accustomed to a regular daily routine. He spent a lot of time in front of the radio, where radio drama programs and entertainment programs by Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Arthur Godfrey were played. During this time, his desire to become a film actor is said to have arisen, but this was only laughed at by his relatives. At the age of nine, Dean got the lead role in a nativity play at the Back Creek Friends Church. In the play To Them that Sleep in Darkness he played a blind boy who gradually regains his sight. He also acted in other plays at West Ward Elementary.
In the fall of 1943, Dean entered the seventh grade at Fairmount High School downtown. At the same time, Marcus and Ortense Winslow had their second child, a son, whom they named Marcus Jr. James Dean befriended the new “baby brother,” unlike the older Joan, who moved out soon after Marcus Jr.”s birth to set up her own household with her husband. One day he fell from the hayloft in the barn and lost four incisors, forcing him to wear dentures for the rest of his life.
Collaboration with Adeline Brookshire
In the fall of 1946, Dean first met Adeline Brookshire, a teacher who was considered unconventional. He attended the beginning speech class with her, and she shared his passion for acting as the director of the drama club. Through his lessons with her, he was encouraged in his desire to become an actor, and he acted in two theater productions at his high school. Under the stage name Jim Dean, he appeared in the play The Monkey”s Paw as Herbert White, while in Mooncalf Mugford he interpreted the role of John Mugford. More appearances in school plays followed with An Apple from Coles County, Gone with the Wind, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, and You Can”t Take It with You, and he also excelled on the school team as a good hurdler and basketball player. Because he always needed glasses due to his severe nearsightedness, he always wore sports glasses to basketball games as well.
Another of Dean”s hobbies was motorcycles. His first was a Whizzer moped, which he received as a gift from his uncle Marcus in 1947, after which he owned a Czech 125cc ČZ. He knew mechanics and also participated in races with the motorcycle. Later, he rode, among others, a Harley, a 500 cc Norton, an Indian 500 and a British Triumph T-110, which had the inscription “Dean”s Dilemma” on the side.
In 1949, his senior year of high school, Brookshire informed students in her speech education class about a reading contest that had been created by the Indiana National Forensic League. Dean was able to get excited about this contest, picked out the manuscript of a madman from Charles Dickens” The Pickwick Papers, and rehearsed the recital with Brookshire. On April 8, 1949, the first round of the contest was held in Peru, Indiana. Dean”s presentation was convincing; he took first place and was the state winner. He thus qualified for the national contest, which was held in Longmont, Colorado, at the end of the month.
There was great enthusiasm at Dean”s school, and he was given a hero”s welcome at the train station when he traveled with Brookshire to the competition. However, because he improvised a lot during his production (as he did in his later film career), he exceeded the time limit of ten minutes. No attention was paid to this in the first round – but it was in the final round the next day. Dean didn”t want to listen to his mentor and cut the text, performed it unchanged and came in sixth. The disappointment weighed heavily on him.
Return to Los Angeles
On May 16, 1949, James Dean celebrated his high school graduation and was honored with awards for his performance in fine arts, sports and acting. As a graduation present, he was allowed to travel to Indianapolis for an auto race, which apparently inspired him to later participate in auto racing himself. Although his longtime mentor Adeline Brookshire advised him to attend college somewhere in the Midwest, he moved to California to live with his father (he had visited his father in California three times in recent years, while Winton Dean had traveled to Fairmount several times), who had by then given up being a widower and married Ethel Case in 1945. Dean took his father”s advice and decided to study law at Santa Monica Junior College. As an out-of-state student, however, he had to take preparatory courses before the two-year undergraduate program. Winton Dean now endeavored in his own way to fulfill his fatherly role, which he had avoided for many years. He bought James Dean a used 1939 Chevrolet so he could move freely around town. Despite his father”s objections to acting, Dean became a member of the Miller Playhouse Theatre Guild in Los Angeles. His stage skills and artistic ability to design sets soon landed him the position of stage manager, and he played a small supporting role in the play The Romance of Scarlet Gulch under the stage name Byron James.
After summer classes, James Dean enrolled at Santa Monica City College, which was being rebuilt. The courses took place in 1949
Dean did passably well in his first semester, but his grades in law school prep courses fell short of his father”s expectations. For Dean, work with Jean Owen took center stage. He also joined the basketball team and the Jazz Appreciation Club. In the spring, Dean was elected to the Opheleos Men”s Honor Service Organization, a club that included only the top 21 students in the college.
Although Dean continued his acting training with Jean Owen the next semester, taking voice, pronunciation, and radio classes with her, as well as performing in a show called She Was Only a Farmer”s Daughter for the May Day celebration, he still preferred to attend the state University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
Transfer to UCLA
Dean was obsessed with transferring to UCLA despite his acting teacher”s assessment that he was not mature enough for academia. In his eyes, it offered far more opportunities than his current college. His grades were so good that he was immediately admitted to the program, which he started in the winter semester of 1950. Not wanting to compromise his father, he continued to take introductory law courses. Nevertheless, his decision drew arguments with his father, and Dean decided to move to the UCLA campus. As a member of the fraternity “Sigma Nu,” he moved into their fraternity house at the beginning of the semester.
Despite the apparent rift with his father, he majored in law and minored in theater. He earned the money for tuition, rent and meals by working part-time jobs at UCLA, including as a projectionist in courses that used audiovisual media. While auditioning for the play Macbeth, he benefited from working with Jean Owen and landed the role of Malcolm. The play was performed four times at UCLA”s 1600-seat Royce Hall from November 29 to December 2. Although James Dean received only moderate reviews, the young actor came to the attention of the film agent Isabelle Draesemer. He landed his first paid role on December 13, 1950, in a two-minute Pepsi commercial in which he handed Pepsi bottles from a chest to friends on a carousel. For the one-day shoot, he was paid $25 and a snack.
The triumph was soon followed by a setback, however, when he was mocked by a member of his fraternity for his involvement in Macbeth. A brawl ensued, for which James Dean was pinned as the culprit. He had to leave the fraternity house, so he and fellow student Bill Bast moved into an apartment in Santa Monica, very close to where he had spent childhood with his parents. In his new home, Dean painted numerous oil paintings and studied the works of Henry Miller, Kenneth Patchens, and Stanislawski (the latter developed the “Stanislawski System” named after him, which founded American Method Acting).
Collaboration with James Whitmore and discontinuation of studies
Over the next few months, Dean attended auditions that his agent, Isabell Draesemer, organized for her protégé. He also became a member of James Whitmore”s theater workshop, as did his roommate Bill Bast. Whitmore had trained at the Actors Studio in New York City, had acted on Broadway, and had just been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the wartime drama Kesselschlacht. Although not a trained acting teacher, Whitmore undertook to give unpaid lessons to ten gifted acting students. In those days, Dean auditioned for the UCLA play The Dark of the Moon, but was unable to land even a supporting role in the semester”s most important production.
Out of disappointment and also because he was not comfortable with the dry academic training, he dropped out of UCLA and decided to concentrate entirely on the entertainment business. Almost as if she had to justify Dean”s decision, his agent arranged for him to play a supporting role as John the Baptist in the religious film Hill Number One by Jerry Fairbank, with whom he had already collaborated on the Pepsi commercial. The role, for which he received a $150 fee, got him his first fan club, which some students at Immaculate Heart Catholic School in Los Angeles formed when they saw the film on Easter Sunday. In fact, he accepted their invitation, gave a speech in front of the girls and signed autographs.
Beginning of the film career
Dean attended more auditions over the next few months, but was initially unable to get a role in Hollywood after Hill Number One and, as friends later reported, fell into depression. He eventually attended numerous parties locally to make contacts. But at auditions, he was repeatedly rejected as too small because of his height of 1.73 meters (with a weight of 65 kilograms). His roommate Bill Bast got him a job as an usher at CBS, but he quit after a short time. He moved out of the apartment he shared with his fellow actor, took a room at the Gower Plaza Hotel and got a job as a parking attendant near the CBS broadcasting studio on Sunset Boulevard. There he landed minor roles in the three radio programs Alias Jane Doe, Hallmark Playhouse and Stars over Hollywood.
In 1951, James Dean appeared in his first feature film: He had a small supporting role in Samuel Fuller”s Korean War drama The Last Attack. By 1953, he had made small appearances in four more films without receiving a credit for them: Seemann, paß auf, Hat jemand meine Braut gesehen?, Die Maske runter and Ärger auf der ganzen Linie. On television, another extra role followed in The Alan Young Show.
Move to New York
In the winter of 1951, James Dean took the advice of his acting mentor James Whitmore to move to New York and start a serious acting career in the theater. After a brief detour to visit his relatives in Fairmount, Dean rented a room in New York at the Hotel Iroquois. However, as money troubles plagued him, he soon took a room in a home of the Young Men”s Christian Association (YMCA) and worked in a bar as a dishwasher.
In November 1951, he got a job on the show Beat the Clock. He served there for five dollars an hour as a kind of test candidate and tuned the audience to the show. His agent became Jane Deacy, by whom later celebrities such as Martin Landau or George C. Scott were represented at that time. Through her he got a supporting role in the television drama The Webb, as well as extra roles in the science fiction series Tale of Tomorrow and in the Studio One episode Ten Thousand Horses Singing.
On May 21, 1952, Dean appeared in Prologue to Glory, an episode of the series Kraft Television. Shortly after, he played a small but important role in an episode of the series Studio One, which was about Abraham Lincoln, and made an appearance in Forgotten Children, an episode of the series Hallmark Hall of Fame. In July and August 1952 he took a job as an assistant director at NBC.
Recording at Actors Studio
James Dean took a significant step forward when he applied for a place at the prestigious Actors Studio. Along with 150 other applicants, he came to audition and, together with fellow actor Christine White, performed a self-written script in which a wealthy Southern woman and a gifted homeless young man confide their life stories to each other over the course of several weeks of nighttime walks on the beach. Although the Actors Studio did not take kindly to actors auditioning with their own lines, and both failed to meet the set time limit, Dean and White were among the fifteen applicants who were accepted. “They played it simple and believable. It was just wonderful. Just what we want to see in applicants,” later said acting school founder Lee Strasberg, who was also present at the audition. In a 1952 letter to his uncle and aunt in Fairmount, Dean wrote of his success:
At the Actors Studio, James Dean attended the first classes, watched other actors doing their scenes and became friends with some members of the studio, including Roddy McDowall, Lonny Chapman, Vivian Nathan and David Stewart. The first scene Dean prepared came from a passage in the novel Matador by Barnaby Conrad; Dean had chosen it because he himself loved bullfighting. However, the monologue about a bullfighter preparing for his last fight was incoherent, and Dean abandoned the performance, taking heavy criticism from Lee Strasberg, who found the chosen text and Dean”s acting performance appalling.
After this failure, Dean”s passion for the Actors Studio cooled noticeably. He did not visit it at all for a long time, until he got a role in the play The Scarecrow, directed by Actors Studio member Frank Corsaro at Theatre de Lys. Corsaro persuaded Dean to return to the Actors Studio, and he subsequently participated in several of Corsaro”s improvisations. Dean subsequently became involved with music and literature and took dance lessons with Eartha Kitt and Katherine Dunham. He developed a strong affinity for playing the bongo and took piano lessons with composer Leonard Rosenman. He hitchhiked to Fairmount a short time later with two friends to stay with his uncle and aunt, where he also met his old mentor Adeline Brookshire, who had him teach her theater class.
First Broadway appearance
In Fairmount, Indiana, news also reached Dean from his agent that theater director Lemuel Ayers was looking for actors for his Broadway play See the Jaguar and had inquired about James Dean. Back in New York, Dean memorized his lines. Set in the countryside of the southern United States, the play by N. Richard Nash tells the story of a 17-year-old boy who is isolated from the outside world by his domineering and mentally disturbed mother, who often locks him in an ice cellar. When his mother dies, protagonist Wally Wilkins meets a couple in the next town who run a traveling zoo. When Wally accidentally kills the couple”s jaguar, he is locked in the exhibit cage, next to which is emblazoned the sign “See the Jaguar.”
At the audition, Dean was convincing as the emotionally crippled Wally and got the role. The first test performances, in which Dean also had to sing the song Green Briar, Blue Fire, took place on November 12, 1952 at the Parsons Theatre of New Haven, Connecticut. On December 3, See the Jaguar premiered on Broadway. However, while the play was slated and performed for only four days, James Dean received praise from the critics.
Confirmed by the good reviews as a serious actor, Dean received engagements for various television films. On January 8, 1953, he starred in The Capture of Jesse James, directed by the then unknown Sidney Lumet. He acted as Bob Ford, the man who shot Jesse James. On April 14, Dean starred in the television movie No Room, which aired as part of the series Danger. Two days later, he was seen in The Case of the Sawed-off Shutgun, an episode of the series Treasury Man in Action.
In May 1953, Dean played a small role in the play End as a Man, which he helped stage three times at the Actors Studio before it was performed Off-Broadway with another performer. He also appeared in Edna St. Vincent Millay”s play Aria da Capo and the play The Sea Gull, for which Dean was praised by Lee Strassberg. Other television appearances followed in the series Tales of Tomorrow, Campbell Playhouse, Studio One Summer Theatre and Campbell Soundstage. On October 4, 1953, Dean acted in Glory in the Flower alongside Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. On November 11, 1953, he played his first leading role on television in the episode A Long Time Till Dawn from the series Kraft Television Theatre, in which he mimed a criminal trying to get on the right track. A short time later followed a role in Harvest, the Thanksgiving episode of Robert Montgomery Presents, in which he starred alongside Ed Begley, Dorothy Gish and Vaughn Taylor. The many television roles gave Dean a great deal of confidence in his acting.
Breakthrough on Broadway
In late 1953, Ruth and Augustus Goetz were commissioned to adapt André Gide”s autobiographical novel The Immoralist for Broadway. Set in France at the turn of the 19th century, the novel tells the story of Michel, a young archaeologist who represses his homosexuality and marries a woman named Marcelline. When the couple honeymoon in Biskra, North Africa, Michel is seduced by the houseboy Bachir. Bachir taunts Michel, saying he is incapable of sleeping with his wife. When the marriage is not consummated after two months, Michel gets drunk, impregnates his wife, and they both return to France.
James Dean auditioned for the role of Bachir and got it. Geraldine Page played Marcelline, Louis Jourdan the part of Michel. Rehearsals, which began at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 18, 1953, were dominated by a conflict between Jourdan and Dean. Both were differently trained actors, Jourdan classically, Dean acting spontaneously and unpredictably in his role as Bachir, playing him flirtatiously and over-the-top. After Dean visited his relatives in Fairmount over Christmas, test performances of The Immoralist took place in Philadelphia. The conflict came to a head, and the previous director, Herman Shumlin, with whom Dean got along very well, was replaced by Daniel Mann, whom Dean could not stand. They considered replacing Dean with another actor, but the time until the first performance in New York was too short, and leading actress Geraldine Page categorically stood up for James Dean. So the previews took place in New York from February 1, 1954, and by the time the play premiered at the Royal Theatre on Broadway on Dean”s 23rd birthday, February 8, he had fully internalized the character of Bachir.
Critics were overwhelmed by Dean”s performance, especially by a sequence that went down in theater history as the Scissors Dance. In this scene, James Dean danced across the stage in a loose evening coat, holding a pair of scissors that he snapped open and shut, symbolically cutting the figure of Michel out of his previous life and pulling him into that of Bachir.
Beyond Eden: Breakthrough in Hollywood
Immediately after the fabulous reviews for the Broadway play The Immoralist, James Dean gave up the part of Bachir. His resignation took effect two weeks later. Dean had been offered a leading role by director Elia Kazan in his latest film, Beyond Eden. He knew Dean from his time at the Actors Studio and had seen him in The Immoralist.
“James Dean looked exactly like Cal Trask in Beyond Eden, and he talked like him, too. When he walked into the Warner Bros. New York office, I knew immediately that I had found the right man for the role. He was cautious, stubborn and suspicious, and seemed full of repressed feelings,” Kazan said. Although the Warner Brothers film studio had not yet given its director permission to shoot, Dean was naturally taken with the idea of starring in a Hollywood flick, and he completed his part as Heracles” son Hyllos in the Sophocles play The Trachinians alongside Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan on February 17, 1954, and his final appearance in The Immoralist on February 23.
On March 8, 1954, James Dean flew from New York to Los Angeles with Elia Kazan. Two days earlier it had been officially announced that Dean would get the leading role in Kazan”s latest film. Kazan was the most sought-after director in the theater and film business at the time and had won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Director for Taboo of the Righteous. Dean carried the belongings he needed in two tied-up paper bags. Once in Los Angeles, James Dean joined Elia Kazan in visiting his father at his place of work in the hospital. Kazan later wrote, “The strong tension between the two was obvious, and it was not a productive tension. I had the feeling that the father didn”t like the son.”
This very leitmotif also ran through Elia Kazan”s planned drama Beyond Eden. The film is based on the novel of the same name by John Steinbeck, with whom Kazan was a friend. The two had worked together on the original screenplay for Viva Zapata (1952). Beyond Eden is set in Salinas, California, around the time of the First World War. The title of the novel is based on a quote from the Old Testament. The film is about twin brothers Cal and Aron, who are raised strictly according to the Bible by their Puritan father Adam Trask. While Aron, well-behaved and obedient, is in the father”s favor, Cal pretends to be brooding and difficult. When his father loses almost his entire fortune in a speculation, Cal hopes in vain to win his love and approval with a generous gift of money, but he is repulsed by his father, as he has been many times in his life. In revenge, Cal opens up to his brother Aron about the truth about their mother, who is presumed dead and runs a thriving brothel in town. Aron breaks down, gets drunk, and volunteers for military service. The news of Aron”s fate is too much for the father, and he collapses with a stroke. Paul Osborn”s screenplay is based only on the last two chapters of Steinbeck”s novel.
To look like a healthy farm boy in the film rather than a pale city boy, Kazan advised his leading man to get a little tan in the desert for a week, which Dean did. For Beyond Eden, James Dean was paid a thousand dollars a week; he signed his contract with Warner Brothers on April 7, 1954. He was represented by Dick Clayton, who was to look after Dean”s interests on the West Coast, as his agent in New York had advised him. He used the money to buy his first racing car, a red MG built in 1954. The acting ensemble was later joined by Richard Davalos, who snatched the role of Aron away from Paul Newman. The female lead of Abra, who stands between the two brothers, was cast with Julie Harris. She had prevailed in the casting against Joanne Woodward, the later wife of Paul Newman, among others. Raymond Massey slipped into the role of the strict father.
Filming began on May 22, 1954 in Mendocino, Monterey. The film crew was housed five kilometers away in a hostel in the village of Little River. At the beginning of filming, an incident occurred when James Dean came into contact with the poisonous plant poison ivy and suffered from a skin infection. He was nursed back to health by the innkeeper of the hostel.
The filming of Beyond Eden proved difficult because, while the production was moved to the Warner Brothers studio lot in Burbank, Dean did not want to miss out on visits to the Hollywood party scene. Elia Kazan then quartered James Dean in a bungalow directly across the street from his own on the Warner Brothers studio lot so he could keep an eye on his leading man, as he confessed in his 1988 autobiography A Life. Dean also manipulated his film father, Raymond Massey, away from the movie camera by constantly provoking him so that Massey would not just play his anger toward Dean and thus appear more convincing in his role. Massey was also bothered by Dean”s talent for improvisation, often failing to memorize the lines from the script. Although Elia Kazan had toyed with the idea of casting Marlon Brando (for whom James Dean doted) and Montgomery Clift as unequal brothers, John Steinbeck, with whom Kazan corresponded regularly during filming, was taken with James Dean in the lead role, and the film was in the can on August 9, 1954, after ten weeks of shooting.
Building up to the cult figure
During this period, James Dean was stylized as a male cult figure by Warner Brothers to ensure the financial success of the film. Dean was brought together with the attractive actress Pier Angeli, who, like Dean, was just being built up as a Hollywood star and at this time had completed the film The Silver Chalice with Paul Newman. The campaign was successful, and Dean and Angeli were soon considered by the gazettes to be Hollywood”s dream couple. In fact, the two also became closer in private.
After filming, James Dean flew back to New York, where he starred in an episode of the series Philco Television Playhouse. When he returned to Los Angeles two weeks later, his relationship with Pier Angeli, whose mother did not tolerate the company of James Dean, slowly broke down. Dean continued to appear in public with attractive starlets, including Ursula Andress and Terry Moore. Dean and Angeli appeared together for the last time as a couple at the premiere of the film A New Star in the Sky. Pier Angeli married pop singer Vic Damone on November 24, 1954.
While Beyond Eden was still in the editing process, the Warner Brothers film studio refused to lend James Dean for the MGM production The Lost Ones. Dean meanwhile resumed several television roles, including in the film Padlocks, an episode of the CBS program Danger with Mildred Dunnock, and the General Electric Theatre episode I”m a Fool, in which he played a poor farm boy pretending to be rich alongside Natalie Wood. Along the way, Dean took acting classes with Jeff Corey.
On December 12, 1954, Dean was seen once again on television in an episode of the series General Electric Theatre before spending Christmas with his uncle and aunt in Fairmount and some friends in New York. James Dean, despite renting an apartment in the hills of West Hollywood, had not given up his old apartment in New York. Meanwhile, the theatrical release of Beyond Eden was set for May 1955.
On December 29, James Dean was photographed by photographer friend Roy Schatt for Life, the largest magazine in the United States at the time. However, the pictures, in which Dean poses unshaven in a sweater, were judged by Life as too naughty and were not published. After Dean participated in The Thief from the series The U.S. Steel Hour, he was called back to Los Angeles. While the publicity machinery for Beyond Eden was running and Dean found multiple mentions in magazines as an upcoming star of the year, he was accompanied by photographer Dennis Stock, who was planning a pictorial with the future star again for Life magazine. Stock accompanied Dean for two weeks in Los Angeles; in the first week of February 1955 they traveled to Dean”s relatives” farm in Fairmount. Dennis Stock recorded James Dean in various settings of his life so far – on the farm where he had grown up, in the city, or on the stage of his high school, where he also spent Valentine”s Day as an honored guest and played the congas of the George Columbus Combo. General discord arose when Dean had his picture taken in a casket at Hunt”s Funeral Home. Dean then traveled with the photographer to New York, where he was photographed in Times Square, in his apartment, and backstage with Geraldine Page, among other places. Dean also gave an interview to Howard Thompson of the New York Times at his agent”s apartment. The Dennis Stock pictures were published by Life on May 7, 1955. In 2015, this story was made into a movie with Life. The role of Dean took over thereby Dane DeHaan.
The premiere of Jenseits von Eden took place on March 9, 1955, but Dean did not attend. He celebrated the success by buying his first Porsche, a Porsche 356 1600 Speedster (chassis no. 82621), in which he competed in the two-day Palm Springs, California, road races on March 26, 1955. Dean won the qualifying race in his Porsche and competed in the finals against veterans such as Ken Miles and Cy Yedor, both driving MG Specials. James Dean finished the race in third place, but was later placed second after Miles was disqualified for a technical infraction on his car.
… because they do not know what they are doing: Work with Nicholas Ray
That same month, filming began on … for they know not what they do, after Dean had shortly before landed a starring role in George Steven”s Giants, but shooting was postponed due to scheduling difficulties with co-star Elizabeth Taylor. In Nicholas Ray”s film, Dean again plays an outsider, Jim Stark, a teenager looking for acceptance after moving to a new town. He engages in knife fights and car races with a gang of youths and finds a surrogate family in naive Judy and introverted loner Plato, who secretly has feelings for Jim.
The film is based on a sociological study of the same name by Robert M. Lindner. The studio acquired an option on Lindner”s work because of its enticing-sounding title, Rebel Without a Cause, but knew nothing to do with it. Lindner later wrote a short story about youth gangs, which was also purchased and adapted for the screen. Eight years after selling the rights to the film studio, Ray discovered its potential as well as in James Dean the perfect projection screen for youthful needs, and filming began on March 28, 1955.
Dean, who contracted malaria during filming, was taught knife fighting by Frank Mazzola, a gang member who had a supporting role as Crunch in the film. Dean improvised the opening scene in which he gives his attention to a found toy monkey, and broke his ankle during a scene at the police station when he slammed his hand against a desk. The red jacket worn by James Dean in the film, symbolic of rebellion, was chosen for Dean by director and costume designer Moss Mabry after a decision was made four days after shooting began … because they don”t know what they”re doing to shoot in color to enhance the film. Previously, consideration had been given to adding glasses and a brown jacket to the main character to make him look dim-witted rather than heroic. The climate on the set was characterized by harmony between the leading actor and the director, with director Ray James giving Dean a lot of freedom in his acting interpretation. He did this because he realized early on that this was the only way Dean”s full talent could be displayed. Dean expressed the desire to direct himself one day and to film his favorite book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry”s The Little Prince.
During the two-month filming of … for they know not what they do, James Dean again took part in a car race in Bakersfield, California, on May 1, 1955. In Bakersfield, he again finished third, behind Marion Playan in an MG Special and John Kunstle in a Panhard Devin, but won in the 1300-2000 cc class. Before filming Giants, he participated in his third race on May 28-29, 1955. He was in fourth place in the Santa Barbara Road Race before an engine piston broke on his Porsche.
Giants: His last role
In his last film Giants, James Dean starred alongside Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. Filming, which began for James Dean on June 3, 1955 in Marfa, Texas, was dominated by a rivalry between the two main actors, which, however, enhanced the authenticity of their roles. Based on the successful novel of the same name by Edna Ferber, Giants depicts the relationship between cattle baron Bick Benedict and his wife Leslie (played by Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor) and simple farmhand Jett Rink (James Dean) over a period of more than forty years. When Rink finds oil on his own piece of land, he becomes his former employer”s most powerful competitor. But the wealth also begins to upend Rink”s life, and he becomes a lonely alcoholic. Dean”s film character is based on the life of Texas oil millionaire Glenn McCarthy (1908-1988), who was an Irish immigrant and built, among other things, the Shamrock Hotel in Houston, Texas, in 1949. In Giants, Dean”s character aged from 19 to 46, a challenge for makeup artists of the time.
Also fraught with tension for Dean was his relationship with director George Stevens, who agreed to give him the role of Jett Rink after his preferred candidate, Alan Ladd, turned him down. Stevens didn”t like actors who tried to experiment during scenes. Besides, the director was known in Hollywood for his perfectionism. Stevens loved to shoot each scene from many angles, so countless shots were needed to make it happen. Dean succinctly titled Stevens” technique the “around-the-clock” method. He barely met Stevens” standards during the first week, and the director crushed his leading man in front of the entire film crew. Dean sought solace from his female co-stars Elizabeth Taylor and Mercedes McCambridge. Taylor gave him a kitten toward the end of filming. Much of Dean”s time during the shoot, which dragged on, was spent with dialogue coach Bob Hinkle. Hinkle taught Dean lasso tricks, and they both went rabbit hunting at night during the five-week shoot.
The conflict between Dean and Stevens reached its peak on July 23, when filming was moved to Los Angeles. Dean didn”t show up on set; he didn”t have a scene to shoot that day either. Stevens had his assistants track Dean down – he had taken a day off work to move into a house he had just rented in the San Fernando Valley. Stevens was so angry that he announced he never wanted to work with James Dean again. He had a letter drafted to Warner Brothers that included all the points in which Dean had interfered with the filming. Dean commented on the problems during the shoot with exhaustion, since the work on … because they do not know what they are doing and Giganten had taken significantly longer and he had only had a three-day break between the two productions. Even before filming Giganten, Dean had been exhausted and put on a protein diet by a doctor.
After the successful start of Beyond Eden and the productions … for they know not what they do and Giants, Dean”s agent Jane Deacy negotiated a new contract for him. The previous 1500 US dollars per shooting week was to be drastically increased and, if possible, brought into line with the top salaries of Rock Hudson or Elizabeth Taylor, who at the time were getting 100,000 US dollars per film. In return, Dean would commit to star in nine Warner Brothers films over the next six years. In addition, Dean demanded that he set up his own production company for film and television projects, which would operate under the Warner Brothers umbrella.
The contract was to be signed in the first week of October 1955. Dean was to tackle the next film if Warner Brothers had agreed to the contract. Before that, however, he would have had to shoot Hell Is Inside Me, a film biopic MGM planned about boxer Rocky Graziano, as well as two television movies. MGM had loaned their star Elizabeth Taylor to Warner Brothers for Giganten, so Dean was to appear in a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film in return. Meanwhile, the filming of Giants, which consumed $5.4 million and 115 days of shooting, had ended. Dean had received $10,000 for Beyond Eden, $15,000 for … for they know not what they do, and around $20,000 for Giants.
Dean recorded a television commercial on traffic safety for the National Safety Council on the film set of Giants on September 17, 1955, two weeks before his death. Wearing his cowboy outfit, he casually gave answers to actor Gig Young with a cigarette in his mouth. When Dean was asked what he thought of people speeding on the highway, he replied:
His parting words in the commercial were, “Drive carefully! Maybe it will be me you save the life of one day”.
Also in September 1955, James Dean bought his second racing car, a silver Porsche 550 Spyder. The number 130 was painted on the front hood of the car, while the rear bore his nickname “Little Bastard,” which his dialog coach Bill Hickman had given him on the set of Giants. A total of only 82 of this car had been built in 1955. 78 were advertised for sale and the owner of the Competition Motors dealership in Hollywood, John von Neumann, had five of them imported to the United States.
Dean had traded in his old 356 Super Speedster for the Porsche 550 Spyder and paid an additional $3,000. He wanted to enter the car in a car race in Salinas, California, on October 1, 1955. During the required check, Dean was certified in excellent health and the medical report was forwarded to the Sport Car Club of America (SCCA). Days before, Dean had had a minor accident with the car on Sunset Boulevard, so the Porsche had to be repaired before the race. During those days, he visited his father again, with whom Marcus and Ortense Winslow were visiting.
One of the last people he spoke to on September 30, 1955, was Lance Reventlow, a motorsport enthusiast and friend of his, whom he met on the way to Salinas. Ursula Andress recalled that day, “At seven in the morning he picked me up at home. Jimmy said, ”Come on, we”ll drive together toward San Francisco.”” At that moment, she said, John Derek, her future husband, arrived. “James saw John and knew I loved John Derek. He said, ”Okay, John, let”s go for a ride,” and sped off with John through the residential neighborhood to have a man-to-man talk. When he came back, he said to me, ”I know you”re not coming with me.” And then he left.” A few hours later, Dean and his mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, were on a highway north of Los Angeles near Cholame at dusk. They were followed at some distance by his friend Bill Hickman and photographer Sandy Roth, who was to deliver a photo reportage on Dean for Collier”s magazine.
At the intersection of California State Route 41 and California State Route 46 (⊙35.734625-120.284625) near Cholame, Dean was approached by a Ford. After accelerating and braking several times, its driver Donald Turnupseed (1932-1995) abruptly turned his car to the left and took Dean”s right of way – according to his own statement, he had not seen Dean”s Porsche coming. Despite the dusk, Dean had not switched on his headlights and had no time to swerve, so he drove into the Ford without braking. Wütherich was ejected from the vehicle, and the Porsche came to rest on the roadside embankment. Both men were taken to a nearby hospital; Dean could only be pronounced dead. The 23-year-old Turnupseed had suffered shock and the German Wütherich had broken his jaw and hips.
Failure Analysis Associates (now Exponent) in Menlo Park, California, recreated the accident in full detail on a September 30 date in 1990. They concluded that the speed of Dean”s vehicle at the time of the accident was 55 to 60 miles per hour (about 88 to 96 km
A day after Dean”s death, his body was airlifted to Indianapolis and buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount on Oct. 9. James Dean”s estate totaled $105,000. Most of the sum came from a life insurance policy Dean had taken out shortly before his accident. His father, Winton Dean, was legally determined to be the heir.
Within a few weeks of the posthumous premiere of … for they know not what they do, a veritable cult of James Dean arose, especially among young people. Some teenagers even followed Dean to his death by suicide. Furthermore, even after his death, quite a few letters arrived for him at Warner Brothers and at the newspapers – three years after his death, Dean received even more mail than any living Hollywood star. The big fuss about Dean was further encouraged by Warner Brothers, who released the movie Giants only exactly on the first anniversary of Dean”s death.
Stage plays, films and several books dealt with the phenomenon James Dean. His role in The Immoralist contributed to rumors about Dean”s sexual orientation. Dean”s love life was illuminated by numerous biographies in the following decades and Dean”s relationships with both women and men became known. He is now frequently listed as bisexual. Far more significant, however, was his symbolic character as a youthful rebel, which made him a popular symbolic figure of rebellion against established structures, especially among the youth of conservative America in the 1950s and 1960s. His three leading film roles, which showed him in conflict with authorities, contributed to this, as did his early death, which left him eternally as a young man.
Elizabeth Taylor later reported in an interview that James Dean had confided in her during joint filming that in his childhood as an eleven-year-old he had been sexually molested by a clergyman after the death of his mother. This experience haunted him throughout his life.
Several musicians were inspired by Dean and wrote musical works and articles about him and his life as a tribute. For example, in 1963, the Beach Boys album Little Deuce Coupe featured the track A Young Man Is Gone, which sings about Dean”s life and death. Phil Ochs sang about Dean in his song Jim Dean of Indiana in 1970 as did the Eagles on their album On the Border, released in 1974, titled James Dean. Dean is also referenced in a line of lyrics in the song American Pie by Don McLean; as well as in the song Sie ist 40 by Udo Lindenberg and in Stefan Waggershausen”s Hallo Engel. Trumpeter Chet Baker has been called the “James Dean of jazz.” The German punk band Abwärts recorded a song entitled Die Stimme von James Dean in 1991.
Dean is also featured in the song Rockstar by Nickelback, in Moviestar by Harpo, in Vogue by Madonna, in These Days by Bon Jovi, in Rather Die Young by Beyoncé, in New Americana by Halsey, in Style by Taylor Swift, in Blue Jeans by Lana Del Rey, in We Didn”t Start the Fire by Billy Joel, in Ghost Town by Adam Lambert, in Moonlight by Ariana Grande, in James Dean by Olson, in Famous by Scouting for Girls, in Live Fast Die Young by Hollywood Undead, in James Dean by Ufo361, in If I”m James Dean, You”re Audrey Hepburn by Sleeping with Sirens and Cool by the Jonas Brothers. Various feature films and documentaries have also been made about Dean since 1956.
In November 2019, it was announced that the production company Magic City Films decided to bring Dean back to life using state-of-the-art CGI technology as part of the production of its Vietnam War drama “Finding Jack.” In the film, directed by Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, whose theatrical release in the U.S. had already been announced for November 11, 2020, the computer version of Dean takes on one of the main roles. As of today (November 2021), there is still no official release date for the film.
In the German versions of his three films Jenseits von Eden, … denn sie wissen nicht, was sie tun und Giganten, James Dean was dubbed by the later well-known actor and television presenter Dietmar Schönherr.