James Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955)
A cultural icon of teen disillusionment and rebellion, thanks to his famous role of Jim Stark in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, American actor James Byron Dean has become a legend of epic proportions and
fell victim to a shocking, premature death at age 24. His
is not a tale of talent squandered due to drug or alcohol addictions or of suicide nor not being able to overcome the status of “child star.” Dean simply was not granted enough time, but with the time he had, he made it count.
Dean was born in Marion, Indiana. At 6, his family moved to Santa Monica, California. Always close to his mother, Dean was devastated when his mother died of uterine cancer at age 9. Dean was quickly sent to live with an older sister and her husband back in Indiana because his father wasn’t able to care for him. During Dean’s adolescence, he became very close with a Methodist pastor, Rev. James DeWeerd. It has since been suggested there were either sexual abuse or a sexual relationship between the two. (A story surfaced in 2011 about how Dean confided to Elizabeth Taylor that he had been sexually abused by a minister.)
After high school graduation, Dean moved back to Santa Monica with his dog to live with his father and stepmother. He entered Santa Monica College to major in pre-law. When he transferred to UCLA after a semester, he switched his major to drama. This led to an estrangement with his father. He soon dropped out to pursue a full-time career as an actor. (This was in January 1951.) After four uncredited roles, he finally scored a breakout role in East of Eden in 1955. This led to his first starring role in Rebel Without a Cause (also in 1955) and then Giant (posthumously released in 1956). In Giant, he starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.
The year before his death (1954), Dean was developing quite the interest in auto racing, even beginning to consider switching careers. On September 30, 1955, Dean was driving his Porsche 550 Spyder with stunt coordinator Bill Hickman and mechanic Rolf Wutherich. At about 5:15 pm, Dean’s Porsche slammed into a 1950 Ford Tudor that was in the middle of an intersection.
Dean was the first actor to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination and the only actor to have two posthumous nominations. His first was for his role in East of Eden, his second was for Giant.