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James Dean is one Hollywood actor that time has not been able to erase his face and memories from the hearts of many. It is over sixty years the cold hands of death snatched him away yet his memories still lingers and Hollywood has not been able to find a perfect replacement for the enigmatic icon.
Although James Dean starred in only three movies during his Hollywood career, the movies were major hits and would appear in the industry’s movies of all times any day, any time. His debut film was 1955 East of Eden, where he played the role, Cain, in the retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, this was followed by Rebel Without a Cause (1955), where he portrayed the role as an angst-fueled teen. His last movie was Giant, which was released in 1956 after his tragic death. In the movie, he played a supporting role to Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.
For the last movie, he received his second posthumous Oscar nomination for Best Actor at the 29th Academy Awards. His first posthumous nomination which was the first in the history of the Academy Awards was in 1956 as Best Actor in a Leading Role of 1955.
James Dean was born in Marion, Indiana, on the 8th of February 1931. He is the only child his parents – Mildred Marie Wilson and Winton Dean had. He was of English, German, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh heritage.
Following his change of job (farmer to dental technician), the family moved to Santa Monica, California, where Dean was first enrolled at a local public school, Brentwood Public School and later on transferred the McKinley Elementary School.
His mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1938 and died in 1940 when James Dean was just nine years old. After the death of his mother, his father couldn’t cater for him so he sent him off to the family farm in Fairmount, Indiana, where Dean was raised by his aunt and uncle, Marcus and Ortense Winslow. His father remarried after serving with the U.S Army during the Second World War.
Dean attended Fairmount High School and was a bright student. He did well both academically and in sports. James Dean was in the school’s basket and baseball teams competed in public speaking via the school’s Forensic Association and also studied drama. After graduating from High School in 1949, he moved back to his father’s place in California.
He later enrolled in Santa Monica College where he majored in Pre-Law. After a year or so at SMC, he transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and switched over to drama, his decision to major in drama didn’t go down well with his father and thus smeared their relationship. While at UCLA, he began acting in James Whitmore’s workshop and also played as Malcolm in Macbeth. In 1951, James decided to drop out of college to pursue a career in acting.
His first cast was as John the Beloved Disciple in Hill Number One – an Easter television special dramatizing the Resurrection of Jesus. After this, he got minor roles in the movies: Has Anybody Seen My Gal, Fixed Bayonets and Sailor Beware. It was while working as a parking lot attendant at the CBS Studios that James Dean met a radio director for an advertising agency, Rogers Brackett, who gave him a place to stay and offered him professional assistance in his chosen career.
In 1951, he appeared in a radio adventure drama Alias Jane Doe, produced by Rogers Brackett. He later moved to NYC where he became a stunt tester for the game show Beat the Clock. Dean later gained admission to the Actors Studio to study method acting.
He appeared in some TV shows like Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger, Kraft Television Theatre, General Electric Theater and The United States Steel Hour and made his first film appearance in 1955 East of Eden, where he played the role, Cain, in the retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. After East of Eden, he also appeared in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), where he portrayed the role as an angst-fueled teen.
The last movie he starred in before his death was Giant, which was released in 1956 after his tragic death. In the movie, he played a supporting role to Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.
James Dean died in a car accident on September 30, 1955, near Cholame, California. He was aged 24.
Asides from acting, Dean was also into auto racing and has competed in several racing events. On the day of his death, he was actually travelling for an auto racing competition when his Porsche 550 Spyder collided with another car at California State Route 46, killing him almost instantly.
James Dean was buried on October 8, 1955, at Park Cemetery in Fairmount, about a mile away from his aunt and uncle’s farm, where he grew up.
James Dean’s sexual orientation has remained an issue of debate. Although he never came out as gay and was engaged briefly to Pier Angeli, many biographers believe he was also into men or was involved with men at some point in his life, thus, he could be classified as bisexual.
Dean was said to have been romantically involved with a local Methodist priest Rev. James DeWeerd, whom he sought counsel from during his adolescent years. The relationship is said to have lasted until his late teenage years. In a 1994 biography Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean, the author Paul Alexander stated that Dean confided in Elizabeth Taylor that a priest sexually abused him a few years after his mother’s death
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