James Dean

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This article is about the actor James Dean. You might also be looking for Jimmy Dean.
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James Dean

James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931September 30, 1955) was an American film actor. Epitomizing youthful angst and charisma, Dean's screen persona is probably best embodied in the title of his most representative work, Rebel Without a Cause.

Born on a Marion, Indiana, family farm to Winton and Mildred Wilson Dean, he and his family moved to Santa Monica, California, six years later after Winton left farming to become a dental technician. While there, Dean was enrolled in Brentwood Public School until his mother died of cancer in 1940.

Then, at age nine, Dean's father sent him back to live with relatives on a farm near Fairmount, Indiana, where he was raised with a Quaker upbringing. In high school, Dean played on the school basketball team and participated in forensics and drama. After graduating from Fairmont High School in 1949, Dean moved back to California to live with his father and stepmother.

He enrolled in Santa Monica College, pledged Sigma Nu fraternity and majored in pre-law. After struggling with law, against his father's wishes, Dean changed his major to drama after transferring to the University of California Los Angeles. The resulting parental fight left Dean once again being turned out of his father's house.

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Dean began his career with a soft drink commercial followed by a stint as a stunt tester in the game show Beat the Clock. He quit college to focus on his budding career, but he struggled to get jobs in Hollywood and only succeeded in paying bills by working as a parking lot attendant.

Following the advice of friends, Dean moved to New York City to pursue a career in live stage acting. While there he was accepted to study under Lee Strasberg in the storied Actors Studio. His career turned around and Dean did several episodes of such early-1950s episodic television programs such as Kraft Television Theater, Studio One, Lux Video Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger, and General Electric Theater. His rave reviews in Andr Gide's The Immoralist led to his being called back to Hollywood and film stardom.

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James Dean on the film poster to Rebel Without a Cause

He appeared in several uncredited bit roles in such forgettable films as Sailor Beware, but finally gained recognition and success in 1955 in his first starring role, that of Cal Trask in East of Eden, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. This was the first posthumous acting nomination in Academy Awards history. He followed this up in rapid succession with two more starring roles, in Rebel Without a Cause, and in the 1956 release Giant, for which he was also nominated for an Academy Award.

Dean died in a road accident in a Porsche 550 Spyder near Cholame, California, when a car driven by Donald Turnupseed veered into Dean's lane. This occurred before the release of Giant. He is buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana. He is one of only five people to be nominated for Best Actor for his first feature role, and the only person to be nominated twice after his death.

Dean epitomized the rebellion of 1950s teenagers, especially in his role in Rebel Without a Cause. Many teenagers of the time modeled themselves after him, and his death cast a pall on many members of his generation. His very brief career, lifestyle, violent death and highly publicized funeral transformed James Dean into a cult figure and pop icon of apparently timeless fascination.


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