To me the only success, the only greatness, is immortality.
Movie star James Dean only made three films before his death, but became an icon for his portrayal of moody, disaffected youth.
For the first time, adolescent angst featured on the big screen – and a new life stage had begun to gain its own identity, midway between childhood and adulthood.
In Rebel Without A Cause James Dean was the first on-screen teenager – and became a teen idol. The film was banned in many cinemas for ‘promoting teenage delinquency’ – which only made it more appealing to the generation it represented.
Growing up with his uncle and aunt in Indiana after his mother’s death when he was nine, Dean went from high school to university, but quit as his acting career took off. His first break was in a Pepsi commercial and TV roles continued, while he studied in New York at the famous Lee Strasberg drama school, which had a focus on ‘the Method’ of bringing realism to roles.
Dean’s first movie was East of Eden and he deployed his drama school skills to improvise many unscripted actions in the role of troubled Cal Trask. This was the only film that Dean got to view on the big screen; both Rebel Without a Cause and his final film, East of Eden were released after his death.
Dean had developed a passion for fast cars and racing. He was travelling to compete in a race when he crashed his Porsche Spyder in a fatal collision.
His death elevated his already iconic status among 1950s teens and as a a legend for generations to come.