James Dean: Still Remembered 57 Years After His Death

James Dean
1931- 1955

James Byron Dean was born on February 8, 1931 in Marion Indiana. His father moved the family to California, but he sent James to live with an aunt and uncle in Indiana, when his mother died.

Dean appeared in five movies from 1951-1952, but they were all uncredited appearances. Meanwhile, he was appearing in many television series and in live theater television productions.

He also appeared in live drama productions on television, including I’m A Fool which was shown on GE Theater. The production also starred Natalie Wood, when it was shown on November 14, 1954.

ImAFoolgeTheater

East of Eden

Dean’s next movie East of Eden would be released in April of 1955.  Dean who appearing in his first starring role as Cal Trask would be nominated, for Best Actor Award for his role. He was nominated posthumously, becoming the first actor ever nominated after his death.

James Dean and Julie Harris in a scene from East of Eden:

James Dean refused to attend the premiere of East of Eden, which almost caused him, to lose his lead role in Rebel Without a Cause. Dean beat out Paul Newman for the role of Cal Trask, when they both were in the same scene, during the screen test.

East of Eden was the only one of Dean’s best known movies to be released before his death.

Rebel Without a Cause

Later in 1955, Dean and Wood would be paired again in the movie Rebel Without a Cause. This movie made a huge impression on me, when I saw it on television. I can still remember the planetarium scene in the movie.

This first clip from Rebel Without a Cause shows James Dean and Natalie Wood:

Romantic scene with James and Natalie:

Natalie Wood is the starter for a chicken race between James Dean and the villain:

James Dean is remembered for his role in Rebel Without a Cause, but Natalie Wood would be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Judy, while Sal Mineo would be nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role as Plato.

Some interesting trivia about the movie: Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) had submitted a script considered for the movie, but was rejected. Jayne Mansfield and Debbie Reynolds were both considered for the Natalie Wood role of Judy.

The three stars of the movie all met tragic deaths, with James Dean dying in a car accident, Natalie Wood dying in a drowning accident, which is still being investigated by the Los Angeles police and Sal Mineo who was stabbed to death. The policeman (Edward Platt) who knocks down Dean in the police station scene, would take his own life in later years. Platt is best remembered for his role as Control Chief on Get Smart television series.

Giant

James Dean would be nominated for Best Leading Actor Oscar posthumously, for his role as Jett Rink in Giant, while Rock Hudson also was nominated for Best Leading Actor. The film was nominated for ten Oscars, but only director George Stevens won an Oscar for Best Director.

James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor seen in a scene from Giant.

James telling Rock Hudson’s character and the others that he just struck oil:

Nick Adams provided the voice for Dean in some lines, due to Dean dying before production ended. Hudson had been given a choice, between Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor and chose Taylor.

Giant was the highest grossing movie for Warner Bros.  until Superman was released. Sal Mineo who had appeared in Rebel Without a Cause was also cast in Giant.

Death

Dean was forbidden to race during the filming of Giant. He had been a successful car racer at the Palm Springs Road Races and had won some races and had placed in the top two in some other races.

He was eager to impress actor Alex Guinness with his new car, a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder and showed the famous actor his car. Guinness was not impressed and made this prophetic statement and told Dean  “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.” Dean was dead seven days later after having been hit in a head-on collision.

This is all that remained of James Dean’s Porsche after the September 30, 1955 accident that ended his life at the age of 24.

September 30, 1955 started off as a normal day for Dean, as he planned to put his Porsche on a trailer on way to racetrack, but his mechanic Walter Wutherich thought it would be better for Dean to drive it to Salinas, California, so he could get used to being in the driver’s seat. Dean was stopped at 3:30 PM PDT for speeding, since he had been driving 65 MPH in a 55 MPH zone.

It was at approximately 5:45 PDT that Dean noticed a 1950 Ford Custom coupe coming toward him at a high rate of speed. He tried to maneuver his Porsche to avoid a direct hit, when the driver Donald Turnupseed crossed the middle line, causing him to hit Dean’s car head-on.

Dean was pronounced dead on arrival at Pablo Robles Memorial Hospital, which was 28 miles from the crash scene. Surprisingly Turnupseed only suffered facial bruises and a bloodied nose from the accident. He was well enough to walk and hitch-hike on his way to Tulare, California.

Legacy

James Dean’s death at the age of 24 raised a lot of questions. Would he have went on to become one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history? We will never know the answer to that question.

What we do know is that is that from 1951-1955 he left behind memories of him being on Broadway, on television and in the movies. His most memorable movies were released in 1955 and 1956, when Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant were released.

Many actors never are nominated for an Academy Award in their entire career, yet Dean was nominated twice for two of the three movies he appeared in over a two-year span.

Rebel Without a Cause best exemplified for me the James Dean I remember, as a troubled youth in that movie, that couldn’t find happiness in a troubled world.

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Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

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