(From Wikipedia) James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American film actor. He is a cultural icon best embodied by the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as a troubled Los Angeles teenager, Jim Stark.
After graduating from Fairmount High School on May 16, 1949, Dean moved to California with his beagle, Max, to live with his father and stepmother. He enrolled in Santa Monica College (SMC) and majored in pre-law. Dean transferred to UCLA and changed his major to drama, which resulted in estrangement from his father. While at UCLA, he beat out 350 actors to land the role of Malcolm in Macbeth. At that time, he also began acting with James Whitmore’s acting workshop. In January 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full-time career as an actor.
After a run of T.V. movies and series, Dean received his first major role in East of Eden. In 1953, director Elia Kazan was looking for a substantive actor to play the emotionally complex role of ‘Cal Trask’, for screenwriter Paul Osborn’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel East of Eden. The lengthy novel had dealt with the story of the Trask and Hamilton families over the course of three generations, focusing especially on the lives of the latter two generations in Salinas Valley, California, from the mid-19th century through the 1910s.
Much of Dean’s performance in East of Eden is unscripted, including his dance in the bean field and his fetal-like posturing while riding on top of a train-car (after searching out his mother in a nearby town). The most famous improvisation during the film was when Cal’s father rejects his gift of $5,000 (offered in preparation for his father’s business loss). Instead of running away from his father as the script called for, Dean instinctively turned to Massey and, crying, embraced him. This cut and Massey’s shocked reaction were kept in the film by Kazan.
Dean quickly followed up his role in Eden with a starring role in Rebel Without a Cause, a film that would prove to be hugely popular among teenagers. Rebel Without a Cause is a 1955 American drama film about disturbed suburban, middle-class teenagers. Directed by Nicholas Ray, it offered both social commentary and an alternative to previous films depicting delinquents in urban slum environments. In 1990, Rebel Without a Cause was added to the preserved films of the United States Library of Congress’s National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
James Dean died a month before Rebel Without a Cause was released due to a car accident. Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 (later State Route 46) near Cholame, California, when a black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, moved to take the fork onto State Route 41 and crossed into Dean’s lane. The two cars hit almost head-on. Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59 p.m. by the attending emergency room physician. His last known words, uttered right before impact when Wütherich told Dean to slow down when they saw the Ford coup in front of them about to drive into their lane, were said to have been: “That guy’s gotta stop… He’ll see us.”
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