Actor. He is best remembered as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment, as expressed in the title of his most celebrated film, "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), in which he starred as troubled Los Angeles teenager 'Jim Stark'. His premature death in a car accident further cemented his legendary status, as he was transformed into a cult figure with timeless fascination by people around the world. Born James Byron Dean, his father was a farmer who became a dental technician. When he was young, his family moved to Santa Monica, California where his mother died when he was nine years old. His father then sent him back to Fairmont, Indiana to live an aunt and uncle. In high school, he was a mediocre but popular student who played sports, studied drama, and competed in public speaking. In May 1949 he graduated from Fairmont High School moved back to California, to live with his father and stepmother. He enrolled in Santa Monica College and majored in pre-law, and then transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for one semester, changing his major to drama, which resulted in estrangement from his father. While at UCLA, he was picked from a pool of 350 actors to land the role of Malcolm in William Shakespeare's play "Macbeth." At that time, he also began acting in James Whitmore's workshop. In January 1951 he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full-time career as an actor. He made limited commercial and television appearances, along with three walk-on small unaccredited roles in the movies "Fixed Bayonets!" (1951), "Sailor Beware" (1952), and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" (1952). Roles were scarce and he often worked odd jobs to support himself. In October 1951, on the advice of friends, he decided to move to New York City, New York to enhance his career. He worked as a stunt tester for the game show "Beat the Clock" and appeared in episodes of several CBS television series, "The Web," "Studio One," and "Lux Video Theatre," before gaining admission to the legendary Actors Studio to study method acting under Lee Strasberg. His career gained momentum and he performed in a few off-Broadway plays as well as episodes of such early 1950s television shows as "Kraft Television Theatre," "Robert Montgomery Presents," "Danger," "General Electric Theater," and others. His theatrical performance as 'Bachir' in the play "The Immoralist" (1954) an adaptation of Andre Gide's novel, led to Hollywood interest. 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" and he was cast in the role and in April 1954, he left New York City and headed for Los Angeles to begin shooting. He soon followed it up with a starring role in "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955, with Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper, and Sal Mineo), a film that would prove to be hugely popular among teenagers, as an accurate representation of teenage fear and anxiety. His next and final film was "Giant" (1956, with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, posthumously released after his death), where he played 'Jett Rink', a ranch hand who became an oil-rich Texan. He became fascinated with fast cars and auto racing, and participated at several races in California with moderate success. During a break in filming "Giant," he was driving his new Porsche 550 Spyder to a race in northern California. While on Route 466 near Cholame, California, an automobile driven from the opposite direction attempted a left turn, crossing into his lane, which resulted in a head-on collision. He was mortally injured and died en route to the hospital at the age of 24. At the time of his death, two more movies were pending, for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer "Somebody Up There Likes Me" and for Warner Brothers "The Left Handed Gun," which was also part of a signed 9-picture contract with that studio worth $1 million. He received a posthumous nomination in the 1955 Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in "East of Eden," the first official posthumous acting nomination in Academy Awards history, and he also received a posthumous nomination in the 1956 Academy Awards for Best Actor, for his performance in "Giant." In 1977 a memorial was erected in his honor in Cholame, California and in June 1996, the US Postal Service issued a James Dean commemorative stamp in their Legends of Hollywood series. In September 2005, the junction at Highways 46 and 41 was dedicated as the James Dean Memorial Junction as part of the State of California's official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. Each year, the town of Fairmont, Indiana hosts a James Dean Festival during the last full weekend in September and in 1988, the James Dean Gallery was opened in the Fairmont Historical Museum. A number of books have been written about his life along with biographical films. He remains the only actor to have had two posthumous Academy Award nominations.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
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