James Dean is an icon in American history. He is one of the most well known actors of all time. His status as an icon is based on the only three films he did in his career. Though he only did three films, his impact on the film industry is immeasurable. Dean along with Marlon Brandon and many others brought a new style of acting no one had seen at that time. His early death made him a mystery in everyone's eyes. But it also helped his status as a rebel and icon increase. In our latest article on Hollywood legends, we take a look at the ultimate rebel James Dean.
James Dean was born on February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana. Dean's mother died when he was a kid and his father sent him to live with his grandma. His tumultuous childhood bled into his acting. He started out on Broadway and TV specials but his big break didn't happen until he was discovered by Elia Kazan. Kazan saw a raw talent in Dean that the world hadn't seen before. Dean proved Kazan right in Kazan's East of Eden. Dean played Cal Trask in the film. Dean's fantastic acting ability was shown in that film. Dean lived the character of Cal as he used inspiration from his own relationship with his father for the film. There's one scene where Dean and Raymond Massey are arguing over money. Dean improvised the famous scene where he hugs Massey uncomfortably and storms out of the room. That scene shows the true genius of James Dean. Dean received critical acclaim for the film and became a star overnight.
Dean's next film was Rebel Without a Cause. This film put Dean at the forefront of popular culture in America. The fashion of that film is iconic. Dean's red jacket has been featured in many films outside of that one. It's not the jacket that was cool, it was James Dean wearing it that made it cool. Unfortunately Dean was not able to watch the film because he passed away before the film's premiere. But again in this film Dean's acting was incredible. Dean always had a presence on screen that couldn't be matched. Dean followed up that film with his last film Giant. This time Dean was in a supporting role but steals the film. The most iconic moment of that film involves Dean as he is celebrating when he first strikes oil. Him standing there as the oil covers his face with a big smile is something I will always remember.
When you're watching James Dean films, you are left at the edge of your seat. Dean made you feel like anything can happen when he's on the screen. That made people excited to watch a James Dean film. James Dean was always himself on and off screen. His personality bled through to his characters. You can say he was the first anti-hero in a sense that he wasn't squeaky clean. He had an edge to him that wasn't seen in a hero before.
Dean was the ultimate rebel. He played one on screen but it was his identity off screen. Dean didn't care about the rules or even the unwritten rules. He even skipped the premiere of East of Eden because he didn't like the glitz and glamor. This made Warner Brothers head Jack Warner very mad but he didn't care. Dean was someone who was unapologetically himself. He played by his own rules. He walked to the beat of his own drum. Even when Warner gave him $1 million dollars and told Dean to never race again, Dean didn't listen. His attitude made the general public love him because they wanted to be him. Everytime I watch a James Dean film, I feel like I'm watching the coolest guy in the world. But underneath that rebellious persona, I know I'm watching a great actor who I can't take my eyes off.
Dean's death at the age of 24 was very unfortunate. Even though Dean was fantastic in the three films he did, I believe we didn't see the best of him. If Dean didn't die young, I believe we would talking about him as being the best actor of all time. He would have won multiple Academy Awards. His accomplishments would have triumphed a lot of actors we regard as being the best today. Unfortunately we will never know what really would have happened if Dean didn't die, but Dean remains an icon in American history and his rebellious spirit lives on.
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