NAME: James Dean
OCCUPATION: Film Actor
BIRTH DATE: February 08, 1931
DEATH DATE: September 30, 1955
EDUCATION: University of California at Los Angeles
PLACE OF BIRTH: Marion, Indiana
PLACE OF DEATH: Paso Robles, California
BEST KNOWN FOR: American motion picture actor James Dean became a symbol of the confused, restless, and idealistic youth of the 1950s.
James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American film actor. He is a cultural icon, best embodied in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled Los Angeles teenager Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his stardom were as loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955), and as the surly ranch hand, Jett Rink, in Giant (1956). Dean’s enduring fame and popularity rests on his performances in only these three films, all leading roles. His premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status.
Dean was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only actor to have had two posthumous acting nominations. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Dean the 18th best male movie star on their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list.
American teenagers at the time of Dean’s major films identified with Dean and the roles he played, especially in Rebel Without A Cause: the typical teenager, caught where no one, not even his peers, can understand him. Joe Hyams says that Dean was “one of the rare stars, like Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift, whom both men and women find sexy.” According to Marjorie Garber, this quality is “the undefinable extra something that makes a star.” Dean’s iconic appeal has been attributed to the public’s need for someone to stand up for the disenfranchised young of the era, and to the air of androgyny that he projected onscreen. Dean’s “loving tenderness towards the besotted Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause continues to touch and excite gay audiences by its honesty. The Gay Times Readers’ Awards cited him as the male gay icon of all time.”
Dean is mentioned or featured in various songs, which include titles such as “Allure” by Jay-Z, “American Boy” by Chris Isaak, “American Pie” by Don McLean, “A Young Man is Gone” by The Beach Boys, “Bla bla bla (Blah Blah Blah)” by Perfect, “Chciałbym umrzeć jak James Dean (lit. I Wish to Die Like James Dean)” by Partia, “Come Back Jimmy Dean” by Bette Midler, “Daddy’s Speeding” by Suede, “Electrolite” by R.E.M., “Famous” by Scouting for Girls, “Five Years Time” by Noah & The Whale, “Just Like a Movie Star” by The 6ths, “Flip-Top Box” by Self, “Girl on TV” by LFO, “Hello my Hate” by Black Veil Brides, “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp, “James Dean” by Bonnie Tyler, “James Dean (I Wanna Know)” by Daniel Bedingfield, “James Dean” by That Handsome Devil, “James Dean” by the Eagles, “Jim Dean of Indiana” by Phil Ochs, “Jimmy Dean” by Icehouse, “Lost on Highway 46” by Sham 69, “Choke On This” by Senses Fail, “Mr. James Dean” by Hilary Duff, “My Kind of Girl” by Collin Raye, “My Shine” by Childish Gambino, “Peach Trees” by Rufus Wainwright, “Picture Show” by John Prine, “Rather Die Young” by Beyoncé, “Rock On” by David Essex, “Rockstar” by Nickelback, “Speechless” by Lady GaGa, “Teenage Wildlife” by AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys, “These Days” by Bon Jovi, “Under the Gun” by The Killers, “Vogue” by Madonna, “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, and “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel.
In addition, he is often noted within television shows, films, books and novels. In an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, the character Liberty likens the rebellious, anti-social Sean Cameron to James Dean. On the sitcom Happy Days, Fonzie has a picture of Dean in his closet next to his mirror. A picture of Dean also appears on Rizzo’s wall in the film Grease. On the American version of the TV series Queer as Folk, the main character Brian Kinney mentions James Dean together with Cobain and Hendrix, saying, “They’re all legends. They’ll always be young, and they will always be beautiful”. In the alternate history book Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove, Dean is stated to have not died in a car crash and to have made several more films, including Rescuing Private Ranfall, based on Saving Private Ryan.
Dean’s estate still earns about $5,000,000 per year, according to Forbes Magazine.
What You Need To Know
- James Dean wardrobe staples include white tees, denim and a leather jacket.
- He wore dressier duds like the shawl collar jacket that he is recognized for having resurrected.
- His rebellious look marked a definite departure from predominantly preppy styles.
Why He’s A Style Icon
James Dean, who himself was a man of few words, requires little explanation when it comes to discussing his status as a style icon. He was the king of cool.
Dean’s first television experience came in the form of a 1950 Pepsi commercial — a far cry from his first big-screen debut five years later in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden. His role as the angsty outcast Cal Trask was a prelude to achieving full-blown stardom in Rebel Without a Cause. The brooding young actor gained international fame playing Jim Stark, a teenager who, as the title implies, can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Dean had a classic greaser look with slicked-back hair, jeans and a tight white T-shirt that was capped off not with a black leather jacket but a red windbreaker, and of course, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. It may not seem cutting-edge by today’s style icon standards, but his rebellious look marked a definite departure from predominantly preppy and buttoned-up midcentury styles.
Life imitated art with James Dean carrying that brazen image into his everyday existence. A taste for fast cars was conveniently accompanied by fame and fortune that allowed him luxuries like a Porsche 356 Speedster, which he later traded in for the more exclusive — and faster — 550 Spyder model. Not surprisingly, Dean had a habit of racing his pricey investments. It was the natural complement to his all-American bad boy persona. But as luck would have it, life in the fast lane ultimately led to an untimely demise at the ripe young age of 24.
Dean’s legacy, however, far outlives his short time on Earth for one simple reason: He embodied the essence of cool. He was one of the first male actors who garnered as much attention from women as he did from men. And while James Dean’s sexual past remains shrouded in mystery to this day, one thing is clear: Everyone either wanted him or wanted to be like him.
Dress The Dean Way
It is indeed possible to be almost as irresistible as Dean without putting your life in danger. His immortal sense of style is easy to infuse into your wardrobe, and the truth is, you’re probably already halfway there (everyone has a T-shirt and jeans; they just have to be cut right). Dean’s look comes from an era when clothes fit properly by hugging the body rather than hanging and bunching with enough extra fabric to outfit a family of four.
There is more, however, to Dean’s look than understanding denim and a white tee. He is credited with popularizing the vest as part of his Texas oil tycoon role in the posthumously released film Giant. Dean also had his hands on dressier duds like the shawl collar dinner jacket that he is recognized for having resurrected. From the familiar to the formal, James Dean was a timeless trendsetter — and an undeniably cool one at that.