Hollywood History: James Dean ‘A Rebel Without a Cause’

James Byron Dean was born to parents Winton and Mildred Dean on February 8, 1931 in Marion Indiana. When little James was just five years of age, the Dean family moved to California. While there, James started taking tap dancing lessons, was learning the violin, and developed a love for art. He enjoyed creating and mold things with his hands.  During their time in California Mildred Dean became ill, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and passed out of James’ life during his ninth year of life. His father unable to care for James, he sent him back to Fairmount, Indiana to live with his Quaker aunt and uncle on their farm.  Growing up in rural Indiana, Dean learned how to do chores on the farm, he loved to ice skate, and during his school years, he played guard on his high school basketball team. He also enjoyed the debate club and drama. During these years, he also grew a love for cars and motorcycles. His uncle bought him his first motorcycle when he was 16, a 1946 Whizzer, and at the age of 18, Dean’s father bought him a ’39 Chevy. After graduation Dean moved back to California and attended the Santa Monica Junior College, after a while he transferred to UCLA. It was here he started to develop his acting skills more and soon began acting with James Whitmore’s acting workshop, appearing in several television commercials, with one being for Pepsi. Dean later dropped out of UCLA, and to make ends meet was a parking lot attendant for CBS Studios. It is here in 1955, where he met a film director who would be directing John Steinbeck’s novel “East of Eden.” Dean met Steinbeck who although not liking Dean personally thought he would be perfect to play on of the brothers from his novel. Dean played Cal Trask in “East of Eden” along with Dennis Hooper. Also, in that year he filmed what would turn out to be his most infamous role, in “Rebel Without a Cause.” In this movie, Dean played Jim Stark; and starred with Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, the movie would prove to be hugely popular with teenagers, “Rebel Without a Cause” is an American drama about emotionally confused suburban teenagers. Not wanting to be stereotyped as a rebellious teenager as in his first two films, Dean took on the role of Jett Rink in “Giant” also filmed in 1955. He costarred with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in “Giant.” It was during his filming career that he became interested in pursuing a racing career, however Warren Brothers barred him from racing until he was finished filming “Giant.” Once his part of filming was completed, he started racing again. Dean was scheduled to race in Salinas California, October 1-2, so on September 30, he and his mechanic were driving his new Porsche 550 Spyder to break it in before the race. Around 3:30 p.m., Dean received a speed ticket, as they were travelling to the race via U.S. Route 466 approximately 5:45 p.m., a truck passing through the intersection made a left in front of Dean who could not stop in time. Dean’s mechanic was thrown from the car, while Dean was trapped inside. Dean was pronounced dead on arrival at 6:20 p.m. at Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, he was only 24.

For his performance in “East of Eden”, James Dean was nominated posthumously for the 1956 Academy Awards as Best Actor in a Leading Role of 1955. This was the first official posthumous acting nomination in Academy history; he received his second posthumous nomination in 1957 for Best Actor for films released in 1956.

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