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In Remembrance of James Byron Dean

8 February, 1931 ~ 30 September, 1955
Marion, IN, United States



Message from Simon Raybould:

" Memorial Tribute to James Dean "


Biography

James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American film actor. Dean's status as a cultural icon is best embodied in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause, in which he starred as troubled Los Angeles teenager Jim Stark.

The other two roles that defined his star were as loner Cal Trask in East of Eden, and as the surly farmer Jett Rink in Giant. His enduring fame and popularity rests on only these three films, his entire output in a starring role. His death at an early age cemented his legendary status.

He was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only person to have 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.

Early life

James Dean was born on February 8, 1931, at the Seven Gables apartment house in Marion, Indiana to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson. Six years after his father had left farming to become a dental technician, James and his family moved to Santa Monica, California. The family spent several years there, and by all accounts young Jimmy was very close to his mother. According to Michael DeAngelis, she was "the only person capable of understanding him".

He was enrolled at Brentwood Public School in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles until his mother died of cancer when Dean was nine years old.

Unable to care for his son, Winton Dean sent James to live with Winton's sister Ortense and her husband Marcus Winslow on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana, where he was raised in a Quaker background. Dean sought the counsel and friendship of Methodist pastor Rev. James DeWeerd. DeWeerd seemed to have had a formative influence upon Dean, especially upon his future interests in bullfighting, car racing, and the theater. According to Billy J. Harbin, "Dean had an intimate relationship with his pastor... which began in his senior year of high school and endured for many years." In high school, Dean's overall performance was mediocre, however was a popular school athlete having successfully played on the baseball and basketball teams and studied drama and competed in forensics through the Indiana High School Forensic Association. After graduating from Fairmount High School on May 16, 1949, Dean moved back to California with his beagle, Max, to live with his father and stepmother. He enrolled in Santa Monica College (SMCC) and majored in pre-law.

Dean transferred to UCLA and changed his major to drama, which resulted in estrangement from his father. He pledged the Sigma Nu fraternity but was never initiated. 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.

Acting career

Dean's first television appearance was in a Pepsi Cola television commercial.[6] He quit college to act full time and was cast as John the Beloved Disciple in Hill Number One, an Easter television special, and three walk-on roles in movies, Fixed Bayonets!, Sailor Beware, and Has Anybody Seen My Gal? His only speaking part was in Sailor Beware, a Paramount comedy starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; Dean played a boxing trainer. While struggling to get jobs in Hollywood, Dean also worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios, during which time he met Rogers Brackett, a radio director for an advertising agency, who offered Dean professional help and guidance in his chosen career, as well as a place to stay.

In October 1951, following actor James Whitmore's and his mentor Rogers Brackett's advice, Dean moved to New York City. In New York he worked as a stunt tester for the Beat the Clock game show. He also 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.

Proud of this accomplishment, Dean referred to the Studio in a 1952 letter to his family as "The greatest school of the theater. It houses great people like Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Arthur Kennedy, Mildred Dunnock. ... Very few get into it ... It is the best thing that can happen to an actor. I am one of the youngest to belong." His career picked up and he performed in further episodes of such early 1950s television shows as Kraft Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger and General Electric Theater. One early role, for the CBS series, Omnibus, (Glory in the Flower) saw Dean portraying the same type of disaffected youth he would later immortalize in Rebel Without a Cause (this summer, 1953 program was also notable for featuring the song "Crazy Man, Crazy", one of the first dramatic TV programs to feature rock and roll music). Positive reviews for his 1954 theatrical role as "Bachir", a pandering North African houseboy, in an adaptation of André Gide's book The Immoralist, led to calls from Hollywood.

East of Eden

Main article: East of Eden (film)
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-1800s through the 1910s
In contrast, the film chose to deal predominantly with the character of Cal Trask; initially seeming more aloof and emotionally troubled than his twin brother Aron... yet quickly seen to be more worldly, aware, business savvy, and even sagacious than their pious and constantly disapproving father (played by Raymond Massey) seeking to invent vegetable refrigeration, and estranged mother, whom Cal discovers is a brothel-keeping 'madame' (Jo Van Fleet). Elia Kazan said of Cal before casting, "I wanted a Brando for the role." Osborn suggested Dean who then met with Steinbeck; the future Nobel laureate did not personally like the bold youth, but thought him perfect for the part. Kazan set about putting the wheels in motion to cast the relatively unknown young actor in the role; on April 8, 1954, Dean left New York City and headed for Los Angeles to begin shooting.

Dean's performance in the film foreshadowed his role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause. Both characters are angst-ridden, protagonists and misunderstood outcasts, desperately craving approval from a father figure.

Much of Dean's performance in the film is unscripted; such as his dance in the bean field and his curled up, fetal like posturing whilst riding on top of a train-car (after searching out his mother in a near-by town). The most famous improvisation during the film was when Cal's father rejects his gift of $5,000 (which was in reparation 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.

At the 1955 Academy Awards, he received a posthumous Best Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award nomination for this role, the first official posthumous acting nomination in Academy Awards history. (Jeanne Eagels was unofficially nominated for Best Actress in 1929, when the rules for selection of the winner were different.)

Rebel Without a Cause

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. The film is often cited as an accurate representation of teenage angst. It co-starred teen actors Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and Dennis Hopper and was directed by Nicholas Ray.

Giant

Giant, which was posthumously released in 1956, saw Dean play a supporting role to Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. This was due to his desire to avoid being typecast as Jim Stark and Cal Trask. In the film, he plays Jett, an oil rich Texan. His role was notable in that, in order to portray an older version of his character in one scene, Dean dyed his hair gray and shaved some of it off to give himself a receding hairline.

Giant would be Dean's last film. At the end of the film, Dean is supposed to make a drunken speech at a banquet; this is nicknamed the 'Last Supper' because it was the last scene before his sudden death.

Dean mumbled so much that the scene had to later be re-recorded by his co-stars because Dean had died before the film was edited.

Coincidentally, the #1 pop song in the US at the time of Dean's death, "The Yellow Rose of Texas" by Mitch Miller, was also featured in Giant in a scene following the actor's last appearance in the film described above.

At the 1956 Academy Awards, Dean received his second posthumous Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his role in Giant.
Racing career and 'Little Bastard'
When Dean got the part in East of Eden, he bought himself a red race-prepared MG TD and shortly afterwards, a white Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon.

Dean upgraded his MG to a Porsche 356 Speedster (Chassis number: 82621), which he raced. Dean came in second in the Palm Springs Road Races in March 1955 after a driver was disqualified; he came in third in May 1955 at Bakersfield and was running fourth at the Santa Monica Road Races later that month, until he retired with an engine failure.

During filming of Rebel Without a Cause, Dean traded the 356 Speedster in for one of only 90 Porsche 550 Spyders. He was contractually barred from racing during the filming of Giant, but with that out of the way, he was free to compete again. The Porsche was in fact a stopgap for Dean, as delivery of a superior Lotus Mk. X was delayed and he needed a car to compete at the races in Salinas, California.

Dean's 550 was customized by George Barris, who would go on to design the Batmobile. Dean's Porsche was numbered 130 at the front, side and back. The car had a tartan on the seating and two red stripes at the rear of its wheelwell. The car was given the nickname 'Little Bastard' by Bill Hickman, his language coach on Giant. Dean asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint Little Bastard on the car. When Dean introduced himself to Alec Guinness outside a restaurant, he asked him to take a look at the Spyder. Guinness thought the car appeared 'sinister' and told Dean: 'If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.'

This encounter took place on September 23, 1955, seven days before Dean's death.

Death

On September 30, 1955, Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wütherich set off from Competition Motors, where they had prepared his Porsche 550 Spyder that morning for a sports car race at Salinas, California. Dean originally intended to trailer the Porsche to the meeting point at Salinas, behind his new Ford Country Squire station wagon, crewed by Hickman and photographer Sanford Roth, who was planning a photo story of Dean at the races.

At the last minute, Dean drove the Spyder, having decided he needed more time to familiarize himself with the car. At 3:30 p.m., Dean was ticketed in Mettler Station, Kern County, for driving 65 mph (105 km/h) in a 55 mph (89 km/h) zone. The driver of the Ford was ticketed for driving 20 mph (32 km/h) over the limit, as the speed limit for all vehicles towing a trailer was 45 mph (72 km/h). Later, having left the Ford far behind, they stopped at Blackwells Corner in Lost Hills for fuel and met up with fellow racer Lance Reventlow.

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, attempted to take the fork onto State Route 41 and crossed into Dean's lane without seeing him. The two cars hit almost head on.

According to a story in the October 1, 2005 edition of the Los Angeles Times,[16] California Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles when they were called to the scene of the accident, where they saw a heavily breathing Dean being placed into an ambulance. Wütherich had been thrown from the car, but survived with a broken jaw and other injuries. Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59 p.m. His last known words, uttered right before impact, were said to have been "That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us."
Contrary to reports of Dean's speeding, which persisted decades after his death, Nelson said "the wreckage and the position of Dean's body indicated his speed was more like 55 mph (88 km/h)."

Turnupseed received a gashed forehead and bruised nose and was not cited by police for the accident. He was interviewed by the Tulare Advance-Register newspaper immediately following the crash, saying that he had not seen Dean's car approaching, but after that, refused to ever again speak publicly about the accident. He went on to own and operate an electrical contracting business and died of lung cancer in 1995.

Wütherich died in a road accident in Germany in 1981 after surviving several suicide attempts.
While completing Giant, and to promote Rebel Without a Cause, Dean filmed a short interview with actor Gig Young for an episode of Warner Bros. Presents[19] in which Dean, instead of saying the popular phrase "The life you save may be your own" instead ad-libbed "The life you might save might be mine." [sic] Dean's sudden death prompted the studio to re-film the section, and the piece was never aired—though in the past several sources have referred to the footage, mistakenly identifying it as a public service announcement.

(The segment can, however, be viewed on both the 2001 VHS and 2005 DVD editions of Rebel Without a Cause).

Memorial

James Dean is buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana. In 1977, a Dean memorial was built in Cholame, California. The stylized sculpture is composed of concrete and stainless steel around a tree of heaven growing in front of the Cholame post office.

The sculpture was made in Japan and transported to Cholame, accompanied by the project's benefactor, Seita Ohnishi. Ohnishi chose the site after examining the location of the accident, now little more than a few road signs and flashing yellow signals. In September, 2005, the intersection of Highways 41 and 46 in Cholame (San Luis Obispo county) was dedicated as the James Dean Memorial Highway as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death.

There is a memorial at Jack Ranch Cafe in Cholame.
The dates and hours of Dean's birth and death are etched into the sculpture, along with a handwritten description by Dean's close friend, screenwriter William Bast, of one of Dean's favorite lines from Antoine de Saint Exupéry's The Little Prince—"What is essential is invisible to the eye."

Personal life

William Bast was one of Dean's closest friends, a fact acknowledged by Dean's family. Dean's first biographer (1956), Bast was his roommate at UCLA and later in New York, and knew Dean throughout the last five years of his life. Some time after Dean's death, he stated that he and Dean had been lovers.

Early within Dean's career, after he signed his contract with Warner Brothers, their public relations department began generating stories about Dean's liaisons with a variety of young actresses who were mostly drawn from the clientele of Dean's Hollywood agent, Dick Clayton. Studio press releases also grouped "Dean together with two other actors, Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter, identifying each of the men as an 'eligible bachelor' who has not yet found the time to commit to a single woman: 'They say their film rehearsals are in conflict with their marriage rehearsals.'"

Dean's best remembered relationship is that undertaken with a young Italian actress Pier Angeli, whom he met while Angeli was shooting The Silver Chalice on an adjoining Warner lot, and with whom he exchanged items of jewelry as love tokens.

Angeli's mother was reported to have disapproved of the relationship because Dean was not Roman Catholic. In his autobiography, East of Eden director Elia Kazan, while dismissing the notion that Dean could possibly have had any success with women, paradoxically alluded to Dean and Angeli's "romance", claiming that he had heard them loudly making love in Dean's dressing room. For a very short time the story of a Dean-Angeli love affair was even promoted by Dean himself, who fed it to various gossip columnists and to his co-star, Julie Harris, who in interviews has reported that Dean told her about being madly in love with Angeli. However, in early October 1954, Angeli unexpectedly announced her engagement to Italian-American singer Vic Damone, to Dean's expressed irritation. Angeli married Damone the following month, and gossip columnists reported that Dean, or someone dressed like him, watched the wedding from across the road on a motorcycle. However, when Bast questioned him about the reports, Dean denied that he would have done anything so "dumb" ...and Bast, like Paul Alexander, believes the relationship was a mere publicity stunt. Pier Angeli only talked once about the relationship in her later life in an interview, giving vivid descriptions of romantic meetings at the beach that read like wishful fantasies, as Bast claims them to be.

Actress Liz Sheridan claims that she and Dean had a short affair in New York. In her memoir detailing this, she also states that Dean was having a sexual involvement with Rogers Brackett, and describes her negative response to this situation. However, again Bast is skeptical whether this was a true love affair and claims Dean and Sheridan didn't spend much time together.

Dean avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual, then classified by the US government as a mental disorder.

When questioned about his orientation, he is reported to have said, "Well, I'm certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back."

Legacy

Iconic status and impact on popular culture
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, who 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 "James Dean" by That Handsome Devil, "James Dean" by The Eagles, "A Young Man is Gone" by The Beach Boys, "Rock On" by David Essex, "American Pie" by Don McLean, "Daddy's Speeding" by Suede, "Electrolite" by R.E.M., "Flip-Top Box" by Self and "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed. 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 on his wall.

A picture of Dean also appears on Rizzo's wall in the film Grease. In the alternate history book Homeward Bound by Harry Turtledove, Dean is stated to have not died in a car crash and made several more films, including a film called Rescuing Private Ranfall, based on Saving Private Ryan.

Dean's estate still earns about $5,000,000 per year, according to Forbes Magazine.

Speculated sexual orientation

Today, Dean is often considered an icon because of his "experimental" take on life, which included his ambivalent sexuality. There have been several accounts of Dean's sexual relationships with both men and women.

William Bast, one of Dean's closest friends, was Dean's first biographer (1956). He recently published a revealing update of his first book, in which, after years of successfully dodging the question as to whether he and Dean were sexually involved, he finally stated that they were. In this second book, Bast describes the difficult circumstances of their involvement and also deals frankly with some of Dean's other reported homosexual relationships, notably the actor's friendship with Rogers Brackett, the influential producer of radio dramas who encouraged Dean in his career and provided him with useful professional contacts.

Bast identifies a potentially bipolar depression in Dean's erratic behavior and mood swings. In his description of their relationship, Dean emerges as a character very much torn apart between wanting to reach out (to Bast) and needing protection against possible rejections or wanting to hide any supposed weakness. According to John Howlett, Dean was also probably suffering from dyslexia, which furthered his intellectual insecurity.

Shortly before his death, Dean also gave away his pet kitten Marcus, saying: "I figured, I might go out some night and just never come home." Bast also repeatedly observed Dean's heavy use of alcohol and drugs during the filming of Rebel Without a Cause.

Journalist Joe Hyams suggests that any homosexual activity Dean might have been involved in, appears to have been strictly "for trade", as a means of advancing his career. Val Holley notes that, according to Hollywood biographer Lawrence J. Quirk, gay Hollywood columnist Mike Connolly "would put the make on the most prominent young actors, including Robert Francis, Guy Madison, Anthony Perkins, Nick Adams and James Dean." However, the "trade only" notion is debated by Bast[23] and other Dean biographers. Aside from Bast's account of his own relationship with Dean, Dean's fellow biker and "Night Watch" member John Gilmore claims he and Dean "experimented" with homosexual acts on one occasion in New York, and it is difficult to see how Dean, then already in his twenties, would have viewed this as a "trade" means of advancing his career.

Screenwriter Gavin Lambert, himself homosexual and part of the Hollywood gay circles of the 1950s and 1960s, described Dean as being homosexual. Rebel director Nicholas Ray is on record as saying that Dean was homosexual. Additionally, William Bast and biographer Paul Alexander conclude that Dean was homosexual, while John Howlett concludes that Dean was "certainly bisexual".

George Perry's biography reduces these aspects of Dean's sexuality to "experimentation".] Still, Hyams and Paul Alexander also claim that Dean's relationship with pastor De Weerd had a sexual aspect, too. Bast also shows that Dean had knowledge of gay bars and customs. Consequently, Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon's book Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day (2001) includes an entry on James Dean.

The "curse" of "Little Bastard"


Since Dean's death, a "legend" has arisen that his Porsche 550 Spyder was "cursed" and supposedly injured or killed several others in the years following his death.

One version of the tale goes as follows:
The famous car customizer George Barris bought the wreck for $2,500, only to have it slip off its trailer and break a mechanic's leg. Soon afterwards, Barris sold the engine and drive-train, respectively, to physicians Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While racing against each other, the former would be killed instantly when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree, while the latter would be seriously injured when his vehicle rolled over while going into a curve. Barris later sold two tires, which malfunctioned as well.

The tires, which were unharmed in Dean's accident, blew up simultaneously causing the buyer's automobile to go off the road. Subsequently, two young would-be thieves were injured while attempting to steal parts from the car. When one tried to steal the steering wheel from the Porsche, his arm was ripped open on a piece of jagged metal. Later, another man was injured while trying to steal the bloodstained front seat.

This would be the final straw for Barris, who decided to store "Little Bastard" away, but was quickly persuaded by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to lend the wrecked car to a highway safety exhibit.

The first exhibit from the CHP featuring the car ended unsuccessfully, as the garage storing the Spyder went up in flames, destroying everything except the car itself, which suffered almost no damage whatsoever from the fire.

The second display, at a Sacramento high school, ended when the car fell, breaking a student's hip. "Little Bastard" caused problems while being transported several times. On the way to Salinas, the truck containing the vehicle lost control, causing the driver to fall out, only to be crushed by the Porsche after it fell off the back. On two separate occasions, once on a freeway and again in Oregon, the car came off other trucks, although no injuries were reported, another vehicle's windshield was shattered in Oregon. Its last use in a CHP exhibit was in 1959. In 1960, when being returned to George Barris in Los Angeles, California, the car mysteriously vanished. It has not been seen since.


While it has proven impossible thus far to confirm or deny all the claims in this legend, it suffers from several clear factual errors. Barris was not the initial purchaser of the wrecked 550. Rather the doctors Troy McHenry and William Eschrid, both 550 Spyder owners, purchased the car directly from the insurance company. They removed the drivetrain, steering and other mechanical components to uses as spares in their cars, then sold the shell to George Barris. William Eschrid used the engine in his Lotus race car. Troy McHenry was killed at a race at Pomona 1956 when the Pitman arm in his 550's steering failed, however this was not one of the "cursed" parts fitted to his 550.
Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, Illinois has claimed to have the last known piece of Dean's Spyder (a small chunk a few square inches in size). However this is untrue, as several other large parts are known to exist. The passenger door was on display at the Volo Auto Museum. The engine (#90059) is reported to still be in the possession of the son of the late Dr. Eschrich. Lastly the restored transaxle–gearbox assembly of the Porsche (#10046) is known to be in the possession of car collector Jack Styles.

Reproduced from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Dean

Under the creative commons licence:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Text_of_Creative_Commons_Attribution-ShareAlike_3.0_Unported_License




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