Alternative History
James Byron Dean
AirBrush 20221023185310
James Dean meeting with Joe Biden on June 12, 2021, at the Lincoln Memorial presidential visit.
Born February 8, 1931 (aged 90)
Marion, Indiana, Indiana, United States
Title Actor, director, screenwriter, musician
Years active 1951–1986
Spouse Elizabeth Sheridan (1960–present)

For the real-life James Dean, see Wikipedia for article on James Dean

James Byron Dean (born. February 8, 1931) is an American film actor, director, screenwriter, and musician. 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, after he retired from the acting business in 1957. He later went on to direct over 16 films before his retirement from the film industry altogether in 1986.

His first film he directed was The Actor, made in 1958, starring Sal Mineo, Sterling Hayden, Marlene Dietrich, Deborah Kerr, and a cameo appearance of Frank Sinatra. The film was a major success, and he went on the direct his second feature, Bad Luck (1968), in which he worked with Stanley Kubrick, introduced by Sterling Hayden. He again worked with Kubrick in 1972, in The Clockwork Orange of Alex DeLarge, in which Dean co-wrote the screenplay and played the main doctor, Dr. Graham, of the Ludovico sequence.

He would work frequently with long time friend and screenwriter William Bast, who also got Dean into the business of writing screenplays for his own films himself. In 1978, James Dean broke his arm and fractured his leg in a motorcycle accident near his hometown of Fairmont, IN, the accident lead to over three years of therapy. In this time, Dean became a recluse from the public, only coming out of his ranch to work on his films. The last film he worked on, The Big Kiss, released in 1985, meet with poor box office and mixed reviews. He effectively retired the following year.

Since his comeback into music in 1992, by playing the guitar in a country-folk new-wave band named, The Rebels, he has been seen attending public speeches and film award ceremonies. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Dean the 12th 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".[1] 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."[2] 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[3] 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.[4]

Acting career[]

Dean's first television appearance was in a Pepsi Cola television commercial.[5] 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.[6][7]

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."[6] 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.[8]

East of Eden[]

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 older brother Aaron...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.[9][10][11]

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[]

File:James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause trailer.jpg

Dean in the trailer for the film 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, 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.


  1. Michael DeAngelis, Gay Fandom and Crossover Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves (Duke University Press, 2001), p. 97.
  2. For more details concerning this homosexual relationship, see Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra and Robert A. Schanke, eds., The Gay And Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era (University of Michigan Press, 2005), 133. See also Joe and Jay Hyams, James Dean: Little Boy Lost (1992), p.20, who present an account alleging Dean's molestation as a teenager by his early mentor DeWeerd and describe it as Dean's first homosexual encounter (although DeWeerd himself portrayed his relationship with Dean as a completely conventional one).
  4. "The unseen James Dean". The Times. March 6, 2005. Retrieved January 6, 2010. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. YouTube: 1950 Pepsi commercial
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bast, W., Surviving James Dean, New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2006.
  7. On Dean's relationship with Brackett, see also Hyams, James Dean: Little Boy Lost, p.79.
  8. Reise, R. The Unabridged James Dean, 1991
  9. Holley, pages x-196.
  10. Perry, pages 109-226.
  11. Rathgeb, page 20.