James Dean in "Giant", his final film, 1956 - Insomnia Cured Here/Flickr
CAIRO – 8 February 2018: February 8 marks the day Hollywood 50's youth icon James Dean was born. Best known for his role in “Rebel Without a Cause”, “East of Eden”, he tragically died at the age of 24 in a car accident.
Dean was born on 1931 in Indiana, USA, though his family moved to California shortly after his birth. Dean's mother died of cancer when he was nine years old, and his father, a dentist, had him move back to Indiana to live on his aunt and uncle's ranch. Dean's father was absent from his life from that point on, which lead to Dean greatly resenting him.
Seeking guidance, a young Dean grew close to the Reverend James DeWeerd, who inspired his lifelong passions of car racing and acting; however, a recent claim by late actress Elizabeth Taylor, in an interview with Kevin Sessums, revealed that Dean had confessed to her that he was molested by DeWeerd, leading to lasting intimacy issues.
By 1949, Dean graduated High School and moved to California once again, this time in order to pursue theatrical studies at the University of California. His first acting role came in a Pepsi Cola advertisement, which was enough to land him a role as John the Baptist in the 1951 Easter Holiday special “Hill Number One”, his debut film.
Dean quickly began to land more roles, though mostly small ones, across films such as war drama “Fixed Bayonets!” (1951) and the musical comedy “Sailor Beware” (1952). Following actor James Whitmore's advice to move to New York, Dean caught his big break thanks to his performance in a theatrical play, “The Immoralist”, where he portrayed a homosexual houseboy.
This proved to be his ticket to Hollywood, after director Elia Kadzen noticed his performance in the play and sought him out as the lead role in “East of Eden” (1955). Although Dean was difficult to work with behind the scenes, he proved to be a remarkable talent; his performance in “East of Eden” was mostly unscripted and improvised, and earned him an academy award nomination after his death, the first acting Oscar to ever be nominated posthumously.
Dean's ascent to acting legend had just begun. His next role came that same year in 1955's “Rebel Without a Cause”, Dean's most enduring and iconic film. Here he starred as troubled teenager Jim Stark, desperately seeking somewhere to belong, who ignored conventional wisdom to carve out his own purpose in life. It was a film that defined a generation, speaking to all the lost teenagers of the time, giving them someone they could look up to.
His final role was “Giant”. A sprawling, generational epic, the film told the story of a family of Texas cattle ranchers and their lives throughout the years. Dean's role was supporting yet strong, where he played Jett Rink, a cowboy opposed to the cattle rancher family who eventually rises to become an Oil Tycoon. Alas, Dean would not live to see the film released in 1956.
On September 30, 1955, Dean, an avid car racer alongside his acting career, got into his shiny new Porsche shortly after he finished filming on “Giant”. He competed in a Sports Car Rally in Salinas, California, where he collided with another car and died instantly. For his performance in “Giant”, Dean earned yet another Oscar nomination; he is the first actor to ever receive two posthumous acting nominations.