Reel and Retro

Presenting the Past

James Dean

Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” – James Dean

The Rebellious Idol

   How could one individual, capture the world’s heart so profoundly, in such a very short time? 

     James Dean is the epitome of cool. His image, style, intellect, and persona of youthful rebellion made men want to be like him and women want to tame him. He was a cultural icon. Ranked 18th best male movie star of ‘Golden Age’ Hollywood in the American Film Institute. His persona influenced Elvis Presley, and many other musicians such as Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan and many more. 

     Franscilla and Wiesel wrote “As rock music became the defining expression of youth in the 1960’s, the influence of ‘Rebel’ was conveyed to a new generation”. That was just his inspiration on the music industry! He influenced every area he touched, even some he didn’t.

The Start Of His Short Life

James Dean as a child

      Among some of the greatest icons of the “Golden Era of Hollywood”, James Dean had his share of heartache and disappointment to overcome.

     Born James Byron Dean on February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana.  He was an only child to Mildred (Wilson) and Winton Dean. James’ father left farming and moved his family to Santa Monica, California to become a dental technician. The young James attended McKinley elementary school and was very close to his mother, Mildred. It has been said “she was the only person capable of understanding him”. However, when James was nine years old she died of uterine cancer.

     After his mother’s passing, his father Winton was unable to care for the young boy so he sent him to live with his Quaker Aunt Ortense and Uncle Marcus Winslow on their farm in Fairmount, Indiana. Winton then served in World War 11 and later remarried, leaving James to be raised by his Quaker Aunt an Uncle.

    With all things considered, James did very well in school and was a popular student. He played on the baseball and varsity basketball teams, studied drama and competed in public speaking. He also had interests in bullfighting, car racing and theater. However, in 2011, it was reported that James confided in Elizabeth Taylor that he was sexually abused by a minister approximately two years after his mother’s death.

His Next Steps


      After graduating from Fairmount High School in May 1949, he moved back to California with his dog, Max, to live with his father and new step-mother. He enrolled in Santa Monica College (SMC) and majored in pre-law, then transferred to UCLA and changed his major to drama. James began working on his acting craft in James Whitmore’s Workshop. In January 1951 he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full time career as an actor.

     With obvious talent, he soon had some small roles in television. His first appearance was for a Pepsi-cola commercial and small walk on parts in various program episodes. Meanwhile, to make ends meet, he worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios and as a stunt tester for the game show “Beat the clock”. His first speaking part in a film was for ‘Family Theater Productions’, an Easter television special titled “Hill number one” as John, the beloved Disciple. In 1954, he played in a film for General Electric Theater called “The Dark Dark Hours”, a remake of “I’m no Hero”  starring Ronald Reagan. 

A Leap

    James then gained admission to “The Actor’s Studio” in New York to study method acting with Lee Strasberg, which Dean referred to as: “The greatest school of the theater. It houses great people like Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Arthur Kennedy, Mildred Dunnock, Eli Wallach… very few get into it… It is the best thing that can happen to an actor. I am one of the youngest to belong.”

    Crediting his education to “The Actor’s Studio” his career picked up with more parts in television programs. It wasn’t long before he landed the role of “Cal Trask” in “East of Eden” in 1953. His salary was $1,000 a week. To begin filming in Los Angeles, he had to leave New York and “The Actor’s Studio”, which he did April 8, 1954.

On A Roll

     Shortly following “East of Eden” he starred in 1955’s “Rebel without a cause” as troubled teenager “Jim Stark”, also starring Natalie Wood. His salary was $10,000 for the film. It was a role that created the rebel image that never could be separated from his persona. That film led to a starring role in “Giant” as “Jett Rink”, working with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, earning him a salary of $21,000. (More than double his earnings from his previous film). This was James Dean’s last film as he died before it was finished being edited. It was released in 1956.

The only film James ever saw released that he starred in, was “East of Eden”.

Wild Passion

     In 1954, James became very enthused about an auto racing career. With his earnings from “East of Eden”, he purchased a few vehicles including a Triumph Tiger T110

And a Porsche 356 Super Speedster

     However, he traded in his Super Speedster for the “Cursed” 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, nick-named “Little Bastard”.

      James was preparing to race in Salinas October 1 – 2, 1955. There are some interesting articles regarding Jame Dean and his notorious “Little Bastard” and it’s curse.


Porsche made only 90 of the 550 Spyder that James Dean drove, each assigned a unique racing number. Dean had traded his 356 Porsche Super Speedster for number 130 (the 550s were not ordered 1-90), and, according to a Porsche historian, customized the sleek, silver ride with “130” in black, non-permanent paint on the front hood, doors, and rear deck lid. He also had “Little Bastard” written across the rear cowling.

Read the link to learn more about the “curse’ of James Dean’s Porsche “Little Bastard”

End Of The Road

    Excited about his up-coming race with his “Little Bastard”, he was encouraged by his German mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, to break in the race car by driving it from L.A. to Salinas via US Route 466 (currently SR 46).  At approximately 5:45 p.m. a black and white 1950 Ford Tudor coming from the opposite way on Route 466 turned left and was passing through intersection SR 41.  When James saw the truck cross over the center line, he couldn’t stop in time and tried to swerve to avoid an accident.

     The cars collided almost head on and with that, did three cartwheels. Wütherich was thrown from the Spyder and lying barely conscious on the shoulder of the road next to the wrecked vehicle. James, still trapped inside the car, was unconscious. He suffered a broken neck and massive internal and external injuries. Both men were placed in the same ambulance and headed to the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital in Cholame, CA. (28 miles away)

    James Byron Dean was pronounced Dead on Arrival by the hospital’s E.R. Doctor at  6:20 p.m. on Friday, September 30, 1955.

He was 24.

James Dean’s Last TV Appearance

The Legend Lives On

    There is a lot of controversy regarding a film in the process, “Finding Jack”.  It uses actual footage and pictures of James Dean (with his voice being dubbed by someone else). Release date is set for November 11, 2020. 

How do you feel about this up-coming film?

More Tid-Bits

Interesting facts about James Dean:

James Dean’s rare autograph is estimated to be worth $23,000.00. The most valuable of any celebrity dead or alive.

Although considered somewhat of a “Rock and Roll Icon” James listened to a wide range of music from African tribal to modern classical such as Stravinsky and Bartók, as well as contemporary like Frank Sinatra.

He had his share of intimate relationships. The most publicly known one was with Italian actress, Pier Angeli. They were known to exchanged jewelry as “love tokens”.

Love letters exchanged with girlfriend of 2 years, Barbara Glenn sold at an auction in 2011 for $36,000.00

Quotes by James Dean

Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.

Only the gentle are ever really strong.

The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.

I also became close to nature, and am now able to appreciate the beauty with which this world is endowed.

If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.

To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty; to interpret it his problem; and to express it his dedication.

To me, acting is the most logical way for people’s neuroses to manifest themselves, in this great need we all have to express ourselves.

There is no way to be truly great in this world. We are all impaled on the crook of conditioning.

Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. You are all alone with your concentration and imagination, and that’s all you have.

Trust and belief are two prime considerations. You must not allow yourself to be opinionated.

      Imagine what he could have created given the opportunity. The world mourned as the 24 year old man, myth, legend was taken from us too soon, many still mourn.

Go toKeep it Reel to see the recommended movies by our beloved Idol, James Dean.

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