Last Updated on July 25, 2019
Despite having only three films to his name, James Dean is considered to be one of the greats. With his quiff, obligatory cigarette and red jacket, the Rebel With a Cause actor brought style to method acting and changed Hollywood for the better.
On February 8, 1931, James Byron Dean was born in the small city of Marion, Indiana. He lived in Santa Monica, California for a while with his father, who was a dentist there, and his mother. A few years later, when he was only nine, his mother succumbed to cancer, and his father sent him back to the Midwest. There, he lived with his aunt and uncle for most of his life.
After he graduated from high school, in 1949, he moved back to California to attend Santa Monica City College and later transferred to the University of California in Los Angeles, where he majored in theater.
James moved to New York in 1951 to pursue acting. He would eventually study under Lee Strasberg’s wing, though it is believed that the two never got along. The same year, he landed one of his earliest film projects, Hill Number One: A Story of Faith and Inspiration, portraying a contemporary apostle.
Soon after that, he made his Broadway debut in the short-lived Jaguar. But it was his portrayal of an Arab boy in the 1954 film The Immoralist that would catch Hollywood’s attention.
Believe it or not, James Dean only starred in three films, starting with the 1955 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. He landed the role after he met the author himself, who thought the part would suit him to a T. And he was right. This opened new doors for the rising star.
James was later cast as the angst-ridden teenager Jim Stark in the 1955 Rebel Without a Cause. It was the role that would define his status as one of America’s cultural icons and would inspire generations of artists like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino and more.
The final film James Dean worked on was the family saga entitled Giant, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. He portrayed a ranch hand named Jett Rink. Released in 1956, the actor didn’t live to see his last performance.
For his role in East of Eden, James was nominated for an Oscar in 1956. The following year, he was once again nominated for his role in Giant. He was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy nomination. He is also the only actor to receive multiple nominations posthumously.
Soon after he landed his big break in East of Eden, James Dean turned to the world of racing. In March of 1955, he debuted as a race car driver in Palm Springs, California. Driving a white Porsche Super Speedster, he won second place. Unfortunately, it was his need for speed that would lead to his untimely demise on the 30th of September, 1955.
James was contractually obligated to cease any racing feats while working on Giant. After they wrapped up, he traded his Speedster for a Porsche 550 Spyder and christened it Little Bastard.
On the afternoon of September 30th, James and his mechanic, Rolf Wuetherich, took his Porsche Spyder for a spin down Salinas, California. While driving along south of Bakersfield, he was ticketed for speeding, as he was going 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. This was two hours before his death. At the junction of now Highways 46 and 41, James collided with a Ford Tudor sedan, driven by a 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed.
With a broken neck and severe internal injuries, James was killed almost instantly. He was only 24.
Other Interesting Facts About James Dean
James Dean was “never one to sit still,” a cousin of his would describe. If you know about the story of him losing his teeth in a motorcycle accident, you should know that it’s false. He actually lost them during a trapeze accident when he was young.
Like what his cousin described, James was a bundle of energy. Though he was short and skinny when he was young, he was athletic. He played baseball, basketball, and he even ran track. But he shined most at the pole vault. He even broke the county record before graduating high school.
In remembering the late James Dean, screenwriter Bill Bast, his friend and former roommate, said that while he may now be identified as the poster boy for youth and rebellion, “he never spoke about changing the world.” But when it came to his future, he was very determined.
Many would argue that James Dean is immortalized for the wrong reasons. While he is remembered most for being the archetypal brooding romantic figure, he should be celebrated for his acting. Though you can now call it improv, in the 50’s, what James Dean brought to the acting field was revolutionary.
Here are the best quotes from James Dean:
James Dean Quotes
“To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty; to interpret it his problem; and to express it his dedication.” – James Dean
“I’m not going to go through life with one arm tied behind my back.” – James Dean
“If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live after he’s died, then maybe he was a great man. Immortality is the only true success.” – James Dean
“The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.” – James Dean
“There is no way to be truly great in this world. We are impaled on the crook of conditioning. A fish that is in the water has no choice that he is. Genius would have it that we swim in sand. We are fish and we drown.” – James Dean
“An actor must interpret life, and in order to do so must be willing to accept all the experiences life has to offer. In fact, he must seek out more of life than life puts at his feet.” – James Dean
“You’re tearing me apart!” – James Dean
“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.” – James Dean
“Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.” – James Dean
“How can you measure acting in inches?” – James Dean
“I can’t let in the light. It will destroy my performance like light destroys film.” – James Dean
“Whatever’s inside making me what I am, it’s like film. Film only works in the dark. Tear it all open and let in the light and you kill it.” – James Dean
“Trust and belief are two prime considerations. You must not allow yourself to be opinionated. You must say, ‘Wait. Let me see.’ And above all, you must be honest with yourself.” – James Dean
“Racing is the only time I feel whole.” – James Dean
“Dream like you’ll live forever, live like you’ll die today.” – James Dean
“I am trying to find the courage to be tender in my life. I know violence is weakness. Only the gentle are ever really strong.” – James Dean
‘You try to be yourself, do only what you’ve always done and like to do, and right away, you’re tagged as an oddball.” – James Dean
“My purpose in life does not include a hankering to charm society.” – James Dean
“The only greatness for man is immortality.” – James Dean
“To my way of thinking, an actor’s course is set even before he’s out of the cradle.” – James Dean
“Being a good actor isn’t easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I’m done.” – James Dean
“I’m a serious-minded and intense little devil, terribly gauche and so tense I don’t see how people stay in the same room with me. I know I wouldn’t tolerate myself.” – James Dean
“Death can’t be considered because, if you’re afraid to die, there’s no room in your life to make discoveries.” – James Dean
“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.” – James Dean
“I’d rather have people hiss than yawn.” – James Dean
“An actor should be judged by his performance only.” – James Dean
“The only way to make a scene realistic is to do it the way you know it would really happen.” – James Dean
“The cinema is a very truthful medium because the camera doesn’t let you get away with anything. On stage, you can even loaf a little, if you’re so inclined.” – James Dean
“You can do ‘Hamlet’ while performing cartwheels… as long as the audience sees your eyes – you can make the performance real.” – James Dean
“When an actor plays a scene exactly the way a director orders, it isn’t acting. It’s following instructions. Anyone with the physical qualifications can do that.” – James Dean
“Studying cows, pigs and chickens can help an actor develop his character. There are a lot of things I learned from animals. One was that they couldn’t hiss or boo me.” – James Dean
“I want to be a Texan 24 hours a day.” – James Dean
“But you can’t show some far off idyllic conception of behavior if you want the kids to come and see the picture. You’ve got to show what it’s really like, and try to reach them on their own grounds.” – James Dean
“I think the one thing this picture shows that’s new is the psychological disproportion of the kids’ demands on the parents. Parents are often at fault, but the kids have some work to do, too.” – James Dean
“I also became close to nature, and am now able to appreciate the beauty with which this world is endowed.” – James Dean
“I don’t want anything seventy-thirty. Fifty-fifty’s always good enough for me. I don’t want to have to give anybody seventy; I don’t want anybody to give me seventy. I want fifty.” – James Dean
“If zombies were made of bacon, I would only need a couple of fried eggs and a gallon of coffee, and the problem would basically solve itself.” – James Dean
“I used to fly around quite a bit, you know? I took a lot of unnecessary chances on the highways. And I started racing, and now I drive on the highways, I’m extra cautious because no one knows what they’re doing half the time. You don’t know what this guy is going to do or that one.” – James Dean
“I think the prime reason for existence, for living in this world is discovery.” – James Dean
“If you’re not afraid, if you take everything you are, everything worthwhile in you and direct it at one goal, one ultimate mark, you’ve got to get there.” – James Dean
“Take it easy driving– the life you save may be mine.” – James Dean
“I wouldn’t like me, if I had to be around me.” – James Dean
“What better way to die? It’s fast and clean and you go out in a blaze of glory.” – James Dean
“An hour or two of learning from the masters is usually enough to recharge my artistic batteries.” – James Dean
“I have a fairly adequate knowledge of satanic forces.” – James Dean
“You are who you are meant to be. Dance as if no one’s watching. Love as if it’s all you know. Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” – James Dean
“At times there seems to be a million ideas worth painting. However, there are days when it’s a challenge to pull any idea together. On these days I go to my studio, leaf through an art history book, and tell myself that I am part of this great tradition.” – James Dean
“If I can keep this up and nothing interferes with my progress, one of these days I might be able to contribute something to the world.” – James Dean
“What do we need all that for? “If a picture is psychologically motivated, if there is truth in the relationship in it, then I think that picture will do good. I firmly believe Rebel Without a Cause is such a picture.” – James Dean
“I don’t have to explain anything to anybody.” – James Dean