Creator / James Dean

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"Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today."
James Dean

James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 September 30, 1955) was an American actor.

He is best known for the movies Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant... with good reason, as those are the only three films in which he had a starring role; he was killed in a car accident at the age of twenty-four, just as his career was starting to take off. Dean was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and remains the only actor to have received more than one posthumous nomination.

A symbol of cool for teenagers of the 1950s and nowadays for his being (reportedly) bisexual. His relatively short career and enduring popularity also makes him something of a real-life Ensemble Darkhorse.

The roles that made him famous (Cal Trask in East of Eden and Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause) were Troubled, but Cute guys with Freudian Excuses; his role as Jett Rink in Giant was an attempt to break away from being typecast as troubled teens.


James Dean is commonly associated with the following tropes:

  • Ambiguous Disorder: He was known for his extreme mood swings and may have suffered from undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder.
  • Author Existence Failure: Not all of his work on Giant had been completed prior to his death.
  • Bi the Way: When asked if he was homosexual, he is reported to have replied, "Well, I'm certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back." In recent years, his male best friend revealed that they were sexually intimate. He is also known to have had relationships with women.
  • Cool Loser: One of the archetypes with which he is most associated.
  • Dawson Casting: In his early twenties in both East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. He plays teenagers in both.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • For the ferris wheel kiss in East of Eden, he wouldn't pee until the scene was shot, resulting in him looking naturally uncomfortable.
    • Elia Kazan amped up tensions between him and Raymond Massey off camera, resulting in natural tension between them on screen.
  • I Am Not Leonard Nimoy: James Dean is Troubled, but Cute personified. People will cosplay as Jim Stark and say they're James. Giant is his non Troubled, but Cute role, and it's the least remembered of his films for this reason. Had he lived longer, perhaps this would have been different.
  • Iconic Outfit: His iconic red jacket, white t-shirt and jeans in Rebel Without A Cause.
  • Meta Casting: East of Eden was essentially James playing himself, or a character very similar to himself - including the troubled relationship with his father. Elia Kazan has called it the most apt bit of casting he ever did. Upon meeting James, John Steinbeck remarked "he is Cal!"
  • Platonic Life-Partners: With Elizabeth Taylor.
  • Playing Against Type: Giant was an attempt at distancing himself from Troubled, but Cute roles.
  • Reality Subtext: The tension between him and Rock Hudson on Giant was very real.
  • The Red Stapler: T-shirt sales soared after Rebel Without a Cause.
  • Sedgwick Speech: His passenger on the fateful car trip survived, and reported that his last words were reassurance that the other driver could see them.
  • Small Town Boredom: Sent from Los Angeles to live with his aunt and uncle in tiny Fairmount, Indiana at age 9 after his mother died, he left town as soon as he graduated high school (though he kept in touch with his friends and family).
  • Throw It In!:
    • During the climax of East of Eden, the script called for Cal to get angry at Adam for rejecting his present. James instead improvised trying to hug him instead. Adam trying to push him away is Raymond Massey's genuine reaction.
    • The opening scene of Rebel Without a Cause was him improvising with the monkey toy.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Giant was going to be shot earlier, but Elizabeth Taylor got pregnant, and the schedule was pushed back. This allowed him to star in Rebel Without a Cause.
    • Rebel also was meant to contain a kiss between Jim and Plato.
    • He wanted to quit acting and go into directing.

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