Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Happy, Birthday, James Dean!

On this day in 1931, the world was blessed with James Byron Dean- one of the now most-recognized actors in Hollywood history, and a significant cultural icon.

From the moment he appeared as Cal Trask in East of Eden, James Dean caught the attention of movie-goers everywhere, as he still does today. Even though he only lived to make three films- East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956)- his remarkable acting and premature death have made him forever remembered in the minds of not only Americans, but fans around the world.

In 1954, Dean left New York City for Los Angeles, where he was to star in his first leading role- Cal Trask in Elia Kazan's East of Eden. The film, also starred Raymond Massey, Julie Harris, Burl Ives, and Jo Van Fleet in an Academy Award winning role, and was based on John Steinback's novel of the same name.

East of Eden tells the story of a rebellious young man (Dean), trying to both find himself and gain the respect of his religious father against his approved twin brother. It is considered to be a retelling of the biblical story of brothers Cain and Abel. It is the only one of his three films that Dean lived to see released.

The film was well received during it's release and is considered to feature Dean's best performance. He also earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (He lost to Ernest Borgnine for his performance in Marty).

Next for Dean was Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause. The film was one of the first to portray teen angst and rebellion. It has now earned a memorable position among films for promoting Dean's status as a cultural icon, and costars Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, and Ann Doran.

Trivia (credit: IMDb)-  All three lead actors, James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, died young under tragic circumstances: Dean died in a car accident, Mineo was stabbed, and Wood drowned. In addition, Edward Platt committed suicide in 1974. 

Dean's third film was George Steven's Giant. It was his last film, and earned him his second and final Academy Award nomination for his role as Jett Rink. The film, costarring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor,  was one of the most successful films to be released in 1956, and was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

James Dean was killed in a car accident on September 30, 1955, after colliding with another vehicle on State Route 46 in Cholame, California. 

He is now buried at the Park Cemetery in his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana. In 1977, a memorial in his honor was built in Cholame, California, near the place of his fatal accident.

Even though he only lived to make three films, in 1999, the American Film Institute ranked James Dean as the 18th best actor in history on their list of "100 Years...100 Stars". He was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nominations, and, as of now, remains the only actor to have two posthumous Oscar nominations.

James Dean remains as one of my favorite actors of all time. Now, as I prepare to sit down to watch East of Eden, I hope that we will always remember the rebel without a cause and the impact he made on the motion picture industry.

Disclaimer- the photos were taken from Google and Wikipedia. I used a few notes from James Dean's Wikipedia page  to help me with this post, but I did not plagiarize.