James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 - September 30, 1955) was an American film actor. Epitomizing youthful angst and charisma, Dean's screen persona is probably best embodied in the title of his most representative work, Rebel without a Cause.
Born on a Marion, Indiana family farm to Winton and Mildred Wilson Dean. The family moved to Santa Monica, California six years later after Winton left farming to become a dental technician. While there, Dean was enrolled in Brentwood Public School until his mother died of cancer in 1940.
Then, at age nine, Dean's father sent him back to live with relatives on a farm near Fairmount, Indiana where he was raised with a Quaker upbringing. In high school, Dean played on the school basketball team and participated in forensics debate and drama. After graduating from Fairmont High School in 1949, Dean moved back to California to live with his father and stepmother.
While there, he enrolled in Santa Monica City College, pledged Sigma Nu fraternity and majored in pre-law. After struggling with law, against his father's wishes, Dean changed his major to drama after transferring to the University of California Los Angeles. The resulting parental fight left Dean once again being turned out of his father's house.
Dean began his career with a soft drink commercial followed by a bit part in the television series, Hill Number One. He quit college to focus on his budding career, but he struggled to get jobs in Hollywood and only succeeded in paying bills by working as a parking lot attendant.
Following the advice of friends, Dean moved to New York to pursue a career in live stage acting. While there he was accepted to study under Lee Strasberg in the storied Actors Studio. His career turned around and Dean did several episodes of such early-1950s episodic television programs such as Kraft Television Theater, Danger, and General Electric Theater. His rave reviews in André Gide's The Immoralist led to his being called back to Hollywood and film stardom. During his New York period he spent time in Sayville and the resort towns of Fire Island.
He appeared in several uncredited bit roles in such forgettable films as Sailor Beware, but finally gained recognition and success in 1955 in his first starring role, that of Cal Trask in East of Eden, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He followed this up in rapid succession with two more starring roles, in Rebel Without a Cause, and in the 1956 release Giant, for which he was also nominated for an Academy Award.
Dean died in a road accident in a Porsche 550 Spyder near Salinas, California when a car driven by Donald Turnupseed veered into Dean's lane. This occurred before the release of Giant. He is buried in Park Cemetery in his home town of Fairmount, Indiana. He is one of only five people to be nominated for Best Actor for his first feature role, and the only person to be nominated twice after his death.
Dean epitomized the rebellion of 1950s teens, especially in his role in Rebel Without a Cause. Many teenagers of the time modeled themselves after him, and his death cast a pall on many members of his generation. His very brief career, lifestyle, violent death and highly publicized funeral transformed James Dean into a cult object and pop icon of apparently timeless fascination.