Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today
February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955
James Byron Dean was an American film actor, strikingly handsome enshrined as a symbol of the confused, restless, and idealistic youth of the 1950s.
His first professional acting assignment was for a soft drink commercial, which led to a speaking role as John the Baptist in the television Easter special Hill Number One (1951). He played bit parts in three Hollywood films, before moving to New York City on the advice of actor James Whitmore, with whom he had briefly studied.
After a series of short-term jobs, he was cast in a key role in the Broadway flop See the Jaguar (1953) and The Immoralist (1954).
The film director Elia Kazan casts the 23-year-old actor in the leading role in East of Eden (1955); Dean was seen as a movie star of the first magnitude and was nominated for an Academy Award. Dean’s second starring film appearance in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), made him into the embodiment of his generation. Dean’s performance spoke eloquently on behalf of disenchanted, disenfranchised teenagers and gave them a hero they could respect and admire.
Shortly after completing work on his third starring feature, George Stevens’s Giant (1956), the restless Dean drove off in his silver Porsche to compete in a sports car rally in Salinas, California. Speeding down the highway, he crashed headlong into a Ford sedan and was killed instantly. Almost immediately, an intensely loyal cult was established and within days of his death he became a film icon. The James Dean mystique continued to flourish into the 21st century.