U.S. #3082 – Dean’s entire career consisted of three major films produced in just 17 months.

James Dean Dies in Car Crash

A rising star in Hollywood, James Dean’s death on September 30, 1955 was a shock to us all.

Dean was a rebel who took the nation by storm during the conservative 1950s. A New York Times article dismissed Dean as “an honor graduate of the black leather jacket and motorcycle school of acting and living it up.” Ironically, that’s exactly what appealed to his youthful following. Dean symbolized the frustration of teenagers everywhere.

Dean’s big break came in East of Eden. He became an overnight star after its release in March of 1955. A special celebrity preview was held on Broadway with Marilyn Monroe as a guest usherette. Dean, who had begun filming Rebel Without a Cause, skipped the premiere. The film made Variety’s list of top grossing films by the end of the month and would eventually reach number one. Dean received a Best Actor nomination, one of only five actors to be nominated in the category for a first film.

Item #M5124 – Only one of his films had been released at the time of his death but he earned several Academy Award nominations and four Golden Globe Awards.

Dean then portrayed an emotionally confused teenager in Rebel Without a Cause. Although parents were disturbed by the violence in the film, teens identified with the timeless story of a teenager’s struggle to become an adult. The film was released one month after his death and became synonymous with Dean.

Giant was Dean’s third and final movie. Once again Dean portrayed a sullen young man, tortured by envy and unattainable love. Giant received ten Academy Award nominations when it was released in 1956.

A few days after he finished filming for Giant, Dean drove his silver Porsche 550 Spyder roadster to a race in Salinas, California. As he was driving, a college student pulled in front of him at the intersection of Highways 41 and 46 near Cholame. Dean was unable to stop in time and crashed into the other car. James Dean was dead at the age of 24.

James Dean lived fast, died young, and was idolized by many. We can’t help but wonder what his career could have held in store.

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  1. It; has been reported that Jimmy Dean wag going about 100 miles an hour when he slammed into a driver making a legal left turn in Chalome, California. He had already received a speeding ticket that morning, but apparently didn’t get the message. What a waste.

  2. My Dad was acquainted with the Dean family and told the story that while visiting their farm I rode on his dog. I was too young to remember it myself.

  3. We were 13. My friend Judy and I went to the movie, Judy’s dad drove us. I closed the car door on Judy’s hand. Didn’t tell dad. Bought a cola, poured the cola out , stuck Judy’s broken fingers in the ice and watched the movie. We were not going to miss that movie….no matter what! Oh to be a teenager again.

  4. Perhaps the lesson we all can gain from the legacy and good life of James Dean is to stop texting while driving, pay attention, and drive safely. God Bless James Dean, his family, and fans.

  5. Your re-counting of his three films reminded me of another actor – Montgomery Clift who, like Dean seemed to get depression filled roles. It would have been nice to see how far his career would have taken him. Still enjoying your days in History. Keep it up.

  6. He symbolized the rebellious teenager better than anyone. How good an actor he was is debatable.
    What isn’t in dispute is the charisma and lasting effect, which remains to this day.

  7. Would he have been as great an actor as he was had he not died at such a young age? My brother died at age 22 in a car accident,so I can relate to the swift and sudden grief that I never completely recovered from 62 years later.

  8. I am 76 years old . James Dean was my hero . He was a good actor . He had charisma and character .
    Giant was his best movie because , he went from a young man to an elderly gentleman and played the parts very well . But , what a waste . Speed still kills as it did to him . I do wonder what would it be like for him and his fans if he were still alive and had his movie career ? I do wish we had more people like him in our society today . Do we have any integrity left today ? Like they say , ” If you don’t stand for what you believe in , you will fall for anything .”

  9. I’ve had the opportunity to watch one of his movies, namely East of Eden…..what a great story….he and the cast…..super…..anyway y,,,, Dean was a rebel without a cause

  10. The first reply mentioning Jimmy Dean and then corrected to James Dean reminded me of David Essex’ song “Rock On” in which both Jimmy and James are mentioned. It took me a year to catch that.

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