(February 8, 1931 - September 30, 1955) U.S.A.
The debate about Dean's sexuality rages passionately. He told a friend, "I've had my cock sucked by five of the biggest names in Hollywood...". He also claimed to have worked, with his friend Nick Adams, as a street hustler when he first arrived in Hollywood. When asked if he was gay, he replied, "Well, I'm certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back". Dean and co-star Sal Mineo were close friends off the screen too. More than once, the pair went down to Las Palmas and Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood to pick up a third party for their own entertainment.
James Dean was born at 2:08 a.m., in Marion, Indiana, to Winton and Mildred Dean as James Byron Dean. He's named after the attending physician, James Emmick, and British poet Lord Byron. July 5th 1934, The Deans move from Marion to the nearby farming community of Fairmount, Indiana. His father, a dental technician, moved the family to Los Angeles when Jimmy was five. They spend 4 years there, and Jimmy is very close to his mother, who encourages him to learn violin and tap. Together they put on plays with dolls in a cardboard theatre.
He returned to the Midwest after his mother passed away on April 14th, 1940 and was raised by his aunt and uncle on their Winslow Farm outside Fairmount, Indiana. In high school, while his academic record was mediocre, Jimmy excelled at anything involving performance -- at sports and theatre. He played baseball and basketball, and with Jimmy Dean on their side, the Fairmount High Quakers trounce the competition all season.
After graduating from high school on May 16th 1949, he returned to California where on January 18th 1950 he begins his freshman year Santa Monica Junior College and UCLA. James began acting with James Whitmore's acting workshop, appeared in occasional television commercials, and played several roles in films and on stage.
In January 1951, at the age of 20, Dean dropped out of college to pursue his acting career. He gets a few bit parts in Hollywood films, including Fixed Bayonets, Sailor Beware (Martin & Lewis), and Has Anybody Seen my Gal? (Rock Hudson). Frustrated with Hollywood, he follows James Whitmore's advice and moves to New York to try his hand at theatre. He appeared in seven television shows, in addition to earning his living as a busboy in the theater district, before he won a small part in a Broadway play entitled See the Jaguar.
In a letter to his family in Fairmount in 1952, he wrote:
"I have made great strides in my craft. After months of auditioning, I am very proud to announce that I am a member of the Actors Studio. The greatest school of the theater. It houses great people like Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Arthur Kennedy, Mildred Dunnock...Very few get into it, and it is absolutely free. It is the best thing that can happen to an actor. I am one of the youngest to belong. If I can keep this up and nothing interferes with my progress, one of these days I might be able to contribute something to the world."
In 1953, Dean finds some acting success with several television roles in dramas on NBC and CBS, including Omnibus, with Alistair Cooke, Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy. In early 1954, James returns to Broadway in The Immoralist with Louis Jordan. Elia Kazan discovers him there and casts him in East of Eden, his first major film role.
Dean continued his study at the Actors Studio, played short stints in television dramas, and returned to Broadway in The Immoralist (1954). This last appearance resulted in a screen test at Warner Brothers for the part of Cal Trask in the screen adaptation John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden. He then returned to New York where he appeared in four more television dramas. After winning the role of Jim Stark in 1955's Rebel Without A Cause, he moved to Hollywood.
In February, he visited his family in Fairmount with photographer Dennis Stock before returning to Los Angeles. In March, Jimmy celebrated his Eden success by purchasing his first Porsche and entered the Palm Springs Road Races.
On 1/4/55, Warner Brothers announces James will star in Rebel Without a Cause, the film for which he's most remembered. Director Nick Ray holds juvenile delinquency classes for the actors, while Warners' wardrobe department soils over 400 pairs of Levis for stars and extras. He began shooting Rebel Without A Cause that same month and Eden opened nationwide in April. In May, he entered the Bakersfield Race and finished shooting Rebel. Three weeks later, he's signed to play Jett Rink in Giant. He entered one more race, in Santa Barbara, before he joined, the cast and crew of Giant in Marfa, Texas.
James Dean had one of the most spectacularly brief careers of any screen star. In just more than a year, and in only three films, Dean became a widely admired screen personality, a personification of the restless American youth of the mid-50's, and an embodiment of the title of one of his film Rebel Without A Cause.
En route to compete in a race in Salinas, James Dean was killed in a highway accident on September 30, 1955. James Dean was nominated for two Academy Awards, for his performances in East of Eden and Giant. Although he only made three films, they were made in just over one year's time. Joe Hyams, in the James Dean biography Little Boy Lost, sums up his career:
"...There is no simple explanation for why he has come to mean so much to so many people today. Perhaps it is because, in his acting, he had the intuitive talent for expressing the hopes and fears that are a part of all young people... In some movie magic way, he managed to dramatize brilliantly the questions every young person in every generation must resolve."
On June 24, 1996, the US Postal Service honored Dean with a stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series.
"He was the restless, searching rebel in all of us. And after half a century, he still burns bright in the hearts of millions of fans."
Postmaster General Marvin Runyon
James Dean's House in Los Angeles
© 1999 James Dean, Inc. / ©1999 CMG Worldwide
Was James Dean gay, bisexual, or straight?
Over the years, one of the most enduring questions about Dean, whose androgynous, almost delicate, looks were alluring to both men and women, concerns his sexuality - was he straight or gay, or did he fall somewhere between the two ends of the Kinsey scale?
One way to address Dean's sexuality is to examine the company he kept. An early mentor in his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana, was the Rev. James DeWeerd, minister of the local Wesleyan Methodist church. When he knew Dean, DeWeerd was in his 30s and unmarried, liked poetry and classical music, and was partial to the company of boys.
The teenage Dean - whose mother died when he was eight and whose father abandoned him to be raised by an aunt - spent a great deal of time alone with DeWeerd, which is suggestive of a sexual relationship or molestation. But no evidence of either has come to light. At Dean's funeral, however, DeWeerd eulogized him as "a boy ... who knew how to seek counsel from men older and wiser than himself."
In fact, Dean's success in Hollywood, where he relocated in 1949 at age 18, did stem in large part from the contacts he made with influential gay men. One of his few documented homosexual relationships was with Rogers Brackett, the sophisticated, 35-year-old radio director of a prestigious advertising agency, whom Dean met in the summer of 1951 while working as a parking attendant at CBS. At a time when many radio programs were created, written, and cast at ad agencies, Brackett was a particularly good person for a struggling actor to know.
Just two weeks after they met, Dean began living with Brackett in his Hollywood flat. Brackett used his social and professional connections to find Dean work on radio shows like Hallmark Playhouse. By Labor Day, Dean was also getting bit parts in movies.
Most biographies of Dean, including a recent TV biopic, acknowledge the sexual component of this relationship, but also claim that Dean had sex with Brackett purely out of expediency - he needed acting jobs, and the well-connected Brackett could get them for him. Brackett, however, remembered their relationship differently - although he later said that, because of Dean's talent, "my primary interest in Jimmy was as an actor," he added that "I loved him, and he loved me."
Later that year, Dean moved with Brackett to New York, where most radio programs were produced. There Dean began getting television work and eventually theater parts, including a pivotal role as a gay Arab houseboy in Andre Gide's The Immoralist, opposite Louis Jourdan. That, in turn, garnered the young actor the lead role as Cal Trask in the Elia Kazan film East of Eden.
While in New York, Dean began dating a singer-dancer named Elizabeth "Dizzy" Sheridan, who seems to have been his only serious girlfriend; he even asked her to marry him. Dean confided in Sheridan about the relationship with Brackett and also said that he planned to end it. "He did not want to be gay," Sheridan recalled years later - a telling statement that, coupled with the fact that he continued seeing Brackett, hints at a possible practical side to Dean's romantic involvement with Sheridan. Being openly (or even too suggestively) gay would have quickly ended his career at that time, when gay actors like Rock Hudson were being forced into sham marriages to protect their image.
It's not surprising, then, that when Dean's movie career began to take off, he started appearing at Hollywood events with pretty starlets on his arm. The press - and his studio, Warner Brothers - made much of his supposedly passionate love affair with the lovely Italian-born Pier Angeli, one of the stars of The Silver Chalice. But though Dean's colleagues and friends maintained that he was heartbroken when Angeli decided to marry singer Vic Damone, Dean's relationship with Angeli was, she herself later said, "all so innocent." Kazan once told an interviewer that he "did not think Jimmy was a very effective lover with women."
Another of Dean's documented gay relationships was with Jack Simmons, a young actor who, by all accounts, was devoted to him. Because the attachment was kept quietly in the background - Dean virtually lived with Simmons while filming Rebel Without a Cause but had his own apartment - studio officials did not seem to mind. That may have also been because the Warner publicity machine was busily getting articles like "The Dean I've Dated," by Lori Nelson, into fan magazines.
Dean took the secret of his sexuality to his untimely death, which occurred soon after he finished filming Giant. (His next scheduled role, in Somebody Up There Likes Me, went to Paul Newman.) Although Dean can hardly be called straight, it remains unclear if he identified as gay or bisexual, or if he was questioning. Since he was only 24, his sexual identity may, in fact, have been still in formation.