This Indiana boy lived only 24 years, but his legend as an American icon continues to thrive. He started in show biz in a Pepsi commercial, standing around a jukebox with a group of teens singing "Pepsi-Cola hits the spot." Within a decade, Dean had two Oscar nominations. Sadly, both were posthumous.
In 1955, Dean bought a Porsche Spyder, bragging that it could reach speeds of 150 miles per hour. Upon hearing this, actor Alec Guinness told him not to set foot inside the car because he would be dead before the week was out. Six days later, Dean's body was pulled from the twisted wreckage of his new car on a stretch of California highway. Dean's career was cut short, but his legacy lives on in the movies he left behind.
Fixed Bayonets (1951)
James Dean's first movie role was far from cushy. This Korean War film was the first to depict the violence of combat. Director Samuel Fuller was given free reign to portray the grisly "kill or be killed" premise of the film, and he took it! Actors and camera crews were pushed to their physical limits, including lead actors Richard Basehart, Gene Evans, and Michael O'Shea. Twenty-year-old Dean was uncredited in the film and had only one line, which was cut in the final production.
Sailor Beware (1952)
Dean's next film was a pleasant departure from Korean combat. With Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis at the helm, production must have been more pleasant. This Paramount film took only five weeks to film, and even though it technically deals with the military, the plot centers around a good-natured bet between sailors that involves kissing girls. Dean went uncredited again, playing a guy in the locker room, but at least his line wasn't cut this time.
Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952)
Rock Hudson carried this film about a wealthy older man trying to decide if the family of his former love is worthy of inheriting his estate. James Dean remained one of many guys with a bit part. Specifically, he's on a bar stool at a soda fountain without any lines. He's listed as "youth at soda fountain" in the credits.
East of Eden (1955)
Dean's first major film role gave him top billing along with Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, and Burl Ives. Dean played Cal Trask, who competes with his brother for their father's love. This was the only major film released while Dean was alive. The role landed him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, although it came posthumously. However, Ernest Borgnine won for his role in Marty.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
This is the film for which James Dean is best remembered. It came out just a month after his tragic death, and costarred a young Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. Dean played the new kid in town, Jim Stark, who finds trouble when searching to replace the love that is lacking in his family life. A daring commentary on tough teenage existence, this movie pitted boys against each other in knife fights that used real switchblades. The actors wore chest protectors under their shirts, but Dean still ended up with a cut on his ear.
Rock Hudson worked one last time with James Dean, and this time legendary star Elizabeth Taylor rounded out the top billing. Dean played Jett Rink, a ranch hand who became a Texas oil tycoon. The actor finished shooting his scenes just days before he died, but a few voice-over lines still needed to be recorded, so actor Nick Adams stepped to the microphone to read the part of Jett Rink. Dean received a second posthumous Oscar nomination for Best Actor for this role. Rock Hudson was also nominated, but the award went to Yul Brynner for his role in The King and I.
Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen