Timeless: James Dean

Today we continue our look back at Hollywood hotties in our Timeless series. Many of these stars died too young, but left a lasting impression. Come to Bacchus today and enjoy tequila for $5.

It’s 61 years after his tragic death and Hollywood is probably still looking for “the next James Dean." The young actor made only three movies in his career – East of Eden (1955) where he played the bad boy brother in the “Cain and Abel” retelling, his signature role as an angst-fueled teen in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956) where he stepped into the cowboy boots of a nonconformist ranch hand. All of his movies became Hollywood classics, but he only saw one of his movies completed (East of Eden) .

He was only 24 years old on September 30, 1955, when he was driving down Route 466 in his Porsche 550 Spyder and a car collided with his, killing him almost instantly. The young star's life and career was cut short, but his premature death contributed to the legend he would become. Rebel Without a Cause and Giant were released posthumously, and Dean came to epitomize the sensitive, troubled rebel who fans still connect with. Who was the man behind the brooding Hollywood sex symbol?

Before He Became a Star
James Dean was parking cars at CBS the day he met Rodgers Brackett. It was 1951 and Dean was a struggling 20 year old actor and Brackett was a very successful 35 year old radio director of a prestigious ad agency. The unlikely pair hit it off and it wasn't long before they shacked up in Brackett's stylish LA apartment. Brackett bought Dean nice clothes and took him to nice restaurants and introduced him to movie stars and other who could help his career.

Brackett generously financed Dean's move to New York so he could study at the Actor's Studio with Lee Strasberg. There, William Bast was Dean's room mate. They became close friends and, Bast revealed, occasional fuck buddies.

Through the Actors Studio, James Dean attended a class taught by Marlon Brandon. Rumors say that Dean stayed after the class to meet Brando and that they had a sexual affair that lasted for several months and a friendship that lasted much longer.

James Dean soon got a role on Broadway as a boy who seduces a male tourist in André Gide's The Immoralist. His emotive and sensitive performance impressed critics and caught the attention of director Elia Kazan. Dean's "lover" Rodgers Brackett introduced Dean to Kazan and Kazan offered Dean a role in his upcoming movie so he quit The Immoralist after three weeks and flew back to Hollywood to begin filming East of Eden.

Soon Hollywood was buzzing about this handsome and charismatic talented actor. For his next role in Rebel Without a Cause, Dean proved to be a formidable force. Dean's 'method' acting opposite Jim Backus' wooden character acting ridiculously exaggerates the clashes between the generations. His acting in this movie helped define an identity for American teens during the culturally tumultuous 1950s.

For his next, and final role, Dean was hired to play another rebel in Giant. Noreen Nash, one of his co-stars in that movie tells a tale that both Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson were smitten with James Dean. The two had a bet over who would sleep with him first. According to Nash, Hudson won the bet a few days into the shoot.

Giant would prove to be Dean's last film. At the end of the film, Dean's character Jett makes a drunken speech at a banquet; the scene is nicknamed the 'Last Supper' because it was the last scene before Dean's death. In the original take, Dean mumbled so much due to his desire to make the scene more realistic by actually being inebriated for the take that director George Stevens decided the scene had to be overdubbed by Nick Adams, who had a small role in the film, because Dean had died before the film was edited.

The benefit of dying young, if there is one, is that you are always remembered as you were at that age. For James Dean's legacy, he will always be 24, but he'll also be a mystery who's legacy can also be defined and shaped by speculation and by those who barely knew him. Here's his legacy, good or bad:

1. He Had Daddy Issues
James Byron Dean was born in Marion, Indiana on February 8,1931. Dean's father Winton left farming to become a dentist and moved the family to Santa Monica, California. But when Dean’s mother died from cervical cancer when he was 9, the family broke apart. His father sent him back to Indiana to live on his aunt and uncle’s Quaker farm, and this was the beginning of an estrangement between father and son that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

2. He Had Some Dirty Habits
He was the symbol of sexy cool onscreen, but off camera the 5’8”, 135-pound star had some quirky and dirty (as in unwashed) habits. Dean supposedly didn’t care much about his public appearance and went for the disheveled look. A studied disheveled look, sort of like the hipsters of today. At one formal luncheon, he showed up barefoot and in filthy jeans and was known to appear at rehearsals in pants held together with safety pins. He was also know for having pretty extreme mood swings, according to friends, who said he also had the habit of calling or visiting them late at night. “He’d be up one minute, down the next. He was uncomfortable in his own skin,” one of them said.

3. He Looked Up to Brando
Dean respected another brooding actor of the day, Brando. While Dean was just emerging in Hollywood, the slightly older Brando had major success as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), his iconic role as a motorcycle gang leader in The Wild One (1953), and he won an Oscar for On the Waterfront (1954). Dean attempted to call Brando and see him socially, but Brando rebuffed his attempts at bro-ship. “I gave him the name of a psychoanalyst, and he went. At least his work improved,” Brando said.

4. He Wanted to Be Billy the Kid
In his short career, Dean played fictional non-conformists who played by their own rules, but if he had lived he may have taken on the role of a real-life outlaw. He read and re-read the book The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid and frequently spoke of wanting to portray the Wild West gunslinger in a film.

5. He Confused Ronald Reagan
Before he made it in the movies, Dean worked a lot in live television. A fan of improvising, he went off script on one show and threw a few ad-libs at one of his co-stars, actor and future president Ronald Reagan, who was totally confused by Dean's acting method. Reagan wasn’t the only one who disliked Dean’s spontaneity. "Just make him say the lines as they’re written,” one actor said once.

6. The Sexuality of the Sex Symbol
Although Dean was briefly engaged to actress Pier Angeli, his sexuality has been a matter of debate. A number of biographers doubt his relationship with Angeli was a physical one. Some biographers believe he was bisexual; others characterize him as a homosexual who had one or two brief affairs with women. It was rumored that his first sexual experience occurred as a teenager when a local minister seduced him.

7. He Had Magical Powers (Sort of)
When he wasn’t acting or racing cars, Dean liked to practice magic tricks. As smoker, who was often photographed with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Dean put a magical spin on his tobacco habit: he would put an unlit cigarette and a flaming match into his mouth and then pull out a burning cigarette. Another reason why Dean was smoking hot.

James Dean: unforgettable, in every way.
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