LGBT People Of History Part One Hundred James Dean
James Byron Dean (1931 – 1955) has become a legend and an icon. His fame rests on his performances in three movies, ‘East of Eden’, ‘Rebel without a Cause’ and ‘Giant’. An enigma, he was probably gay – and his publicised romances with young starlets and actresses a cover for his homosexuality as studios at the time would wish to hide this fact.
He was born in Marion, Indiana to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson. When his father became a dental technician they moved to California. Young James was very close to his mother and was devastated when she died when he was nine. He was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Indiana and was raised in a Quaker household. He was influenced by and probably had sexual relations with a pastor there. He was an average student and later moved back to California where he eventually started his career as an actor.
When he was young he was a bespectacled, short, nerdy type who loved to play basketball. It was when he developed the sultry, brooding, angst-ridden persona of an outsider that his career took off.
His early career consisted of walk-on parts and odd jobs. He met Rogers Brackett who became his mentor and gave him a place to stay. He then moved to New York City where he appeared on TV before being accepted into the legendary Strasberg’s Actors Studio of method acting. James was absolutely delighted. From there he gained small roles in the theatre and on TV.
Then, in 1953, he starred in his first major film, ‘East of Eden’ in which he played Cal Trask, an aloof and brooding character who was actually more world-wise than he made out. The film centres on his search for approval from his straight-laced father and his search for his absent mother. A lot of his performance was off the cuff and he was posthumously nominated for an Oscar in 1955.
In 1955, he played Jim Stark in ‘Rebel without a Cause’. Stark is an outsider full of angst who enrols in a school and gets into trouble with the law. His father is a morally weak man and Jim is forever berating him. He makes friends with Plato (Sal Mineo) and who could misinterpret the looks between the two? Plato worships Jim. Jim gets involved with the local bullies and is challenged to a game of racing cars ‘chicken’ which he wins and the bully gets killed. After this they flee and Plato is accidentally shot by the police causing Jim to be devastated. There is incidentally a girl involved (it was the 1950s). The way he plays Jim is heart-rending at times. The characters are displayed with all their flaws and it is perhaps the first study of the generational divide.
His third and final movie was ‘Giant’, released in 1956, in which he played Jett, a Texan oil baron. He wanted to avoid being typecast so he played this role. He had to age in this movie. He starred with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. For this role he received a second posthumous Oscar nomination.
What made him a great movie star? He would improvise, he would flirt outrageously with the camera, he was real and reflected the feelings of alienation of youth at the time.
James Dean’s sexuality has long been the subject of conjecture. As the years have passed, it is now certain that he was certainly bisexual – probably homosexual. William Bast, a close friend and biographer of Dean, has updated his book to state that they indeed have a sexual relationship. Bast also says that James had a sexual relationship with producer Rogers Brackett. John Gilmore says that he and Dean experimented sexually in New York. Many others attest to James being gay and that he had knowledge of gay bars and customs.
He died in a horrific car crash in his Porsche 550 Spyder in September 1955, in the middle of filming ‘Giant’. In the car with him was Rolf Wütherich, a mechanic.
Sadly James was fatally injured and died.
Ian and Callum
With thanks to Wikipedia and The Guardian.
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