At the time of his death in a late afternoon car crash on Sept. 30, 1955, James Dean was considered one of Hollywood's brightest new motion-picture stars. He had starred across Elizabeth Taylor in "Giant" (1956) and made a name for himself starring in "East of Eden" (1955), his first film. "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) was released after his death.
That death ended up being the final element in a perfect storm of celebrity. It catapulted Dean into a level of "live fast, die young" fame so extraordinary — including an unprecedented and unequaled two posthumous Oscar nominations — even the ambitious actor himself could not have imagined it.
Dean's young age and his good looks, his acting ability and what he was most skilled at, all combined with the cataclysmic way he died to cause an uproar that has yet to quiet down. Though other actors are celebrated on the anniversary of their birth, with Dean death has always trumped life, and this year, the 50th after the crash, is going to witness an unprecedented outpouring of media attention for a man whose Hollywood career lasted but 16 months.
Those films hold the key to the essential Dean question: Why all the fuss? That astonishing cusp-of-stardom death at a young age aside, why has Dean attracted and held all this attention? What are the factors that have enabled him to live for so long, as the fan magazines would have it, beyond the grave?
It starts with the basics, including a name as clean and uncluttered as his profile, and Dean's timeless, almost androgynous good looks. And not just in the movies.
Althoug other actors were as photogenic on-screen as Dean, including "Giant" costar Elizabeth Taylor, it's difficult to think of another star who had such an effect with his still images. Dean was not only photographed almost endlessly, he looks remarkable in just about every shot. And that was no accident.
|1955||Best Actor||East of Eden||Nomination|