James Dean: The eternal rebel would have celebrated 90th birthday

James Dean
The eternal rebel would have celebrated his 90th birthday

James Dean in 1955 shortly before his death.

© imago images / Cinema Publishers Collection

James Dean's star did not rise until after his death in 1955 – and it continues to this day. The actor would have turned 90.

The eyes narrowed, the thoughtful gaze directed towards infinity. Did James Dean think about the promising future that lay ahead of him as an actor in moments like this, forever captured for posterity? Dean would have turned 90 on February 8, 2021, had he not been killed in a car accident in 1955 – and the promising future with him suddenly. Dean had not even made it into the famous and tragic "Klub 27" around Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain, he only had 24 years.

He did not experience his greatest successes

If you look at Dean's work on paper, a distorted picture emerges. There are eight films there, but in five of them his role was so tiny that his name didn't even appear in the credits. His career really started in 1955 – the year he died.

Dean was nominated for an Oscar for two of his three important films in addition to "… because they don't know what they're doing": "Beyond Eden" and "Giants". But he did not live to see this honor anymore. This makes him not only the first actor to enter the running for an Oscar after his death, to this day he is also the only one who has even received multiple posthumous nominations.

Dean also holds another record: he received an Oscar nomination for two-thirds of his films. Nobody has managed that until today. Dean was victorious after his death at the Golden Globes. In 1956 and 1957 he won one of the renowned film and TV awards.

The eternal idol

Dean, who died at the age of only 24, still shapes fashion today. His horn-rimmed glasses and simple casual looks made of jeans and white T-shirts are still very much in trend. Especially the posthumous film "… because they don't know what they are doing" made him a style icon. On the movie posters he can be seen leaning casually against a wall in jeans, a white T-shirt and a red bomber jacket. After the film was released, sales for white T-shirts skyrocketed and the red jacket also became a cult.

The personality cult became so manic that some teenagers took their own lives after his death. Years after the accident, the Warner Bros. film studio received countless letters addressed to Dean.

James Dean himself was fascinated by Marlon Brando (1924-2004, "Apocalypse Now"), seven years his senior. Not only his acting performances in "Endstation Sehnsucht" (1947) and other films impressed the young Dean, but also Brando's wild lifestyle. Dean is said to have bought his Triumph motorcycle after seeing that Brando owned one. One of the greatest entertainers of all time, however, saw Dean as a great role model: Elvis Presley (1935-1977, "Jailhouse Rock") was enthusiastic about his talent and wanted to start an acting career based on his role model.

Death and a Resurrection?

Many myths surround the cause of the accident that cost Dean his life. It is often said that Dean drove too fast in his new Porsche Spyder. Although he received a speeding ticket just two hours before the fatal accident, the investigation into the course of the accident revealed that the actor was not traveling too fast – he was driving about 90 km / h.

Incredible but true: 64 years after his death, James Dean landed a new role. In November 2019 it was announced that he would be brought back to life with the help of old film material and state-of-the-art technology for the film "Finding Jack", which takes place at the time of the Vietnam War. With the exception of a wave of indignation at this perfidious plan to make money with the name James Dean for many fans, nothing has been announced about the planned project since then.