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Last updated on  May 31, 2014 15:50:26 PDT  View all revisions

ABC Productions

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This listing is for an 8x10 size picture of legendary actor James Dean. 

James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American film actor who epitomized youthful angst.[1] Dean's mainstream status as a cultural icon is best embodied in the title of his most cited role in Rebel Without a Cause. As with Buddy Holly and Marilyn Monroe, his death at a young age helped guarantee a legendary status.

Childhood and education

Born in a Fairmount, Indiana, apartment to Winton and Mildred Wilson Dean, James Dean and his family moved to Santa Monica, California six years after his father had left farming to become a dental technician. Dean was enrolled in Brentwood Public School until his mother died of cancer in 1940.

At age nine, Dean was sent by his father to live with his aunt Ortense and uncle Marcus Winslow on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana where he was brought up with a Quaker influence. In high school Dean played on the school basketball team and studied forensics and drama. After graduating from Fairmont High School in 1949, Dean moved back to California to live with his father and stepmother.

He enrolled in Santa Monica College, pledged to the Sigma Nu fraternity and majored in pre-law. Dean transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles and changed his major to drama, resulting in his estrangement from his father.

Acting career

Dean began his acting career with a Pepsi-Cola commercial followed by a stint as a stunt tester in the Beat the Clock game show. He quit college to focus on his budding career, but struggled to get jobs in Hollywood and paid his bills only by working as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios.

Following friends' advice, Dean moved to New York City to pursue live stage acting, where he was accepted to study under Lee Strasberg in the storied Actors Studio. His career picked up, and he did several episodes on early-1950s TV shows such as Kraft Television Theater, Studio One, Lux Video Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Danger and General Electric Theater. One early role, for the CBS series, Omnibus (Glory in the Flower) saw Dean portraying the same type of disaffected youth he would later immortalize in Rebel Without a Cause (this summer 1953 program was also notable for featuring the song "Crazy Man, Crazy", one of the first dramatic TV programs to feature rock and roll). Positive reviews for his role in André Gide's The Immoralist led to calls from Hollywood and paved the way to film stardom.


Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wuetherich set off from Competition Motors where they had prepared his Porsche 550 Spyder that morning for a sports car race at Palm Beach. Dean originally intended to tow the Porsche to the meeting point at Salinas behind his Ford, crewed by actor Bill Hickman and photographer Stan Roth, who was planning a photo story of Dean at the races. At the last minute Dean decided he need more time to familiarise himself with the car.
James Dean Memorial in Cholame. Dean died about 900 yards east of this tree.

Dean was driving west on U.S. Highway 466 (later California State Route 46) near Cholame, California when a Ford Tudor driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed attempted to take the fork onto California State Route 41 and crossed into Dean's lane without seeing him. The two cars hit almost head on. According to a story in the Oct 1, 2005 edition of the Los Angeles Times[2], California Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles when they were called to the scene of the accident, where they saw a heavily-breathing Dean being placed into an ambulance. Wuetherich had been thrown from the car but survived with a broken jaw and other injuries. Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59PM at the age of 24. His last known words, uttered right before impact, are said to have been: "That guy's got to stop... He'll see us."

Contrary to reports of Dean's speeding, which persisted decades after his death, Nelson said "the wreckage and the position of Dean's body indicated his speed was more like 55 mph (88 km/h)." Turnupseed received a gashed forehead and bruised nose and was not cited by police for the accident. He died of lung cancer in 1995. Rolf Wuetherich would die in a road accident in Germany in 1981. While completing Giant, and to promote Rebel Without a Cause, Dean had recently filmed a short interview with actor Gig Young for an episode of "Warner Bros. Presents"[4] wherein he ad-libbed the popular phrase "The life you save may be your own" instead into "The life you save may be mine." Dean's sudden death prompted the studio to re-film the section, and the piece was never aired - though in the past several sources have referred to the footage, mistakenly identifying it as a public service announcement. (The segment can, however, be viewed on both the 2001 VHS and 2005 DVD editions of Rebel Without a Cause.)

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