James Dean (1955)

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That's what 24-year old James Byron Dean was when his Porsche 550 Spyder careered into Donald Turnupseed's 1950 Ford Tudor on the last day of September 1955. And while the crash certainly ended Dean's life, it may somewhat paradoxically have served to immortalise him.

Perhaps conveying on celluloid what Presley and Kerouac were respectively recording on vinyl and paper, James Dean, both on and off screen, epitomised the rebelliousness and restlessness of an angst-ridden adolescent post-war America.

A heap of twisted legs and denim rags1 forever belligerent and looking resentful for no particular reason, Dean won the role of Cal Trask in Elia Kazan's East of Eden in 1955. It is possibly true that Dean didn't even need to act the role but nevertheless he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He followed up his success with two more starring roles, first in Rebel Without a Cause, and then with Giant, which was released in 1956. However, despite being again nominated for another Academy Award (Best Actor, Giant), he never lived to experience his success.

But perhaps more poignantly, he never lived to experience failure.

He was a heap of twisted legs and denim rags, looking resentful for no particular reason. I didn't like the expression on his face, so I kept him waiting. It seemed that I'd outtoughed him, because when I called him in he'd dropped the belligerent pose. We tried to talk, but conversation was not his gift, so we sat looking at each other. When I got back to the office I called Paul and told him this kid actually was Cal Trask.
- Elia Kazan, director of East of Eden

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