Many of you will know (because it says so in my Twitter biography) that I am obsessed with the late American actor, James Dean. Why does a woman from Generation Y care about a man born in 1931? I'll tell you why…
Today marks the 57th anniversary of James Dean's death. He was just 24-years-old when he was killed in a car accident on his way to a car racing competition - a hobby he did in his spare time when he wasn't acting. He had worked on Broadway, studied at The Actors Studio alongside Marlon Brando and Paul Newman, and made several films before his untimely death. But Dean had a starring role in just three films - East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. Interestingly, only East of Eden had been released at the time. Rebel soon followed, and then finally, Giant was also released into cinemas in 1956. Nonetheless, the world mourned Dean's tragic death on September 30, 1955 and many flocked to the cinema to see his final two films.
Thanks largely to his role in Rebel (we all know the famous red jacket, white shirt and blue jeans ensemble), Dean became an icon and a hero for youth around the world. He represented the lonely, tortured, sad, misunderstood and moody. He epitomised the meaning of the word "cool" while also being seen as a sensitive and quiet thinker. What Kurt Cobain was to youth in the 90's, Dean was to teenagers in the 50's.
Dean's image can be seen today on everything from posters to mugs, clocks, license plates and lunch boxes, yet his career was so short. While the lustre of other fantastic actors of his generation have begun to fade for many youth of today, Dean's iconic status remains. He is accessible to youths because they can still relate to him.
I learnt about Dean when I was a teenager. I watched his films and was amazed at his acting ability. Every nuance, every body movement down to the tilt of his head was powerful to watch. He acted with his whole body and used his expressive face to show pain, anger, sadness and fear. He wasn't the first actor to act this way, but Dean was the best at doing it. I re-watched the films many times, not even paying attention to the other actors or the plot, but just watching Dean and his every quirk. My fascination with the actor ran deeper after that. I read every book I could find about Dean, trying to understand him and how his experiences affected his acting.
Dean had no idea he would be an icon and poster boy for youth struggling to find their place in the world. However, his legacy lives on today because youth will always need someone to look to for inspiration and understanding. Whether rightly or wrongly, Dean's memory has long been flying that flag. He played tragic anti-heroes on film and somehow became a tragic anti-hero in real life.
Dean once said, "If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he's dead, then maybe he was a great man." Indeed.
Here's a look at some of his best work:
East of Eden (1955)
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
What's your favourite James Dean film?