63 years ago, on a September day while driving in his new Porsche 550 Spyder on US 101 near Salinas, Dean left this world. Forever after, there would be no reality left to mess up his myth. He was just 24-years-old. Dean famously enjoyed driving fast cars. George Stevens, the director of Giant banned him from driving during the shoot. In a public service announcement Dean filmed just two months before his car crash, he urged young drivers to practice highway safety, saying:
“The life you save might be mine.”
Dean’s name appears in the screen credits of only the three films: Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled teen Jim Stark. The other two roles were loner Cal Trask in East Of Eden (1955) directed by Elia Kazan and surly ranch hand Jett Rink in Giant (1956). Yet, he also worked as an extra in at least four other films: Sam Fuller’s war drama Fixed Bayonets! (1951), the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy Sailor Beware (1952), Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952) starring Rock Hudson, and the John Wayne football drama Trouble Along The Way (1953). He performed in dozens of early 1950s television shows. One of his earliest roles was for the CBS series Omnibus in an episode titled Glory In The Flower, with Dean portraying just the type of disaffected youth he would later immortalize.
Dean became the first actor to earn a posthumous Academy Award nomination and the only actor to earn two posthumous nods. He lost both times. He wasn’t nominated for his defining role in Rebel Without A Cause.
Tennessee Williams wrote of Dean:
”He was a rare combination of deep sensuality and deep sweetness.”
It is because Dean only starred in three films and lived a very short life that he has become a symbol for so many different and contrasting things. Had Dean lived to enjoy the stardom that he achieved after his death, he probably would have eventually ceased to be such an enigma. Today, Dean remains such a romantic and misunderstood figure. At least it can be said that he never made a bad film.