James Byron Dean is remembered as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement.

The director Elia Kazan was looking for a substantive actor to play the emotionally complex role of 'Cal Trask'. Much of James Dean's performance in the film is unscripted, including his dance in the bean field and his fetal-like posturing while riding on top of a train boxcar. The most famous improvisation of the film occurs when Cal's father rejects his gift of $5,000, money Cal earned by speculating in beans before the US became involved in World War I. Instead of running away from his father as the script called for, Dean instinctively turned to Massey and in a gesture of extreme emotion, lunged forward and grabbed him in a full embrace, crying. Kazan kept this and Massey's shocked reaction in the film.

American teenagers of the mid-1950s, when James Dean's major films were made, identified with Dean and the roles he played, especially that of Jim Stark in Rebel Without A Cause.
The film depicts the dilemma of a typical teenager of the time, who feels that no one, not even his peers, can understand him. Joe Hyams says that Dean was 'one of the rare stars, like Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift, whom both men and women find sexy'.

Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.

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During this production shoot James Dean appeared in an informal black & white TV commercial in which he responded to questions posed by actor Gig Young. Ironically, Dean was promoting safe driving and informed viewers, "People say racing is dangerous, but I'd rather take my chances on the track any day than on the highway." Before he left the studio he added one piece of advice: "Drive safely, because the life you save may be mine." Dean was wearing the very hat and clothing he wore for this movie throughout the commercial. He died a few weeks later in a car crash.

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James Dean in New York

James Dean Giant 1956

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James Dean in Giants

YearTitleRoleDirectorNotes
1951Fixed Bayonets!DoggieSamuel FullerUncredited
1952Sailor BewareBoxing TrainerHal WalkerUncredited
1952Has Anybody Seen My Gal?Youth at Soda FountainDouglas SirkUncredited
1953Trouble Along the WayExtraMichael CurtizUncredited
1955East of EdenCal TraskElia KazanGolden Globe Award
1955Rebel Without a CauseJim StarkNicholas RayBAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor
1956GiantJett RinkGeorge StevensAcademy Award for Best Actor

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