How James Dean Became The Original Bad Boy Of Hollywood

James Dean paved the way for bad boys Hollywood history. Boys wanted to be like him, and girls wanted to date him. Critics consistently booed him, calling him a Brando imitation, but now more than a half a century after his death, we can all recognize his role as the original bad boy in Hollywood film.

Born on February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana, Dean spent his life bouncing back and forth between this agricultural, rural state and the bright lights of California. When James was still a young boy, his father packed the family up in pursuit of a new career in dental hygiene, the family landed in Santa Monica, California. Life changed at age eight for Dean when breast cancer claimed his mother's life. A year later, he found himself back in Indiana, living with extended family. He grew up on that farm near Fairmount, Indiana. Fairmount High School planted and garnered a love of drama in Dean.

He graduated and moved back to California where he resided with his newly remarried father. After a short stint at Santa Monica College, Dean transferred to UCLA and thus caused an rift and subsequent separation between him and his father. After some fruitless time in Hollywood, he ventured off to New York City in hopes of making his first big break, and he did. He began to study under Lee Strasberg, a well-known drama instructor. Work began to pick up with a few television and theater roles, then Dean finally caught his big break.

Director Elia Kazan was searching for the right actor to Cal in his upcoming film East of Eden. Dean beat out the legendary Paul Newman. Dean's career had finally begun, and shortly thereafter it ended with a life-ending automobile accident, Dean was only 24. In his short life span, Dean made one major accomplishment: he made himself known. He only had three starring roles, but each one left an indelible impact on viewers. In East of Eden, Dean played Cal Trask, a disenfranchised youth constantly battling for the attention of his father with his brother Aaron.

Dean seemed to embrace this role and genuinely relate to Cal because of his own relationship with his dad. In Rebel Without a Cause, arguably Dean's most famous film, Dean played another rebellious youth. This particular character, Jim, had difficulty forming friendships with others and slowly moves away from his parents. Dean's performance created the image of post-war 1950's teen boy. Dean's last role, of Jett Rink, in Giant, reflected some of the same traits of his other two roles. He played rags-to-riches Jett Rink who finds his wealth striking oil.

This role led to an Oscar Nomination. Dean's unforgettable performances make him an icon in Hollywood history and a permanent part of the memories of those who see him in film.

Gregg Hall is an author living in Navarre Florida. Find more about this as well as movie posters at

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