His career really started and stopped all at once — East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause were both released the year he died, and the last movie he filmed, Giant, came out the following year.
But before he was an actor, he was just a regular kid. Here, check out some pictures of cute young James Dean — from babyhood up to his early teen years.
There are also a few shots of the all-grown-up Jimmy, taken during the short time he was one of our most famous actors, and a look back at his career, as seen from 1975 — 20 years after he left us.
Young James Dean as a baby
See little James Dean as a toddler
Adorable young James Dean as a kid
Old James Dean elementary school portraits
James Dean as a teenager and his high school years
“Jimmy” Dean played on the high school basketball team
James Dean – formal portraits from before he was famous
James Dean, the movie star: The Rebel Without a Cause (from 1975)
From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Hawaii) September 30, 1975
LOS ANGELES (AP) —Twenty years ago, a sleek white Porsche sped down a highway near Paso Robles, Calif., and slammed into a car pulling out of a side road. Dead was James Dean. He was 24.
The Dean legend remains alive after two decades. His bare trio of starring films — “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Giant” — turn up on television regularly. Rock groups like the Eagles sing about him: “You were too fast to live, too young to die.”
Just as Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland have become symbols of Hollywood’s corruptibility, James Dean personifies an era of doomed youth.
His brief life and especially his portrait of a troubled young man in “Rebel” seemed to epitomize the postwar generation as vividly as Fitzgerald and Hemingway had portrayed the Lost Generation of the 1920s.
James Dean remains a clear memory for Elia Kazan, the director who discovered him. Here to begin filming “The Last Tycoon,” Kazan considers the actor’s death “a great waste, a tragic loss.”
Said the director: “Jimmy was getting to be a pain in the ass, but he was a terrific talent. I think he would have gotten over that period of being difficult. It happens to most actors. That first burst of success is hard to deal with.”
A high school debater in his native Fairmount, Indiana, Dean had gone to college in Los Angeles, done some little theater work and moved to New York. He appeared in television dramas, then was cast as an Arab in a play starring Geraldine Page and Louis Jourdan, “The Immoralist.”
Paul Osborne, who was writing the screenplay of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” told Kazan that Dean might be right for the role of Cal Trask. The director saw the play and agreed immediately.
“I’ll never forget the preview of ‘East of Eden,'” Kazan recalled. “There had been no advance publicity, and the audience didn’t know who Dean was. But there was some kind of immediate recognition… The audience was screaming over Dean, and when the preview was over, the balcony cascaded with applause, like a waterfall.”
The reluctant Dean was thrust into the glare of fame, and he grew more eccentric. He seemed to imitate the early Brando with his leather jacket
and motorcycle and antisocial behavior. The two actors met at a Hollywood party one night, and Brando snapped, “I think you ought to see a psychiatrist.”
Dean went on to make “Rebel” with Nicholas Ray as director, then George Stevens cast him with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in the epic “Giant.”
The clashes between Dean and Stevens were frequent. On the day after he finished the film, Dean drove north to a road race in Salinas. The crash broke his neck and arms, and crushed his left side. He died in an ambulance.
Much has been written about a James Dean death wish, observers theorizing that his obsession with speed predetermined his early end.
Kazan doubts this. “I think Jimmy wanted very much to live,” said the director. “Few people realize how short-sighted [nearsighted] he was. Nick and George and I, who directed him in films, could see that every time he dropped his glasses he could hardly see.”
A year after Dean’s death, George Stevens predicted that the actor’s mystique would live beyond that of silent star Rudolph Valentino, also the subject of a post-mortem cult. “Valentino was from a fictional, alien world,” the director reasoned. “His appeal was largely middle-aged women.
“Jim is much more to his audience. His is the awkward, rebellious personality that young people of today know so well. He is what they believe themselves to be.”