Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rebel Without A Jacket

The classic James Dean image (red jacket with zipper at half-mast, glimpse of pure white t-shirt, cigarette held at waist level) as the ultimate emblem of the Hollywood rebel. James Dean's famous red jacket from 'Rebel Without A Cause' was purchased from Mattson's department store on Hollywood Boulevard. Following his death, the store hiked the price on the jackets to a then exorbitant $22.95. Warner Bros. actually bought two of them for filming. Afterward, James Dean gave one to his friend, composer Leonard Rosenman, who wore it until it fell apart. The other jacket disappeared from view.

The Mutant King.

James Dean was born February 8, 1931, in Marion, Indiana, to Winton and Mildred Dean. Dean Senior was a dental technician who moved the family to Los Angeles when Jimmy was five. He returned to the Midwest after his mother passed away and was raised by his aunt and uncle on their Indiana farm. After graduating from high school, he returned to California where he attended Santa Monica Junior College and UCLA. James Dean began acting with James Whitmore's acting workshop, appeared in occasional television commercials, and played several roles in films and on stage. In the winter of 1951, he took Whitmore's advice and moved to New York to pursue a serious acting career. He appeared in seven television shows, in addition to earning his living as a busboy in the theater district, before he won a small part in a Broadway play entitled ‘See the Jaguar’.
He starred with Julie Harris in "East of Eden" and Mildred Dunnock in "Padlocks," a 1954 episode of the CBS television program "Danger." Dean studied at the Actors Studio, played in television dramas, and returned to Broadway in "The Immoralist" (1954). This last appearance resulted in a screen test at Warner Brothers for the part of Cal Trask in the screen adaptation John Steinbeck's novel "East of Eden." He then returned to New York where he appeared in four more television dramas. After winning the role of Jim Stark in 1955's "Rebel Without A Cause," he moved to Hollywood.
James Dean starred in only three feature films all shot within the span of one year. He was dead before two of them, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956), could be released.
Although he was in his early 20s, Dean's most heralded roles in Elia Kazan's East of Eden (1955) and Ray's Rebel Without a Cause were depictions of teenagers. He differentiated himself from Rebel's other teenage characters, notably Buzz and his gang, by using rebellion in the name of truth and honesty, not just as a status symbol. He fought the clean-cut social norms fusing a "hoodlum" style with that of the sensitive outcast. Dean became the personification of the restless American youth of the mid-50's, and an embodiment of the title of one of his film "Rebel Without A Cause."

He’s a Rebel.

James Dean’s devastatingly good looks and '50s loner chic often overshadow his intuitive acting style; many look at Dean in retrospect and see a matinee idol, a pin-up, not a craftsman on the exulted level of his contemporary Marlon Brando (whose "rebel" performance in The Wild One (1954) fits the stereotype that Dean was trying to avoid). Roy Schatt's photo portraits from 1954, including the famous "torn sweater series", show a much more complicated persona, removing the preconception that Dean was just a pretty face. But Dean was more than the face of New Hollywood: along with Brando, one of his major influences, he ushered in a style of acting realism enlightened by the Method. Dean said of his preparation for Rebel. "Therefore, when I do play a youth... I try to imitate life."

Teenage Rebellion

Dean's immediate connection with teenagers is largely due to his adoption of the teenage prototype-the neurotic outsider. The very concept of "the teenager" was still in its infant stage in the '50s, having been coined to describe the awkward age gap between children and their parents. Author Jon Savage, acclaimed historian of the English punk movement ("England's Dreaming"), traces the roots of the teenager as an icon in his excellent book “Teenage” ISBN: 0670038377. Delving into film, music, literature, diaries, fashion, and art, Savage documents youth culture's development as a commodity and an industry from the turn of the last century through 1945. Prior to World War II, many adolescents would attend high school for only a year or two, dropping out to start families and secure jobs. Suddenly, the end of the war brought forth a tremendous economic growth and stability, kids suddenly saw their period of adolescence prolonged over many years. Families that once led regionalized existences gradually became part of the modern collective consciousness. The new medium of television allowed the profiteers to market to teenagers the rebellion and fashion of rock 'n' roll music.

James Dean had one of the briefest and spectacular careers of any movie screen star. He was killed in a highway accident on September 30, 1955 en route to compete in a race in Salinas. James Dean was nominated for two Academy Awards, for his performances in "East of Eden" and "Giant." His rebel style lives forever and continues to be re-invented in men's fashion.

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