9/30/1955 +60

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

9/30/1955 +60

James Dean as Jim Stark in Rebel without a Cause

Gone now these six decades, James Dean is described in his Wikipedia entry as...

"...a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement...."

...and if anyone wondered how that came to be after starring in only three motion pictures, they had only to see last week's cable TCM retrospective of Dean's work from 's "Golden Age" between 1952-1954, on dramatic series like:

  • Campbell Playhouse: "Something for an Empty Briefcase" (July 17, 1953) - A petty hoodlum ex-con trying to stay on the straight and narrow.
  • Studio One: "Sentence of Death" (August 17, 1953) - Innocent young man wrongly identified as a killer and sent to death row.

James Dean as Cal Trask in East of Eden

  • Kraft Televisio Theatre: "A Long Time Till Dawn" (No­vem­ber 11, 1953) - Another tormented young ex-con unable to stay on the straight and narrow.
  • Robert Montgomery Presents: "Harvest" (November 23, 1953) - Secondary role as Midwestern farmboy anxious to follow his big city girlfriend when she leaves.
  • The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse: "Run Like a Thief" (September 5, 1954) - A "good guy" role as a hotel waiter whose mentor experiences a devastating momentary lapse in character.
  • General Electric Theater: "I'm a Fool" (November 14, 1954 ) - Late 19th Century bumpkin who goes to the big city of Sandusky and tells a capricious lie to impress a girl (Natalie Wood!) with whom he is smitten.
  • General Electric Theater: "The Dark, Dark Hours" (December 12, 1954) - Plays a jazz-loving, hippy-dippy stick-up guy who threatens rural doctor Ronald Reagan to get him to help his wounded robbery partner... not having lived long enough to see President Reagan face down Mikhail Gor­ba­chev, Dean didn't realize that the man wasn't likely to knuckle under to a punk with a gun.
  • The United States Steel Hour: "The Thief" (Jan­u­ary 4, 1955) - Dean is the son in an aris­to­cratic European family in pre-World War I Paris who admits to a theft actually committed by the young wife of a family friend with whom he has fallen in love.

If I had any knowledge of these TV appearances, I didn't recall it when my parents took us to see the premiere showing of "East of Eden" at Times Square's Astor Theater in mid-March of 1955.

(Why they decided to see the movie first run like that I don't know... perhaps because they both liked the John Steinbeck novel. )

Promotional 'East of Eden' tabbed button

What I do recall about that event was that Warner Brothers was making a big production out of it, and some of the promotional materials being given away were red & white tab buttons imprinted with "i've seen james dean in 'east of eden'!" and "seen james dean?"

Promotional 'East of Eden' tabbed button

Wow! I grabbed onto a pair of those suckers as if my life depended on them... in my youth it seemed as if the only others named "Dean" were the great uncle, Louis Dean Speir, for whom I was named and Harry Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson... if Kermit the Frog thought it wasn't easy being green, he should have tried being a "Dean!"

Thus began my interest in the young actor, but it didn't kick in for fair 'til about a year after his death, spurred on by the myriad "teen" magazine covers blurbing stories about the man and even speculations that he hadn't died in that high speed car crash on Route 466 near Bakers­field, California, and was holded up, terribly disfigured, in a private sanitarium somewhere.

Evergreen Review Volume 2, No. 5

The subject seemed destined to remain the property of fanzines and obsessed teen­agers (of both genders) 'til 1958 when the increasingly relevant Evergreen Review published the scholarly "The Case of James Dean" by French philosopher/sociologist Edgar Morin that the actor started to be noticed by the intelligentsia and was in short order elevated to the status of iconic cultural figure.

Now, 60 years since his death, there's a good possibility that his three major films, two of which were released posthumously, would not hold up today were it not for the presence of Dean... and that includes his final effort, "Giant" in which he shared top billing with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.

For one who was here so briefly (February 8, 1931-Sep­tember 30, 1955) and produced such a relatively small oeuvre, the presence of James Byron Dean has certainly endured.

Of interest...

In 2009 the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society put together a 29 minute documentary, "The Stuff of Legend: James Dean's Final Ride," which tracks the events leading up to the fatal crash, and dispels some rumors.


1. Hampton West said...

Nice posting.

I never knew he did all that TV work - sorry I missed it but will try to check them out.

I remember when he was killed, my older sister was in tears!

Thank you.

Don't know when TCM will re-run them... it was really quite a production, digitally correcting the 62-63 year old kinescopes so that the bottom half of the screen was the same aspect ratio was maintained top to bottom of the image, as well as the "color" (it was all black & white, of course) balance didn't wash out the lighter tones.

The characters of "Jim Stark," "Judy" (Natalie Wood) and "'Plato' Crawford" (Sal Mineo) in "Rebel Without a Cause" spoke to the youth of not just that generation, but many subsequent ones.

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