On This Gay Day: Hollywood icon James Dean died in 1955

James Dean died on this day in 1955

James Dean is one of the icons of film in the 20th century, but he only made three films in his short career where he had a leading role.

Born in Indiana, his family moved to California as a child. When his mother died when he was just seven years old his mother died, and he was sent back to Indiana to be raised by his aunt and uncle. He returned to California to go to university and study law but soon switched to acting. He dropped out of UCLA in 1951 to pursue an acting career first time.

For the next few years, he appeared in television commercials and small parts in film and television, often uncredited. In 1953 he was cast in Elia Kazan’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Soon after this he was cast in the teen drama Rebel Without a Cause opposite Natalie Wood. The following year he filmed Giant with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

On 30th September 1955 Dean was killed when the car he was driving collided with another vehicle that had strayed over the centre line of the road. The cars hit almost head on, throwing Dean’s car into several cartwheels before landing in a gully. The actor was killed instantly.

After his death he was posthumously nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his work on Giant, but the award went to Yul Bryner for his performance in The King and I. 

Since his death there has been speculation about the actor’s sexuality, and many stories have emerged suggesting he was bisexual. His college roommate spoke about them having a sexual relationship, and co-star Elizabeth Taylor also described him many years later as being gay, as did Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray.

Former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby devotes a chapter of his book A Private Life: fragments, memories, friends to his teenage recollections of seeing East of Eden and feeling a connection to the star, and later in life making a pilgrimage to Dean’s hometown in Indiana.

OIP Staff

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