Tuesday 20: James Dean

As part of my 101 in 1001 list, I decided to start a “20 interesting things” series that’ I’m calling Tuesday 20. You can find my list of 101 things here and all Tuesday 20s here.

This Thursday is the 55th anniversary of legendary actor, James Dean’s death.  So, it seemed fitting to make him this week’s Tuesday 20 subject.

  1. James Byron Dean was born February 8, 1931 in Marion, Indiana.  His father was a farmer in Indiana but, decided to become a dental technician.  When Dean was 6 years old, his family moved to Santa Monica, CA so his father could pursue dentistry.
  2. Dean’s mother died of cancer when he was nine years old which left his father unable to take care of him.  He was sent back to Indiana to live with his aunt and uncle.
  3. While in high school he participated in forensics competitions.
  4. He had a beagle named Max.
  5. After high school, he moved back to California to live with his father and step-mother and attend school at Santa Monica College studying pre-law. He then transfered to UCLA to study drama which his father did not approve of and caused an estrangement between the two men.
  6. He dropped out of UCLA in January 1951 to pursue an acting career after beating out 350 actors to land the role of Malcolm in Macbeth.
  7. Dean worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios while searching for acting jobs in Hollywood.  It was there that he met one of his mentors, Rogers Brackett.
  8. He moved to New York City in October 1951 hoping to find more acting opportunities.
  9. After moving to New York, he worked as a stunt tester for the game show Beat the Clock.
  10. Dean gained admission to the Actors Studio – a renowned acting school – where he studied method acting under Lee Strasberg.
  11. Dean’s first big role was as Cal Trask in East of Eden.
  12. Most of Dean’s acting in East of Eden was unscripted.
  13. His role in East of Eden was quickly followed up by a starring role in Rebel Without a Cause which was symbolic of teen angst at the time and made Dean the poster boy for disaffected youth.
  14. Thanks to his successful acting career, Dean was able to follow his passion – racing.  After East of Eden he bought himself a Porsche 550 Spyder which he raced.
  15. A 5:45pm on September 30, 1955, Dean was killed in a car accident while driving his Porsche to a race in Salinas with his mechanic, Rolf Wütherich.  He was hit head on by a 23 year old student named Donald Turnupseed.  Both Wütherich and Turnupseed survived the crash.
  16. Rumor has it that Dean’s car, which he’d nicknamed the Little Bastard, was cursed. After the accident, the car rolled off the back of a truck and crushed the legs of a mechanic standing nearby. Later, after a used-car dealer sold its parts to buyers all over the country, the strange incidents multiplied: The car’s engine, transmission and tires were all transplanted into cars that were subsequently involved in deadly crashes, and a truck carrying the Spyder’s chassis to a highway-safety exhibition skidded off the road, killing its driver. The remains of the car vanished from the scene of that accident and haven’t been seen since.
  17. Wütherich, whose feelings of guilt after the car accident never abated, tried to commit suicide twice during the 1960s–and in 1967, he stabbed his wife 14 times with a kitchen knife in a failed murder/suicide–and he died in a drunk-driving accident in 1981. Turnupseed died of lung cancer in 1981.
  18. In 1955, Dean became the first actor to officially receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination.  He was nominated for his work in East of Eden.  He received his second posthumous nomination in 1956 for his role in Giant.
  19. Dean avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual which the U.S. government classified as a mental disorder at the time.
  20. Dean is considered to have had an “experimental” life style.  Stories were always circulating about his taste for men and women.  Some claim his was experimenting.  Others claim that it was a means of career advancement.

Many of these facts came from The History Channel.  They do a cool “This Day in History” for every day.  Here is their story on James Dean.

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