James Byron Dean was born to Mildred Wilson Dean and Winton Dean on February 8, 1931 at 2:08 am. He was named after the doctor who delivered him, James Emmick and the famous English poet, Lord Byron.
He was born in the Seven Gables Apartments in Marion, Indiana, where Winton worked as a dental technician. Mildred was a housewife. She decorated their new apartment to occupy her time. Actually, the reason that Winton asked Mildred to marry him is because he wanted to do the right thing. You see, Jimmy was concieved out of wedlock which was considered very taboo in the 1930’s. Winton and Mildred were married very quickly and they had to change the date on their marriage certificate to 1929, so Mildred’s pregnancy would seem more acceptable.
Back to 1931. Jimmy was a big baby. Mildred fell in love with him immediately. Jimmy quickly became the focus of Mildred’s short life.
In 1935, when Jimmy was four, he moved to California with his parents. His father, Winton, was transferred to Sawtelle Veterans Hospital. The Deans spent four years there. During those years, Mildred enrolled James into classes to learn violin and tap.
They also played with a homemade puppet theater. Their happiness was short lived. Mildred had been diagnosed with uterine cancer that was in a very advanced stage. On April 14, 1940, at the age of 29, Mildred Wilson Dean died. Jimmy was just 9, and he never recovered from her death. Winton Dean was very short on cash, so much that he couldn’t afford to go to his wife’s funeral in Fairmount. How was he to afford to raise a child? He sent Jimmy to Fairmount to live with his aunt and uncle, Marcus and Ortense Winslow. Jimmy quickly adjusted to farm life. At school, Jimmy excelled in sports and theater. Jimmy was on the Quakers, Fairmount High’s basketball team.
He also played baseball, and was very good at pole vaulting. Jimmy was very active. In fact, while playing in the Wilson’s barn, he knocked out his two front teeth and was forced to wear a bridge, made by his father, for the rest of his life. Jimmy was just as enthusiastic about the theater as he was about sports. He went on to star in school plays such as: Mooncalf Mugford, Goon With the Wind, The Monkey’s Paw, An Apple from Coles County, and You Can’t Take it With You.
In high school, Jimmy was a finalist in the national speech competition. He chose to perform The Madman from Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers.
His drama teacher, Adeline Nall, told him to shorten his performance. He didn’t and that probably caused him to place 6th. Jimmy wasn’t happy. In 1949, James graduated from Fairmount High School.
He began college at Santa Monica College in 1950. Also in 1950, he made $30 from his first acting job, a Pepsi commercial. Just 20 years old, Jimmy dropped out of college to pursue his acting career. He got bit parts in films such as Fixed Bayonets and Has Anybody Seen My Gal?. He began to get frustrated. He wasn’t getting very far in Hollywood.
He followed James Whitmore’s, an acting teacher and actor, advice and moved to NYC to pursue the theater. James Dean auditioned for the Actors Studio with Christine White, a friend, and made it in. He was their youngest member to date. James quickly found success in television. He starred in a number of television theater productions.
In 1952, James was cast in See The Jaguar, a broadway play which got bad reviews, but the critics loved Jimmy despite their poor marks for his play. In 1954, he returned to Broadway in Gide’s The Immortalist with Louis Jordan and Geraldine Page. East of Eden was in need of a Cal, and Elia Kazan, the director, found Cal in James Dean. Jimmy met Pier Angeli, supposedly the love of his life, on the Eden set. Later that year, she left him to marry singer Vic Damone. It is said that Jimmy was heartbroken. 1955 was a great year for Jimmy, ironically, his most successful year. He made Rebel Without a Cause and Giant in 1955.
He recieved rave reviews for both films. Just a week after filming Giant, Jimmy was happy and excited on his way to a big race in Salinas.
However, this wasn’t meant to be. On September 30, 1955, a day that will live in infamy, James Dean was killed by Donald Turnupseed in an automobile accident at 5:45 pm near Paso Robles. The world mourned for Jimmy. He was killed instantly. James Dean was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Actor. One on his first film. That is a very rare occurence and he is among 5 actors who have accomplished that massive feat. Jimmy will always be remembered as a great actor. He will remain forever young.