James Dean was born on 8 February 1931 in a small town in Indiana, the son of a dental technician. His mother had a passion for poetry and gave him Byron as a second name,
After graduating from Fairmont High, where he became interested in art and literature, he went to California where he enrolled in James Whitmore’s drama classes at UCLA.
In order to purchase a new Triumph, he did some TV commercials and managed to get himself bit parts in three movies.
In 1952 Dean went to New York where he was able to watch some classes at the Actors’ Studio, but after an audition, he felt like “a rabbit being vivisected”.
He then got a part in a play called See The Jaguar which ran for only six performances, but he was noticed by producer Billy Rose who cast him as the pederastic Arab boy in André Gide’s The Immoralist.
This led to a screen test at Warner Bros. followed by a seven-year contract.
It was Eliza Kazan who asked for Dean to play Caleb Trask in East of Eden, which made him an overnight sensation when it opened in February 1955.
With his animated shoulders, tortured postures, extravagant gestures, studied hesitancy and untamed animal sensitivity, he painted a perfect portrait of a disturbed and complex adolescent with whom young audiences could identify.
On 30 September 1955, Dean was driving his silver Porsche 550 Spyder (pictured below left) on California Highway 46, a desolate country road, en route from Los Angeles to an autumn race meeting at Salinas Airport, 290 miles away.
He had originally intended to tow the Spyder, that he bought just nine days earlier, to the race but decided at the last minute to drive it there instead, taking his mechanic Rolf Wütherich as a passenger.
He left Hollywood in the early afternoon and was stopped by police at 3:00 pm for speeding. Nevertheless, he continued to step on the gas.
15 miles from the small town of Cholame, at 5:58 pm, the Porsche accelerated along the downgrade of Polonio Pass, which runs straight as an arrow down to the ‘Y’ intersection of Highways 46 and 41.
Approaching the intersection from the opposite direction was a large black and white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven by student Donald Turnupseed.
As the two cars converged on the junction, the Ford veered over the centre line and Dean’s Porsche slammed into it at a reported 85mph.
The impact with the much heavier Ford sedan sent the Spyder cartwheeling.
Turnupseed escaped with minor injuries and Wütherich, who had been thrown from the Porsche, survived with several broken bones. But Dean, 24, was pronounced dead on arrival in hospital after being trapped in the smashed Porsche with a broken neck and numerous internal injuries.
Dean’s second starring feature, Rebel Without A Cause, was released at the end of October and the name James Dean entered Hollywood legend.