The roaring 50’s was a time for teen rebellion, angst, making a statement, creating art, and defying your parents. A new generation was rising, a generation that only knew a thriving America. They didn’t care for tradition or the old culture of their parents times. They were fueled with the grit to cause an uproar, and James Byron Dean became their poster boy.
Many would agree that after his tragic passing on the 30th September 1955, he today, still remains an unforgotten icon of 50’s Popular Culture, based on his charisma, charm, rebellious nature and the outstanding performances he gave in three films between the years of 1954-1956 – Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant. The characters he portrayed in his films nurtured a primal urge for rebellion deep within the hearts and souls of teenagers. They copied him, from the way they dressed, right down to the way they behaved. Still today, Dean has well and truly left his mark on the world, influencing not only teenagers, but the lives of many creatives. He hit a nerve, and the movie studios capitalized. He was a rising star.
After the downfalls of World War II, many American families wished for a quaint life. The working class moved into brand new suburban homes, while advertising agencies began targeting teenagers with a particular demographic, teenagers who were suspicious of their parents illusions. This is where movie stars like Dean gave youth hope. They were no longer alone during the awkward period of life that is adolescence. He created a new kind of masculinity, while impacting youth to let go, basking in the sunshine of freedom . His characters cried and struggled with their parents. They were awkward and confused. Dean didn’t just captivate the youth of America, he embodied what it meant to be an artist, constantly questioning authority, allowing the words of parents to enter in one ear and leave out the other. Dean radiated cool. In fact, many people said he was born cool. Much of this was in fact attributed to his sense of style, portrayed through his choices in fashion. Constantly, he generated new trends before they were close to being deemed fashionable. In doing this, not only did Dean gain the attention of women, but men also.
There is no doubt that Dean had a spark, a spirit that people were drawn to. His style, and youthfulness is still in fact present in today’s culture and society. His memory is constantly influencing today’s new wave of popular culture. His style of method acting is still apparent today, as actors around the world are in fact learning and using the exact same process of method acting that Dean used in his own work throughout the early 50’s. He understood the craft, and most of all, he understood the meaning of what it was to be human. He used his common sense and embodied it in every single character he played.
Dean always used experiences from his own life in a way that actors had never done before. He began the process of method acting through instinct. It was his own way of learning the craft, inspiring many well-known working actor’s in Hollywood today, including Al Pacino – “I was a kid when Dean came out. Dean was the inspiration. Even the red jacket he wore in 'Rebel Without a Cause,' you saw that red jacket popping up all over the place. He really reached people in a way; it was kind of a phenomenon when you think of it. I wonder what it would be like today, that kind of a person ... he made that connection with his audience. And I remember at that time my mother loved him. He reached everybody.". Dean has also influenced the life of filmmakers, inspiring a significant amount of biopic’s and documentary films about his life, such as the 2001 biopic James Dean, and the 2015 independent feature film Life, based on the timeline that Life Magazine photographer Dennis Stock was assigned to shoot photographs of Dean. Surprisingly, Dean has also motivated some musical artists, one being singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey, who has taken a liking to James Deans work. So much so that when she released the hit song titled Blue Jeans in 2012, his name appears in the first verse - “Blue jeans, white shirt, walked into the room you know you made my eyes burn, it was like James Dean, for sure.”.
It is evident that James Byron Dean has left a legacy behind. Whether he influenced through his charm - radiating cool, his outstanding acting ability, or his edgy sense of fashion, he will forever go down as one of the greats, with an unforgettable face and iconic photographs that will last a lifetime. He was and will continue to be the voice of many, for decades to come. He is iconic.