James Dean, both his real life, and how it related to his role in the movie "Rebel without a Cause." It will relate the themes of youth violence, and parent/youth relationships between James Dean and his personal life and the movie and real life in the 1950's.
JAMES DEAN AND THE MOVIES got it and I know if I better myself that there will be no match. A fellow must have confidence. - James Dean
James Dean was one of the most popular stars of the 1950s. Ironically, he only made three films before he died, but they were all popular at the box office, and increased his popularity with his fans. The film he is most remembered for is "Rebel without a Cause," released in 1955, after he was killed in a car accident. Dean has always embodied the "bad boy," and "Rebel without a Cause" did nothing to dispel the legend. Dean lived fast, drove fast, rose quickly in his career, and burned out much too early.
James Byron Dean was born on February 8, 1931, in Marion, Indiana. His father, Winton, was a dental technician who worked for the government. His mother, Mildred, died when he was nine. His father moved the family to California when Dean was five, but he returned to Indiana after his mother's death, and lived with an aunt and uncle. He finished school in Indiana, and had already decided he wanted to make a career in the arts and drama when he left high school.
When he finished high school in 1949, he moved to California, and attended Santa Monica Junior College and UCLA. He began studying with James Whitmore's acting workshop. He "appeared in occasional television commercials, and played several roles in films and on stage. In the winter of 1951, he took Whitmore's advice and moved to New York to pursue a serious acting career. He appeared in seven television shows, in addition to earning his living as a busboy in the theater district, before he won a small part in a Broadway play entitled 'See the Jaguar'" (Kent and Loehr).
In 1952, he joined the acclaimed Actor's Studio in New York, one of the finest acting schools in the world. He wrote home to his family: "It is the best thing that can happen to an actor. I am one of the youngest to belong. If I can keep this up and nothing interferes with my progress, one of these days I might be able to contribute something to the world" (Kent and Loehr).
In 1954, someone from Warner Brothers noticed him in a role on Broadway, and set up a screen test for him. He was signed to play in "East of Eden," a film made from the novel by John Steinbeck. He returned to New York, appeared in several other TV shows, and returned to Hollywood when he won the role in "Rebel without a Cause." He finished shooting the film in May of 1955, and began work on the film "Giant."
Along with acting, James Dean loved to go fast. In high school, his passion was motorcycles. After he filmed "East of Eden," he celebrated by buying a new Porsche, which he raced in road races all over Southern California. On September 30, 1955, Dean was killed in a car accident, on his way to a race in Salinas, California. Ironically, Salinas was the home of John Steinbeck, author of the book that was made into the movie that started Dean on the road to success in Hollywood. He was nominated for two Academy Awards, for "East of Eden," and "Giant."
Rebel without a Cause" was released in 1955, after James Dean died. It became an instant classic, and still shows today on television. It concerns the problem of "juvenile delinquency," a problem of teenagers defying authority. In the 1950s, this was a major social problem. Most parents were young; many families were started in the 1940s, during World War II, and directly after the war ended. These parents lived through the war, and now were living the good life. America was more prosperous than it ever had been. They enjoyed television, movies, and the teenagers were crazy about that new type of music, "rock & roll."
Rock and roll threatened many Americans. They were afraid of it. Some segregationists and bigots just knew that this subversive music would lead to integration and mixing of the races. Many thought rock and roll, and Elvis' gyrations on stage were a major cause of juvenile delinquency. "Rock and roll was linked to almost every social problem imaginable, including drugs, sexual promiscuity, gang warfare, pornography, teenage pregnancy, prostitution, organized crime, and communist subversion" (Bindas 270).
In Rebel without a Cause, the problem appears to be juvenile delinquency, and this is the only one of the films to share the visual excess common to the explicit family melodramas of the 1950s. But the disturbing and disruptive problem in each film is within the family, and the structuring absence in each film relates to the structure of this institution. The fact that the problem is named would seem to root it in the public sphere, making its orientation implicitly masculine, since, until the advent of the contemporary women's movement in the 1960s, women's problems were not considered social problems" (Byars 115-116).
In the film, "Jim," (James Dean) struggles to find himself as a young man. His father is a weak individual, who allows his wife and mother-in-law to bully him. Jim has no father figure he can look up to. In one scene he demands of his father, "What do you do when you have to be a man?" His family cannot tell him. When a car race turns deadly, they urge Jim not to tell the police what really happened that night on the cliff. Throughout the film from beginning to nearly the end, Jim cannot cope with the pressures, and turns to drinking, then his friends, to solve his problems.
He leaves home, and takes up with Judy (Natalie Wood), and Plato (Sal Mineo), who are also teens alone. The three all feel abandoned, unloved, and needy. They create their own family, complete with an abandoned mansion to call home. "The three, children of the upper-middle class, fittingly play out their fantasy in an abandoned mansion, even playacting the upward mobility foremost in the fantasies of most middle-class Americans of the period" (Byars 127). Violence intrudes however, and Plato is killed.
The fantasy family is destroyed by Plato's death, and Jim's father comforts him, 'You did everything a man could.' Father and son embrace, as the mother looks on, tears in her eyes. The father vows, 'I'll try to be as strong as you want me to be.' Jim introduces Judy to his parents; Jim and Judy have each other, and they present themselves to the world as the nucleus of a newly born family. His parents, finally united, come together and look on approvingly" (Byars 127).
Youth violence was another common theme in the movie, and a problem during the 1950s. The first real youth gangs were appearing in big cities, and even small towns. It was common for these gangs to solve their problems by knife fights, fistfights, and drag racing rival gangs. It was a phenomenon most adults did not understand, and it frightened them. The film, in many viewers' eyes, promoted this violence, and Plato even thrived on it. It was his own way of rebelling against the family who ignored him, and was too busy with their own lives to even remember his birthday. In this way, the film tried to show what was behind youth violence, and allow more people to understand its roots, so they could affect a change.
There are many interesting parallels to Dean's life, and this film that defined his career. Dean grew up from the age of nine without a mother. He says that he never knew why she died, and it always bothered him. He was sent to live with an aunt and uncle, so in effect, he too was "abandoned" by his family, just as Jim was in "Rebel." Jim was abandoned emotionally - his family was dysfunctional and selfish. James Dean was abandoned physically, and although he visited his father, he did not live with him, and he was closer to his family in Indiana than with his father.
The obvious parallel was that Dean liked to race cars, and was killed in a car crash when he was only 24. His life was going the way he had planned, and his career was really taking off.
The movie parallels life in the 1950s, because there were so many teenagers growing up in middle-class families who felt abandoned, forgotten, and unloved. Society was evolving, and many parents were extremely involved in social activities, jobs, and other outside activities with their peers. Many children felt forgotten, and turned to a variety of illicit and…