“ To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty; to interpret it his problem; and to express it his dedication.”
With the lightness of his touch, James Dean completely overturned the way of being young; before him, guys in their twenties were just part of the background, meanwhile with him they became protagonists in the wake of the American dream which put into their hands the new era of consumerism.
On September the 30th of the now far 1955, on the California state highway 466, the famous Porsche 550 convertible (later named Dean’s Porsche) cannot avoid a mortal collision. A star passes away, but a myth that will live forever in its immortality is born.
Probably, words aren’t needed to describe he who has been able to enter into history as a myth after only 24 years of life; but we’ll try anyway with a certain elegance and sobriety to recall his short yet intense life.
Jimmy, as he was called by his friends, was born on February the 8th in Indiana; his mother’s death and the conflicted relationship with his father mark his existence in a distinctive way: this difficult relationship with his father, his sadness and his juvenile impetuousness were exactly what opened him the door to get the role of main character in the movie “East of Eden” winning the competition of actors such as Marlon Brando.
Director Elia Kazan once said: “ Even if it’s cynical to recognize it, it must be said that suffering helped Jimmy’s art. He wouldn’t have been so good if he had less misfortunes ”
In 1955 he reaches his consecration thanks to “ Rebel without a cause ”; a movie which marks a turning point for the time, a new youth identifies in Dean and his clothes become iconici: the white t-shirt, the red leather jacket. The work becomes a cult and also has the fame of a cursed movie.
Of the three protagonist, Dean died in a car accident a month before the movie premiere, Sal Mineo was murdered at 37 and Natalie Wood drowned at 43 in unclear circumstances.
There was the need for a character who could break the rules and James was the highest expression of it: he was smoking his Chesterfield, reading poetry, playing bongos…entire afternoons spend reading and drinking coffee, which he loved; he was eating chocolate and raspberry ice cream, he loved dance and was a regular at Jerry’s bar in New York. He had been able to change lexicon because he was transmitting his celebrity through his normality.
Normality, yes, exactly that concept that can be deducted by some timeless and iconic pictures that have been shot by photographer Dennis Stock who became Dean’s friend while following him in a long journey…it is a comeback to origins for James Dean. A return to Indiana to his uncles, where Jimmy was able to find himself : it was just the farm where he was sent by his father after his wife’s death . Just the time of warm greetings to his grandparents, uncles and cousin who also was immortalized in some of the shots, and then he was ready to completely identify himself into the bucolic setting among pigs, tractors, mud and brushwoods.
From a sentimental point of view, James’s life hasn’t been so quiet…the main scene, as all know, was taken by our Italian Anna Maria Pierangeli who has been both a blessing and a curse to Jimmy’s short existence.
It is said that in the same period when James was in the making of “East of Eden”, Miss Pierangeli was filming with Paul Newman “The Silver Chalice” and when Jimmy went to the set to peek Paul, he noticed the young Italian who was already known in Hollywood. The attraction was so powerful that director Elia Kazan told that he once caught them making love in a changing room. They were madly in love and all was spiced up by frequent quarrels mainly due to their different way of seeing life: Anna loved Hollywood social life, meanwhile he was a misanthrope. But for Anna he changed so much that he converted to Catholicism to marry her and he started wearing tuxedos to, reluctantly accompany her to premieres. After all this, on September the 29th 1954 they went together to “A star is born” premiere and then all changed: Anna accepted the wedding proposal of Vic Damone. Nobody has ever specifically understood what happened in those 48 hours but something was sure: James wasn’t well accepted at Pierangeli’s house and this influenced a lot the situation, combined to the fact the he was accused of not being a good Catholic.
He made of nonchalance his trademark that was related both to manners and to his way of dressing.. straight leg jeans with worn out sings that were giving it a different heritage; the white t- shirt always worn under a shirt, under a leather jacket or even under a garment made famous by James himself, which was the windbreaker jacket. Leather or suede boots; the concept of denim on denim; black leather jacket; brown or ochre sweaters; simple Converse shoes to be worn under comfortable trousers, rigorously with cuffs; sartorial suits with soft lines and most of all that iconic double breasted coat which will forever stay in our minds.
We like to remember James like this, in full control of his greatest passion…
Frank Gallucci & Francesco Tarabuzzi