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On February 8, 1931, James Bryon Dean was born to Winton and Mildred Dean in Marion, Indiana. Dean was extremely close with his mother, who referred to him as James Bryon. On June 7, 1935 Dean's family moved to California when James was only five. On April 14, 1940 Dean lost his mother to cancer. He was then sent by his father to Indiana to live on a farm with his aunt and uncle, Marcus and Orlense Winslow at the young age of nine. He was filled with great grief over his mother's death for the rest of his life. Years later in an interview Dean stated, "My mother died on me when I was nine years old. What does she expect me to do? Do it alone?" When Dean entered high school, his strong points were debate and drama. On April 14, 1949 the Fairmont News read, "James Dean First Place Winner in Dramatic Speaking." He also graduated high school in June of that same year. Dean then moved back to California and attended Santa Monica City College and lived with his father and step mother, where he majored in prelaw. Dean earned Cs and Ds in law classes, but As and Bs in acting. That following year, he transferred to the University of California to study theatre, but he later quit school to get as many auditions as possible, and at this time he worked as a parking lot attendant. His first professional acting role was in a soft drink commercial, which lead to a role as John the Baptist, in a television Easter special called "Hill Number One."
After these small roles, Dean went on to play other small parts in Hollywood films such as, "Sailor Beware," (1951) "Fixed Bayonets," (1951) and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?
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Dean had free time from rehearsals for the play "The Corn is Green," for the National Broadcasting Company. Dean had a $6,900 silver Porsche Spyder that he was driving to compete in a Sports Car Rally in Salinas, California. Dean crashed into a Ford Sedan and was killed instantly on September 30, 1955. Dean was issued a speeding ticket only two hours before the accident occurred. Dean died at the age of 24, and was buried in Fairmount, Indiana on October 8, 1955. 3,000 people attended Dean's funeral that day. Cults were formed almost immediately in honor of Dean, and his fan base grew even more after his death.
Even though he was no longer living, Dean continued to receive recognition for his onscreen roles. "Rebel Without a Cause" opened a month after Dean's death, and fans became obsessed with James Dean. In February of 1956, Dean was nominated for a "Best Performance" Oscar for his role in "East of Eden." He also received foreign awards including, "French Crystal Star Award," and the "Japanese Million Pearl Award." Dean was the first actor to receive an Academy Award nomination after death, and the only actor to receive more than one Oscar nomination after death. James Dean is also still receiving recognitions today. He was voted the 22nd greatest movie star of all time, by Entertainment Weekly, voted 30th greatest movie star of all time by Premier Magazine, and the 18th greatest actor on the "50 Greatest Screen Legends" list by the American Film Institute. He was also pictured on the 32 cent stamp issued June 24, 1996. Dean will also be inducted into the Indiana Performing Arts Hall of Fame on June 19, 2008.
James Bryon Dean was a young actor who clearly had an impact on America in the 1950s and today. He was an influential man who changed how people viewed actors and actresses. He "lived fast and died young," and even though his life was short, he was still very successful in the entertainment business, on stage and on screen. One of today's most famous sayings was said by Dean himself, "Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today." One of Dean's other statements turns out to be well suited for himself, "If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, I mean if he can live on after death, then maybe he was a great man." James Dean, who would have been 77 this year, is clearly still living on today, and was indeed a great man.