"Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today."
I had this photo, as a poster, in my dorm room 40 years ago. Original, huh? Because no other young male actor in the late 1960s & early 1970s was looking to James Dean for inspiration.
58 years after to the meteoric career of James Dean, one thing that now seems clear to me, this young man was truly gay. His affairs with men, mostly older father figures, are documented now, a half century later. Dean was one of Marlon Brando’s most lasting yet troubled gay relationships. They had a relationship for a number of years but it was always turbulent. At one point they had a big stand-up fight at a party in Santa Monica, California, witnessed by dozens of people. Other assignations with men included Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson & Clifton Webb.
Dean had been studio groomed to be the vulnerable young male innocent, tormented, longing for freedom, & the true love of the right girl. The studio execs made sure that he acted it out in real life by setting him with starlets to be seen with in public. On a September afternoon in 1955, riding in his new Porsche 550 Spyder on US 101 near Salinas, at age 24 there was no reality left to mess up the myth.
For most of his short life there is every reason to believe that Dean didn’t understand what his problem was either. Until he was the 18 year old his name was Jimmy Dean, & he was a short, nerdy, basketball playing hick, with coke-bottle glasses & a big cowlick.
"Being a good actor isn't easy. Being a man is even harder.
I want to be both before I'm done."
It is because James Dean only made 3 films & lived a very short life that has made him a symbol for so many different &contrasting things. Had Dean lived to enjoy the stardom that was given to him after his death, he eventually would have ceased to be such an enigma. Dean today is such a romantic & misunderstood figure. James Dean would have been 82 years old today. His death was tragic, but ironic & iconic. I am somewhat grateful that he didn’t live long enough to play Betty White's love interest on Hot In Cleveland.