James “Jimmy” Dean is often regarded as one of the greatest actors, but he has only had lead roles in 3 films before his tragic accident:
- East of Eden (1955)
- Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
- Giant (1956)
There are many biographies written as well as biopics made about James Dean, so this article is not gonna be discussing the events in his life, rather, it would be about why his life was incredible. Most of the information was taken from The Unabridged James Dean: His Life from A to Z by Randall Riese.
Similar to Howard Roark, James Dean lost his mother at the age of 7, his father in California couldn’t afford to support him so he had to live with his aunt and uncle in Indiana. This has profound impact in his life because his aunt and uncle were Quakers (a Christian denomination which promotes non-violence for those who don’t know what it is).
He had interest in drama and sports in his adolescent years, when he moved back to California, he majored in drama at University of Santa Monica in spite of his father’s desire for him to become a lawyer, however he later dropped out to become a full time actor (parallel to Howard Roark’s expulsion and subsequent trip to New York to pursue his architectural career). His good looks and his ability to play complex characters allowed him to find smaller roles quickly both in theaters and on the television, his first breakthrough was playing Cal Trask in an adaptation of second half of Steinbeck’s novel of the same name East of Eden, about a modern version of Cain and Abel. Cal Trask was a young man who desperately wishes to make something for himself as well as winning the approval of his father (parallel to the relationship of Henry Cameron and Howard Roark). His method acting was able to allow himself to become the character developing completely believable relationships.
His most famous work was Rebel Without a Cause in which James portrayed Jim Stark, who is the titular character angry at the his parents for being overprotective while struggling to survive a rapidly changing society not for the worse. Along with his 2 other friends, they formed their own little family isolated from the rest of the world. James’ role was a symbol of liberation from the demand of second handers to confrom to what is popular, despite no one accepting him and seeing him as nothing but a punk, he really was just a boy trying to be himself. Lastly, James played the role of Jeff Rink Epic Western Giant as an oil tycoon who lives in a racially segregated Texan town before his tragic car crash in 1954.
James had one of the most important qualities/virtues we cannot find in most of Hollywood today, that is his maintenance of his integrity. He was difficult to work with, he always had his way of acting out his characters not conforming to the demand of the directors with surprising results, he dated Catholic Pier Angeli when it was a taboo to date outside your religion as well as rumours of his involvement with other actors such as Tab Hunter, his co-star Rock Hudson, Montgomery Cliff and Anthony Perkins. He lived his life pursuing his dreams and he died by it, hardly any other actors can say the same thing about themselves.
So it’s not completely impossible to become an actor and lose your independence. In the deleted chapters of The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand created a character called Vesta Dunning who like Peter Keating, is a second hander who wants to become successful by selling her integrity as an actress. Despite being attracted to Roark, she ultimately chose fame over her crush and wasn’t heard from again. But there was a success story however, Kay Ludlow (based on another character-Kay Fonda, in Rand’s play, Ideal) was one of the few non-industrialist characters invited to join Atlantis, she was an actress who wanted to portrayed the greatest human potential ever and would not compromise for anything less:
Whatever quality of human greatness I have the talent to portray – that was the quality the outer world sought to degrade. They let me play nothing but symbols of depravity, nothing but harlots, dissipation-chasers, and home-wreckers, always to be beaten at the end by the little girl next door, personifying the virtue of mediocrity.
It was not hard to imagine Kay and Ragnar Danneskjöld being together, one is a visionary privateer who abandoned his father’s business to pursue his goal, the other exiled herself from luxurious lifestyle to share only her talent to the best people who deserved seeing it.
There are in fact a number of actors who have kept their integrity throughout their careers: Clint Eastwood, Rob Lowe, Vince Vaughn, Sandra Bullock, Matt Stone & Trey Parker, Chuck Norris, Adam Baldwin, Bette Davis, just to name a few. Don’t give up hopes on Hollywood just yet, but be selective on what you watch when the studios try to shill e.g. Fembusters.