Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September 30, 1955

Today marks the anniversary of the death of James Dean. For some reason, Dean has become a legend, and I don't quite understand why.

Obviously, he died young, and there is the question of "what might have been". However, James Dean is by no means the only actor to have died tragically young. I've mentioned Laird Cregar before, and child star Brandon de Wilde died in a car accident, like Dean, too (although he was already 30 when he died, six years older than Dean). And yet, neither is remembered to the extent that Dean is.

Perhaps it's because Dean died in 1955, and has a certain cachet for the Baby Boomers. I think I've mentioned before that I believe there was a generation in America that was born too late to fight in World War II, and that as they came of age around 1950 or so, they really started to rebel against those who had come before them. Marlon Brando, for example (even though he was born in 1924, he didn't make his first movie until 1950) clearly represents a different style of acting than what had been popular in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, and for the people born in the early 1930s, Brando and his acting would have been one of the formative experiences.

However, Dean wasn't the only up-and-coming actor to die in 1955. Robert Francis, who had played a young ensign in The Caine Mutiny, died in a plane crash at the age of 25 -- two months before Dean. So, Dean can't be the legend because he was the first to die. And yet, Dean is well-remembered to this day, while Francis is largely forgotten.

What accounts for this difference?

No comments: