5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About James Dean

On September 30, 1955, 24-year-old actor James Dean, died when the Porsche Spyder convertible he was driving struck another vehicle. Here are five things you probably didn't know about James Dean...


His First Professional Gig Was a Soft-Drink Commercial Dean was still in school at UCLA when a well-connected fraternity brother brought him along to serve as an extra in a Pepsi-Cola commercial.  The next day, Dean filmed a second spot, in which he danced around a jukebox while singing a Pepsi jingle. Having made a favorable impression, the same producer then hired him to play John the Apostle in “Hill Number One,” a TV special that aired on Easter 1951. Though he had only a few lines, it was apparently enough for some high school girls to form a fan club for him: the Immaculate Heart James Dean Appreciation Society.

He Only Starred in Three Movies Dropping out of college to focus full time on acting, Dean moved to New York City. While there, he appeared in two Broadway plays and numerous TV shows. Yet he did not catch his big break until 1954, when his portrayal of a gay houseboy in the play “The Immoralist” brought him to the attention of director Elia Kazan. With John Steinbeck’s approval, Kazan cast Dean in a screen adaptation of Steinbeck’s epic novel “East of Eden.” Dean next filmed “Rebel Without a Cause,” the only movie in which he received top billing, and “Giant,” which co-starred Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. More movies were in the works, but Dean died before he could make them.


He Was The First Actor To Receive An Academy Award Nomination Posthumously Dean wasn't the first person to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination. However, he was the first male actor to do so in 1956, when his portrayal of troubled teenager Cal Trask in “East of Eden” won him a best actor nod. The next year, he was nominated again for best actor, this time for playing ranch hand Jett Rink in “Giant.” He didn’t win either year, losing out to Ernest Borgnine and Yul Brynner, respectively.  Since then, several other stars have earned best actor or best supporting actor nominations after their deaths, including Spencer Tracy and Heath Ledger, however James Dean remains the only one with two posthumous nominations.

He Was Ticketed For Speeding Two Hours Before His Death On the afternoon of September 30, 1955, as Dean drove his brand-new Porsche Spyder to a road race in Salinas, California, a police officer ticketed him for going 65 mph in a 55-mph zone. Just over two hours later, a Ford Tudor sedan collided with Dean at the junction of present-day Highway 46 and Highway 41, about 80 miles from Bakersfield. Dean, who broke his neck and suffered severe internal injuries, was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. To this day, it’s unclear whether he was speeding at the time. 

Dean Dated A "Seinfeld" Actress In the years since his death, many men and women alike have professed to being in romantic relationships with Dean. One such claim came from actress Liz Sheridan, best known for playing Jerry Seinfeld’s mother on the TV show “Seinfeld,” who wrote a 2000 memoir entitled, “Dizzy & Jimmy: My Life with James Dean: A Love Story.”  According to her book, Sheridan and Dean met in New York in 1951, and soon moved in together and were at one point engaged to be married.