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James Dean (1931-1955)

  1. Edmund Purdom, The Egyptian, 1954.     When Marlon Brando stalked out of  this "Egyptian pile of camel dung, " head Fox Darryl Zanuck  decided to bring in  the clone. He forgot how much of a clone Jimmy was.   He didn't do Biblical epics. And he didn't do shit.
  2. John Kerr, The Cobweb, 1955.     Kerr beat Dean to Broadway's Tea and  Sympathy in 1953 and inherited his TV role in The Corn Is Green  in 1956. Associate producer Jud Kinberg said Jimmy wanted the role for three reasons: 1. He had  ideas how to play a psychopath; 2, he figured working for MGM would force Jack Warner to improve or end his Warners contract; 3, working at MGM also meant being close to girlfriend Pier Angeli. But Metro said no.  And was soon pleading for him.

  3. Gordon MacRae, Oklahoma, 1955.   
    From the outset, director Fred Zinnemann wanted actors rather than singers in the Pulitzer Prize-winning, preeminent US  musical... Eva Marie Saint, Joanne Woodward for Laurey  and Marlon Brando, Lee Marvin, Rod Steiger or Eli Wallach for p’or Jud Fry,  Montgomery Clift,  Paul Newman or, above all, James Dean  as Curly,  Fred recalled their meet when Jimmy sang ‘P’or Jud Is Dead” opposite Rod Steiger as Jud…  “He  was supposed to come up for an interview at 11. Eleven came, and he was not here; 11:30 came, and he still was not here. Then around noon, in comes Jimmy, furious. He was all dressed up like a cowboy, for the part, and since he was an unknown at the time…    They kept throwing him out of the hotel!   Finally, he came up in the freight elevator. This was 1954 and  second-rate cowboys were not tolerated in grand New York hotel lobbies.   Later, he made a screen test - with the surrey with the fringe on top. Sensational!  His singing voice may not have been equal to the task, but that test is a classic. I wish I knew if it still lies hidden in some attic or garage.”

  4. Paul Newman, Somebody Up There Likes Me, 1956.      Due as Jimmy's next assignment after Giant...  He had already started  training in the ring with Mushy Callahan, the ex-boxer stuntman he’d used during Rebel Without A Cause. Arthur Penn supplied the replacement. Hiding his Silver Chalice scars, Newman was back in New York, rehearsing a TV play directed by Penn starring Dean as a punchdrunk boxer. "Two weeks later," recalled Penn, "Jimmy was killed and Paul switched to the prizefighter. Bob Wise saw that and also found his replacement for Jimmy as Rocky Graziano."  (Steve McQueen’s film  debut).
  5. Anthony Perkins, The Sea Wall, Italy-France-USA, 1956.   Italian cinemogul  Dino De Laurentiis cinemogul offered Joseph Dufrense to Dean just before his shock death. Dino had even  signed Jo Van Fleet to play his mother (as she had in East of Eden) after Anna Magnani bowed out.
  6. James Stewart, Spirit of St. Louis, 1957.      Warners developed the saga of the first Transatlantic flight for Dean when he was 25, same age as the history-making Charles Lindberg.  The USAF Brigadier-General Stewart was a flyer, but too old. " "I was smart enough to know I was twice Lindberg’s age  [45 to 27]."  Jack Warner kept turning him down.  For the first time in his life, Jim  went  on a diet "to get rid of the few measly pounds middle-age had bestowed upon me" and dyed his hair. "So finally Jack Warner gave me the part so they could get going because the budget was just going up and up and they needed to get results on film." Warner called it "the most disastrous failure we ever had"  Among one Warners cattle call for unknowns: Clint Eastwood.
  7. Elvis Presley, King Creole, 1957.   Imagine Presley’s rapture at winning a role once aimed at his idols: Brando and Dean! (“My acting school!”).  In his fourth and favourite movie, Presley never  let his idols down. “Good comic timing,” noted the  LA Times, “considerable intelligence and even flashes of sensitivity.” Sadly never again. Next stop, the US Army. And a comeback  in non-stop bilge. (Bobby Darin was once set for a re-make).  Sadly, never again. After this, the US Army cut his hair and, apparently, his balls. 
  8. Paul Newman, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, 1957. For some reason, poor Ben Gazarra was never asked to reprise his Broadway triumph as Brick. MGM looked at everyone else: Montgomery Clift, Don Murray, William Shatner. Even the too old Robert Mitchum - and Elvis Presley, whose manager, Colonel Parker, was furious. “My boy ain’t no fruit!”  
  9. Paul Newman, The Left-Handed Gun, 1958.    Having seen Arthur Penn's TVersion of The Death of Billy The Kid  by Gore Vidal, Jimmy got his agent to arrange a Warner movie deal. After Rocky Graziano, it became the second Dean role inherited by Paul Newman. 
  10. Anthony Perkins, The Sea Wall, 1958.     Inherited on Dean’s tragic death.
  11. Laurence Harvey, Of Human Bondage, l964.     The re-make of the 1946 movie was veteran director Henry Hathaway's plan for... Marilyn and Dean!  It became Kim Novak and Harvey.  Not quite the same electricity.
  12. Richard Kiley, The Little Prince, 1974. As early as making Rebel Without A Cause, Jimmy was talking about adapting the Saint-Exupery classic - and maybe directing it. Al Pacino said: “James Dean was an acting  sonnet - Brando, a planet unto himself.”


“I remember being incredibly moved by Jimmy Dean, in East of Eden. There was something so raw and powerful about that performance. His vulnerability… his confusion about his entire history, his identity, his desperation to be loved. That performance just broke my heart.”  - Leonardo DiCaprio, Deadline Hollywood, 2016, Leo nearly played Dean in a Michael Mann biopic. “I did a screen test,” he told Deadline’s Mike Fleming. “I think I was 18. It turned out pretty well. We saw clips of Giant, and then he put me in the back of the car with that cowboy hat. But I was a very young looking kid... He decided to wait a couple of years, but I… looked really young.”  

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