Many of the world’s great thinkers have drawn a link
His striking beauty and charm made him easy to love, but his personal demons, mood swings, silences, and tantrums made him hard to be around.
“I Want To Die.”
Dean’s constant cycling from highs to suicidal lows meant his personal relationships suffered his moods, break-ups and reconciliations. He wrote to his lover Barbara Glenn: “I don’t like it here. I don’t like people here. I like it home (N.Y.) and I like you and I want to see you. Must I always be miserable? I try so hard to make people reject me. Why?”
“I can’t love and I can’t be loved.”
Rogers Brackett recalled finding Dean in tears, realizing his moods pushed people away despite his need for love. Brackett had met Dean while parking cars at CBS Studios – they started a relationship and lived together. Brackett said that he loved Dean, but: “he sapped the minds of his friends, like a bloodsucker saps the strength of an unsuspecting man.”
“I never loved either of my husbands the way I loved Jimmy.”
Pier Angeli’s relationship with Dean ended after an argument when she hastily married someone else. He apparently sat on his motorcycle across the street watching the wedding in tears. Later in life she said he was the only man she had truly loved and remembered they had seen themselves as Romeo and Juliet and had once considered joint suicide in order to be together forever.
“I’m not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.”
Dean allegedly gave this response to a question asking if he was gay. He has been cited as the top male gay icon of all time in part due to the subtext of Sal Mineo’s love for Dean in Rebel Without A Cause.
At the Actors Studio in NYC, James Dean introduced himself to Newman. Unconfirmed rumors of an affair have circulated ever since, in part due to their chemistry in this screen test where Dean jokingly asks Newman: “kiss me” and Newman fires back “I can’t here.”
“He was very playful. He was serious. He was sad.”
Liz Sheridan who later played Helen, Jerry’s mother on Seinfeld was another girlfriend. She met him as an out-of-work actor and despite their life being full of love and fun she also noted that after every failed audition came depression, silences and anger. Dean tried to find ways to express his emotions including in dance.
“A lost boy trying to find himself.”
Dean was obsessed with Marlon Brando, sometimes signing letters as ‘Jimmy (Brando Clift) Dean’. Brando visited him on the set of East of Eden and was so adoring that Elia Kazan the film’s director said he seemed: “shrunken and twisted in misery.” In a later interview Brando talked about Dean’s obsession, and said he had put him in touch with a psychiatrist to help with his mental health problems.
“The Life You Save Could Me Mine.”
On the set of the film Giant Dean spoke about car racing and road safety in this now eerie interview, given shortly before his death in road accident on September 30, 1955.
“If a man can reach the gap between life and death, I mean if he could live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”
By his own definition remains a hard act to follow. This month Anton Corbijn’s “Life” is released, and fascination with Dean is as strong as ever.