Having released just three major films before he was tragically killed in a car accident in 1955, James Dean was able to leave an indelible mark on history. He was nominated for two Academy Awards following his death (the first Oscar nominations to be awarded for Best Actor posthumously), and he defined a generation of youth with his portrayals of angst and anguish.
Adding to the fascination with Dean’s legend are stories of his same-sex love affairs. The various accounts claim Dean was either gay or bisexual. Dean’s close friend, William Bast, revealed he and Dean “experimented,” while Dean’s relationship with influential radio producer Rogers Brackett has been used as an example of how the young actor may have slept with gay men to further his career. In his Marlon Brando biography, writer Darwin Porter asserted that Dean and Brando had a tumultuous romantic relationship that spanned years. Hollywood players of the time, like screenwriter Gavin Lambert and Rebel Without A Cause Director Nicholas Ray, have described James Dean as gay. Biographer Val Holley put it thusly: “There's been quite an evolution in the thinking since Dean's death in 1955, moving from ‘James Dean was straight’ to ‘Dean had sex with men but only to advance his career’ to ‘Dean had sex with women but only to advance his career.’”
We may never know for certain if Dean identified as gay, straight, bisexual, but, regardless, what he’s come to represent still resonates with many LGBT audiences. His most well-known roles are that of outsiders, non-comformists and misunderstood youth. His powerful performances redefined masculinity, showcasing how a tough guy could be so open with his emotions. His sense of style and good looks also didn’t hurt his standing with the gay community (and helped establish him as a butch lesbian icon as well).
See some of our favorite James Dean clips, AFTER THE JUMP …