He exuded a sex appeal that spawned today's flock of leading men. James Franco, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dane DeHaan all credit James Dean as inspirations. Today, Dean would have been 86 years old had he not died in a tragic car accident.
Jimmy Dean all but defined a generation. Although he died too soon, at 24, he left a legacy that would span a lifetime. His sexuality was the subject of speculation, as there were numerous rumors about the romantic encounters of his life, some immortalized in films such as Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean.
One such rumor surrounded his relationship with radio producer, Rogers Brackett. In 1996, Dean’s one-time lover, Elizabeth Sheridan recalled his admission to sleeping with Brackett. She's not the only one: The openly gay screenwriter William Bast dedicated a majority of his career to telling Dean’s story. He documented their relationship in his book, Surviving James Dean.
Another piece of gossip set Dean as the sexual object of a bet between Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor during the production of Dean’s final film, Giant:
“Elizabeth and Rock took bets on who could get James Dean into bed first,” Giant costar, Noreen Nash told the Daily Express, “I had an idea Rock would win but Elizabeth wasn’t so sure. James was troubled but gorgeous.”
According to Nash, Hudson won the bet just days into filming, and Taylor has never denied the rumors on Dean’s sexuality. In 2000, at the 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, she referred to him as one of her gay friends during an emotional speech.
Almost as tragic as his short life was the times in which he lived: the closeted era of the 1950s. Imagine if this legend came of age in our more progressive “It Gets Better” and “Legalize Gay” generation. As it remains, James Dean did manage to romanticize the celluloid closet during the golden age of cinema, and fuel the dreams of many gay men.
Watch James Deans' final interview and his eerie lecture on safe driving: