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Was James Dean Gay? The Romantic And Sexual Past Of The Timeless Icon

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Was James Dean gay? Setting the record straight (or not).

More than half a century after his tragic death, James Dean remains a classic figure in pop culture. Taylor Swift even mentioned him in her 2014 song, “Style”, where the singer referenced a boy with “that James Dean daydreams look in [his] eye.”

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But it is possible that the rest of the song, talking about “good girl faith and a tight little skirt”, would be out of place for James Dean, who was rumored to be gay. Unfortunately, the debate around the sexuality of the dead star remains unresolved to this day. Straight, gay, or bisexual: who was James Dean and how did he identify?

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Early Life

James Byron Dean was born in Indiana, the only child of Mildred and Winton Dean. After his father changed jobs from farmer to dental technician, the Deans relocated to California. This is where Dean went to Brentwood Public School and, later, McKinley Elementary School.

Following his mother’s death, nine-year-old Dean’s father sent him to live with relatives in Indiana. The youth attended Fairmount High School, where he excelled in academics and athletics. He was part of his school’s basketball and baseball teams as well as the public speaking association, in addition to studying drama. His father served in World War II and remarried after returning.

Dean returned to California after graduation. He originally studied pre-law at Santa Monica College, but Dean wanted a different life and switched to UCLA as a drama major. They later dropped out of college and began acting full-time.

 

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Career

After quitting college, James Dean appeared in commercials and bit parts. His first speaking role was John the Beloved Disciple in Hill Number One, an Easter television special dramatizing Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

He worked part-time as a parking attendant at CBS Studios – this is where Dean met radio director Rogers Brackett. The young actor moved in with Brackett, who helped him with his career, following which he appeared in several television roles on shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents. He was also admitted to the Actors Studio where he studied method acting.

Dean’s debut film appearance was as East of Eden’s troubled teenager Cal, for which he received a posthumous nomination at the 1956 Academy Awards for the Best Actor in a Leading Role.

The actor ended up making only three movies. He followed East of Eden with Rebel Without A Cause, starring in another angst-fueled teen role as the blue jeans-clad Jim Stark. His last movie was Giant, where he had a supporting role alongside movie stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

James Dean died in a car accident at age 24 and was buried in Park Cemetery in Indiana.

 

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Dean’s Sexuality

To date, James Dean’s sexuality remains a subject of debate. The icon publicly dated several women, including actresses Barbara Glenn, Pier Angeli, and Ursula Andress. However, it is acknowledged that he was also secretly involved with men.

When asked about his sexuality, the star stated, “No, I am not a homosexual. But I’m also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back.”

His relationship with Brackett also appears to have been sexual. Brackett is on record saying, “I loved him, and Jimmy loved me. If it was a father-son relationship, it was also somewhat incestuous.” The Brackett connection was characterized as a “kept boy” scenario by screenwriter William Bast. Bill Bast was also Dean’s roommate and later admitted that they experimented sexually with each other.

In the biography Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times, and Legend of James Dean by Paul Alexander, it was suggested that Dean also formed a relationship with pastor James Deweerd. Elizabeth Taylor, his Giant co-star, later stated to the press that Dean had told her he was sexually abused by a priest after the death of his mother.

Warner Bros., with whom Dean had signed a contract, promoted Dean alongside gay young actors Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter, marketing the three as the studio’s “eligible bachelors”. Biographer Darwin Porter also alleged that the star had a borderline-abusive sadomasochistic relationship with actor Marlon Brando.

While Rebel director Nicholas Ray stated that the idol was bisexual, there is still conflict on whether Dean’s relationships with men were purely for career advancement or because he was actually gay or bisexual. Even so, the star was called “the male gay icon of all time” by The Gay Times Readers’ Awards.

 

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Conclusion

Dean’s death hasn’t affected the icon’s presence in the public consciousness and with it the discourse on his orientation. So, was James Dean gay? This is a question to which there will never be a concrete answer – the “Rebel Without a Cause” will likely forever remain a rebel without a label.

Related | Colton Haynes Opens Up About Being Gay in Hollywood

 

Was James Dean Gay? The Romantic And Sexual Past Of The Timeless Icon
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