Welcome to the Web's best James Dean quotes and famous quotations—38 of them!
(If you’re in a hurry, just skip the James Dean biography and scroll down to James Dean Quotes.)
James Dean (1931-1955) Oscar-nominated U.S. actor and icon of cool
James Byron Dean was born in rural Indiana, USA. His father, a dental technician, moved the family to Los Angeles when Jimmy was five.
Jimmy was very close to his mother, who died of cancer when he was only nine years old.
Jimmy was sent back to Indiana, where his uncle and aunt, who were Quakers, brought him up on their farm. After graduating from high school, at 18 Dean moved back to California to live with his father and stepmother.
Although at 17 he said, “I think my life will be devoted to art and dramatics,” he enrolled in college to study pre-law. When he switched to drama at UCLA, it drove a wedge between Dean and his father.
Dean’s acting shone at UCLA and he also took an acting workshop outside of college. When he was 20, he dropped out of college to pursue a fulltime acting career.
He got some TV acting work and walk-on parts in movies, and worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios to support himself. Soon he left for New York to pursue acting seriously.
His talent won him a place in the famed Actors Studio, to study Method acting, which he described as “the best thing that can happen to an actor.”
Dean worked as a busboy in the theatre district and did more TV work, but it was his good reviews for a Broadway stage role that caught Hollywood’s attention.
In 1953, Dean started work on East of Eden, playing the rebel son of a pious and constantly disapproving father and estranged mother. The film’s most memorable moments were pure James Dean—unscripted, raw emotion.
Here's a great example of Dean's talent as an actor. It's a clip from a December 12, 1954 TV drama he did right after shooting East of Eden:
Rebel Without a Cause soon followed, with a portrayal of genuine teenage angst that proved hugely popular with teenage audiences.
Collision with Fate
Dean was crazy about cars. So while he shot his third film, Giant, his contract with Warner Brothers barred him from racing.
A week after finishing Giant, in September 1955, Dean showed his Porsche 550 Spyder (customized by the same man who later designed the Batmobile) to British actor Alec Guinness.
Guinness told Dean: "If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week."
Exactly seven days later, Dean drove his Porsche to a sports-car race in California. Another car turning left crossed into Dean's lane. The two cars hit almost head-on. Dean was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
But this was by no means the end of the James Dean story...
Dean received a posthumous Best Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award nomination for his work in East of Eden at the 1955 Oscars. In 1956, Dean received his second posthumous Best Actor Academy Award nomination, for the acting genius he showed in Giant.
And of course, the James Dean cult—which is still going strong—was born. After his death, a thousand fan letters a week arrived at Warner Brothers' offices ("Dear Jimmy: I know you are not dead")—more fan mail than any living Warner Brothers actors received.
And although he became identified as the quintessential “Rebel Without a Cause,” these James Dean quotes—like the James Dean movies—show that he did, in fact, have a cause: artistic excellence.
JAMES DEAN QUOTES
Short James Dean quotes on acting
- How can you measure acting in inches? (On being told 5' 8” was too short to be an actor)
- To grasp the full significance of life is the actor's duty; to interpret it his problem; and to express it his dedication.
- You can do Hamlet while performing cartwheels… as long as the audience sees your eyes—you can make the performance real.
- Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. You are all alone with your concentration and imagination, and that's all you have.
Long James Dean quotes on acting
- It was an accident, although I’ve been involved in some kind of theatrical function or other since I was a child—in school, music, athletics. To me, acting is the most logical way for people’s neuroses to manifest themselves, in this great need we all have to express ourselves. To my way of thinking, an actor’s course is set even before he’s out of the cradle.
- When an actor plays a scene exactly the way a director orders, it isn’t acting. It’s following instructions. Anyone with the physical qualifications can do that. So the director’s task is just that—to direct, to point the way. Then the actor takes over. And he must be allowed the space, the freedom to express himself in the role. Without that space, an actor is no more than an unthinking robot with a chest-full of push buttons.
- An actor must interpret life, and in order to do so must be willing to accept all the experiences life has to offer. In fact, he must seek out more of life than life puts at his feet. In the short span of his lifetime, an actor must learn all there is to know, experience all there is to experience, or approach that state as closely as possible. He must be superhuman in his efforts to store away in the core of his subconscious everything that he might be called upon to use in the expression of his art.
James Dean quotes on attitude
- A fellow must have confidence.
- Only the gentle are ever really strong.
- Gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.
- Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today.
- Trust and belief are two prime considerations. You must not allow yourself to be opinionated. You must say, “Wait. Let me see.” And above all, you must be honest with yourself.
James Dean quotes on greatness
- There is no way to be truly great in this world. We are all impaled on the crook of conditioning. A fish that is in the water has no choice that he is. Genius would have it that we swim in sand. We are fish and we drown.
- I think there is only one form of greatness for man. If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, I mean, if he can live on after he has died, then maybe he was a great man. To me the only success, the only greatness, is immortality.
Short James Dean quotes about himself
- Most of all I like to mold and create things.
- I try so hard to make people reject me. Why?
- I hate anything that limits progress and growth.
- I'm playing the damn bongos and the world can go to hell.
- I'm really kind and gentle. Things get mixed up all the time.
- I got it and I know if I better myself that there will be no match.
- I think all of us have a great need to let go. Acting is my outlet.
- My purpose in life does not include a hankering to charm society.
- I’m not going to go through life with one arm tied behind my back.
Longer James Dean quotes about himself
- I am frightened. Frightened by this success. It's all come too early for me.
- I don't want to burn myself out... I've made three pictures in the last two years.
- Being a good actor isn't easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I'm done.
- Success is only in the mechanics of it. All the rest I have because I'm me and I've got it all.
- I don't care what people write about me. I'll talk to (reporters) I like. The others can print whatever they please.
- What counts to the artist is performance, not publicity. Guys who don't know me, already they've typed me as an oddball.
- People were telling me I behaved like Brando even before I knew who Brando was. I'm not disturbed by the comparison—nor am I flattered.
- I've got a lot of growing up to do yet. I've got to be given time to master the art of handling Hollywood—to learn what to say and what not to say.
- I'm a much better actor than what's being done with me at the moment. I'm being inhibited, I'm not able to exercise the full capacity of my abilities.
- I'm a serious minded and intense little devil—terribly gauche and so tense that I don't see how people can stay in the same room as me. I know I couldn't tolerate myself.
- I don't even want to be just the best. I want to grow so tall that nobody can reach me. Not to prove anything, but just to go where you ought to go when you devote your whole life and all you are to one thing
Long James Dean quote about himself
- Studying cows, pigs and chickens can help an actor develop his character. There are a lot of things I learned from animals. One was that they couldn't hiss or boo me. I also became close to nature, and am now able to appreciate the beauty with which this world is endowed. (Of his farm upbringing)
James Dean quotes on life
- I think the prime reason for living in this world is discovery.
- As one strives to make a goal in a game, there should be a goal in this crazy world for all of us.
James Dean quote on Rebel Without a Cause
- Since I'm only 24 years old, guess I have as good an insight into this rising generation as any other young man my age. And I've discovered that most young men do not stand like ramrods or talk like Demosthenes. Therefore, when I do play a youth, such as in Warner Brothers’ Rebel Without a Cause, I try to imitate life. The picture deals with the problems of modern youth. It is the romanticized conception of the juvenile that causes much of our trouble with misguided youth nowadays. I think the one thing this picture shows that's new is the psychological disproportion of the kids' demands on the parents. Parents are often at fault, but the kids have some work to do, too. But you can't show some far off idyllic conception of behaviour if you want the kids to come and see the picture.
You've got to show what it's really like, and try to reach them on their own grounds. You know, a lot of times an older boy, one of the fellows the young ones idolize, can go back to the high school kids and tell them, "Look what happened to me! Why be a punk and get in trouble with the law? Why do these senseless things just for a thrill?" I hope Rebel Without a Cause will do something like that. I hope it will remind them that other people have feelings. Perhaps they will say, "What do we need all that for?" If a picture is psychologically motivated, if there is truth in the relationship in it, then I think that picture will do good. I firmly believe Rebel Without a Cause is such a picture.