Fifty years after he died, James Dean is not just the ultimate rebel - he's a very bankable brand

HE STARRED in only three films but his sulking, bad-boy image was immortalised the day his sleek, silver Porsche Spyder collided with another car on a quiet country road.

Now, 50 years on, James Dean will be the focus of a frenzy of adulation with a commercial orgy of events aimed at swelling the balances of those who hold the rights to his image.

The year-long activity is being led by Warner Bros, who have restored and plan to re-release his three films, East Of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant after giving them premieres at "the world's largest digital drive-in theatre". This will be a 100ft screen to be set up in Dean's hometown of Marion, Indiana, during a three-day "James Dean Fest" starting on 3 June.

Warner Bros Home Video's head of special projects, Brian Jamieson, is promising "a year-long series of world-wide events" to mark Dean's death on 30 September 1955 at the age of 24. They include the premiere at Cannes of a documentary, James Dean: Forever Young; the release on DVD of his three films; the staging in New York of Rebel Without A Cause as a play; the release of a new biography; and a travelling exhibit featuring a replica of the Porsche 550 Spyder in which he died.

In the UK the British Film Institute and National Film Theatre will screen tributes and organise related events while shops worldwide will be flooded with new memorabilia.

As Mark Roesler, the head of CMG Worldwide, which manages intellectual property rights and controls Dean's image, puts it: "First, last and always James Dean defined cool. Today, he is a brand." He said that since a Dean website was created four years ago it had received more than 100 million hits. CMG Worldwide is marketing Dean courtesy of a cousin, Marcus Winslow, who calls himself a "family steward and guardian of the James Dean image".

Dean lived with Winslow's parents in Fairmount, Indiana, for three years after Dean's mother died, and his body is buried there. "James Dean never forgot his roots and we never forgot him," said Wayne Sebold, mayor of nearby Marion, who is expecting more than 100,000 fans for the Dean Fest.

Karen Niverson, head of the Marion Visitors Bureau, said baldly: "It's a great opportunity for image and advertising. It puts Marion in the spotlight." Dean, who valued his privacy, has now achieved a far higher profile than he did during his life. While alive, Dean appeared in television adverts only for Pepsi, and for a public-service road-safety spot. But since his death his image has been used to sell McDonald's, Eddie Bauer, Nestle, Gap and hundreds of products across the world. As well as the calendars, posters and postcards that have been around for years, the Dean image will soon be also helping to sell baseball caps, sunglasses, clocks, mugs, magnets, jackets, sunglasses, toy cars, thermometers ... His face will adorn two Nascar racing cars later this year and there are plans for a "Rebel On The Road Fashion Show". Never mind that the actor rarely wore anything other than his jeans and a T- shirt.

Dean, who studied with Marlon Brando at the Actors Studio in New York, had bit parts in four films before his portrayal of a troubled teenager in Rebel made him a star. He symbolised doomed stardom's message of "live fast, die young" and teenagers identified with his angst-ridden characters.

As well as privacy, Dean also cultivated his aloofness. Earl Holliman, who also appeared in Giant, believes this trait was a product of his desire to remain focused on his work. "Jimmy was a guy who didn't care what people think of him," he recalled. "He said that that wasn't important. What was important was what was on the screen."

Two weeks after shooting his last scene in Giant Dean was killed on his way to a race in Salinas, California, when a car driven by a college student, Donald Turnupseed, turned into the path of his Porsche. Turnupseed was not injured but Dean died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.

A few weeks beforehand, the actor had filmed that traffic-safety spot saying he felt safer on the racetrack than on the road. "Drive carefully," he said, "the life you save may be mine."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower