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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30, 1955

This is the last entry for the month of September 2014 - and it also happens to be the last TUESDAY TIMELINE entry of the month.  So, for today's entry, I'm prepared to make it a really huge date in pop culture history. 

Perhaps it could be one of the most famous dates in the world of Hollywood.  So famous that there was even a film made with this date as the title.

Of course, before we go ahead with that, we should probably take a look at some of the other events that took place on September 30 throughout history.

1399 - Henry IV is proclaimed King of England

1791 - The first performance of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" is first held at Freihaus-Theater der Wieden in Vienna, Austria

1882 - Thomas Edison's first commercial hydroelectric power plant begins operation in Appleton, Wisconsin

1888 - Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes become the third and fourth victims of serial killer Jack the Ripper

1907 - The McKinley National Memorial is dedicated in Canton, Ohio

1917 - American drummer Buddy Rich (d. 1987) is born in Brooklyn, New York

1927 - Babe Ruth becomes the first baseball player to hit 60 home runs in a season

1935 - The Hoover Dam is dedicated

1939 - NBC becomes the first television network to broadcast a televised football game

1942 - Singer Frankie Lymon (d. 1968) is born in Harlem, New York

1947 - The World Series is first televised - the teams are the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees

1962 - African-American college student James Meredith defies segregation and enters the University of Mississippi

1967 - BBC Radio One is first launched in the UK

1968 - The Boeing 747 is first unveiled to the public

1972 - Baseball player Roberto Clemente records his 3,000th and final hit of his career - he would pass away just three months later

1982 - Pharmacies in Chicago take precaution after six people are killed following the ingestion of cyanide-laced Tylenol

1988 - American race car driver Al Holbert is killed in a plane crash, aged 41

1994 - Two London Underground rail stations - Aldwych Tube Station and Ongar Railway Station - cease operations

1996 - The United States Congress passes an Amendment that bars the possession of firearms by people previously convicted of domestic violence

2012 - Canadian figure skater Barbara-Ann Scott passes away at the age of 84

And, here is a list of celebrity birthdays for September 30.  Happy birthday to Angie Dickinson, Ben Cooper, Cissy Houston, Barbara Knox, Johnny Mathis, Len Cariou, Marilyn McCoo, Fran Brill, Basia Trzetrzelewska, Barry Williams, Fran Drescher, Marty Stuart, Susan Keith, Debrah Farentino, Crystal Bernard, Eric Stoltz, Monica Bellucci, Kathleen Madigan, Andrea Roth, Tony Hale, Jenna Elfman, Daniel Wu, Marion Cotillard, Stark Sands, Martina Hingis, Dominique Moceanu, Lacey Chabert, Kieran Culkin, Ryan Stout, and T-Pain.

So, what date will we be revisiting today?

Well, we're not quite going back six decades, but the date is an important one.  September 30, 1955.

Interestingly enough, that date - as I mentioned above - also happens to be the title of a film.

Released in 1977, the movie "September 30, 1955" depicts life in a small Arkansas town, and focused on the life of a young man named Jimmy J. 

(Jimmy J. was portrayed by "The Waltons" star Richard Thomas.)

Anyway, it's not so much the town that influences Jimmy J. and his incredibly rebellious behaviour that sees him holding up a liquor store, getting plastered, running around the streets in his underwear, and ultimately getting arrested and placed in jail.  Rather, it happens to be the date that all this takes place. 

You see, September 30, 1955 was a dark day in the world of Hollywood, as one of Hollywood's rising stars was cut down in a tragic automobile accident.  At the time of his death he was just twenty-four, and his passing resonated with a lot of people - particularly with teenagers and young adults.

It's no secret that the 1950s was sort of a conservative and conventional decade.  In fact, I sort of refer to the 1950's as the "Stepford Decade".  With everyone dressing and looking the same, the husbands going off to bring home the bacon, wives staying home to cook, clean, and nurture, and boys and girls simply expected to act like Wally and Beaver Cleaver or Annette Funicello, it certainly was a decade that celebrated perfect order, perfect families, and perfect everything.

And honestly, it seemed as though it was perfectly boring.

Well, back in 1955, this man laughed in the face of the cookie-cutter world of the 1950s and brought forth an aura of rebellion, mischief, and non-conformity.  And naturally, teenagers responded well.  After all, what teenager didn't rebel against authority once in a while?  I know I certainly did when I was fourteen, fifteen.

Certainly, this man was a rebel.  He didn't quite look like the stereotypical Hollywood heartthrob, but his confidence in front of the screen won him many fans.

Today, we'll be discussing the very short life of James Dean, and what kind of legacy he left behind.

He was born as James Byron Dean on February 8, 1931 in the community of Marion, Indiana - the son of Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson.  And James' early life was marked by an early tragedy.  After moving from Indiana to California, Dean's mother started to feel ill and rapidly lost a lot of weight from her illness.  It ended up being uterine cancer, and when James was just nine years old, his mother died of the disease.  This loss hit James especially hard as he had been really close with his mother, and often saw her as the only person in the world "who understood him".

After the death of his mother, his father sent him away to live with his sister, and during his childhood, it was allegedly reported that he endured sexual abuse from a pastor whom he had gotten close to, but nothing was ever confirmed.  And although he didn't do so well in the academic portion of high school, he was considered to be a gifted athlete and was one of the more popular kids in his school.  After graduation from high school in 1949, he enrolled in Santa Monica College to major in pre-law, but switched to UCLA to pursue a degree in dramatic arts, causing a falling out between him and his father.  Although Dean never did finish his college education, he knew that acting was the career he was meant to pursue, and in 1951 he made the decision to become a full-time actor.

Mind you, like most actors, he didn't become successful overnight.  One of his first gigs was a commercial for Pepsi, and he had walk-on roles in such movies as "Fixed Bayonets!" and "Sailor Beware".  To help support himself, Dean also worked as a parking lot attendant for CBS Studios where he met radio director Rogers Brackett, who became a mentor to him, as was actor James Whitmore, whom Dean had met while attending one of his acting workshops.

With their encouragement, James Dean made the decision to relocate to New York City to further his acting career.  Again, things were slow going.  He worked as a stunt tester for "Beat The Clock" and appeared in bit parts on random television series.  But it all paid off when Dean was admitted to the legendary Actors Studio - at that time one of the greatest theater schools in the United States.

Once Dean was admitted into the school, the opportunities for him grew exponentially.  He began to make more appearances on television, including one particular episode of the CBS series "Omnibus" where Dean played the role of a disaffected youth who refused to conform to standards and instead opted to march to the beat of his own drum.  Little did Dean know that this type of part would be one that he would play at least a couple of times.

Such as in the 1955 film "East of Eden", where Dean played the role of Cal Trask, a man who initially seemed aloof and emotionally disturbed on the surface, but proves to be savvy, knowledgeable, and crafty.  He also discovers the family secrets buried deep within his family and he has to deal with the fears of what he will find out once he does discover the truth. 

"East of Eden" was the first time he took on a major lead role, and Dean certainly did one fantastic job in the role.  Remind me to feature this film in a Saturday movie entry at some point.  It's really a good one!  It's also made even more impressive when you consider that many of Dean's scenes in the film were unscripted.  Watch closely in the scene where Dean hugs his father.  That whole scene was an ad-lib, but producers decided to keep it in the film because it looked so professional.  No wonder Dean earned himself an Academy Award nomination for the role.

Of course, who could also forget his role in "Rebel Without a Cause" (another movie I want to watch for this blog), a 1955 movie which essentially acted as a voice for teenage angst and rebellion.  The film certainly went against the idea of how teenagers were supposed to act back then, and certainly Dean's portrayal of Jim Stark seemed to bring that message out loud and clear.  His devil-may-care attitude towards life shook up the school in which he had just arrived at as a new student, and the mayhem that follows.  Again, I want to wait until a Saturday entry to talk more about this...but if you want a short summary of what you can expect to see in the film, you could watch Paula Abdul's video for "Rush Rush", which re-enacts scenes from that film.

James Dean also did a lot of preparation for what would become his third and final film, "Giant".  Playing a supporting role alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Dean played the part of Jeff Rink, a man who made a fortune in Texas oil.  Because Dean had to play the part where Rink aged from young to old, Dean dyed his hair gray and shaved part of it off to make him appear as if he were losing his hair!  And once again, Dean was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

Sadly, he didn't live long enough to savour the nominations.  Nor did he live long enough to see the premieres of two of the three films he made.

Prior to September 30, 1955, Dean had developed a love of auto racing - likely inspired by his role on "Rebel Without a Cause", in which his character did a lot of street racing.  He even entered the Palm Springs Road Racers competition in March 1955, and performed quite well (finishing first overall on day one, and second overall on day two).  However, knowing how dangerous a career that auto racing was, Warner Brothers (the studio that produced "Giant") banned him from doing any more auto racing until after production wrapped up.

Still, Dean could not resist driving fast cars.  Tragically, his love of fast cars prematurely and permanently ended his career.  Shortly before six o'clock on the evening of September 30, 1955, Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder collided head on with a 1950 Ford Tudor being driven by  23-year-old college student Donald Turnupseed.  At the time of the impact, Dean had been driving the Spyder with passenger Rolf Wutherich, a man who had helped Dean build his car for the Palm Springs racing event.

Turnupseed survived the impact, as did Wutherich.  Dean was not so fortunate.  Because Dean was traveling at approximately eighty-five miles per hour at the time of the accident, Dean's Spyder flipped completely up in the air before landing in a gully on its wheels.  Dean sustained a broken neck, a crushed left foot, and extreme internal and external injuries.  An ambulance was immediately called, but Dean died on arrival just a few minutes after the crash.

He was just 24.

His funeral was held eight days later with reportedly over 600 mourners in attendance with another 2,400 people gathered outside the building during the funeral procession.

Dean's star may have burned out long before it was really supposed to, but you could also argue that it shone brighter than anyone else's.  It's hard to say what would have happened had Dean not died.  If he were still alive, he would be 83 today.  I could easily imagine him continuing his acting career and making himself a true member of Hollywood royalty.   It's really hard to predict how he would have fared through the decades.  But one thing he did have was talent and a lust for life.

He lived fast...and died young.

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