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American actor, James Dean (1931-1955), was in kinship care as a child.

James Byron Dean was born in Marion, Indiana. His father worked as a dental technician and relocated his family to Los Angeles when James was five.

James’ mother died when he was nine, and his father sent him to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm back in Indiana. During this time, Dean received pastoral care from a Reverend James DeWeerd, who sparked Dean’s passion for car racing and theatre. 

After high school, Dean returned to California where he majored in theatre at the University of California but dropped out before graduation and moved to New York to pursue acting.

In 1953 James Dean performed the role of Cal Trask in East of Eden, for which he was posthumously nominated for Best Actor in the 1956 Academy Awards. 

In Rebel Without A Cause, James Dean plays Jim Stark, an inarticulate suffering teenager, an emotionally expressive young man presented with contrasting models of masculinity – his ‘henpecked’ gentle father who runs away rather than facing difficult problems, and the boys his own age who hang out in gangs, bully and commit crimes.

Marie Cartier argues that by expressing intense inner turbulence, James Dean acted out a new form of masculinity, that which was being performed by butch women in the 1950s. This ‘butch masculinity’ then translated into the ‘New Man’ of that decade, “the man that would cry and have feelings” (444).

James Dean died in a car accident in 1955 at the age of twenty-four and a month before Rebel Without A Cause was released. He subsequently became a cultural icon—an “almost necrophilic cult emerged after his death” according to Will Scheibel—for a generation of teenagers who felt marginalised, different, ill at ease in society, outsiders.


Cartier, Marie. “The Butch Woman Inside James Dean or ‘What Kind of Person Do You Think a Girl Wants?'” Sexualities, vol. 6 (2003): 443-458.

“James Dean.” Biography, 2021. 

Scheibel, Will. “Rebel masculinities of star/director/text: James Dean, Nicholas Ray, and Rebel Without a Cause.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 25 (2016): 125-140.

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