There are Hollywood actors, and then there are bonafide celebrities — artists whose star power is so great they’re elevated to icon status: people like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Elvis Presley. But you can hardly mention legendary talents without naming James Dean.
The ’50s movie icon is still plastered all over merchandise and the internet. Yet strangely his untouchable legend status made it hard to truly know him. America’s favorite causeless rebel wasn’t around for very long, which makes unmasking the real man behind the icon almost impossible, until now…
James Dean is known for a few things: his good looks, his acting talent, and the tragedy that cost him his life. To be quite honest, he’s not widely known for a whole lot more, but his cult legacy continues to live on in pop culture. So, who has this handsome man?
He was born in Indiana in 1931 and eventually moved to Santa Monica when his father chose to switch career paths. Then, at nine years old, Dean faced tragedy when his mother died of cervical cancer. After that, it didn’t take long for his entire world to unravel.
During this sensitive time, Dean’s father sent James back to Indiana to live on his aunt and uncle’s Quaker farm. This created an awful tension between the father and son, and Dean could never shake that off.
The touchy saga continued when James decided to attend UCLA with a major in drama. As Dean’s father didn’t respect the career choice, this was the last straw for their relationship, and it led to an estrangement between the two that tormented the star forever.
But Dean pushed their estrangement to the side to focus on his craft. He initially struggled to get work, but then he wowed audiences in his premiere role in 1955’s East of Eden. This was just the beginning.
After the massive success of the film East of Eden, which earned Dean a loaded bank account as well as praise, Dean got more serious about his passion for cars and bought himself a nifty Porsche 356. And his star only shone brighter with his next film.
In 1955, the very same year East was released, Dean starred in Rebel Without a Cause, the movie that would solidify his reputation as a true Hollywood icon. But off-camera, there were problems.
The rebellious characters he portrayed in his first two films helped associate him with that signature angsty, bad boy persona, but it wasn’t without a legitimate reason.
Dean was known by close friends for having pretty erratic mood swings. “He’d be up one minute, down the next. He was uncomfortable in his own skin,” one of his friends said.
He also let the green-eyed monster get the best of him. He had gotten in a violent fight, sparked from jealousy, with one of his then-girlfriend Beverly Wills’ dancing partners, which led to the end of their short-lived romantic relationship.
Dean even screamed at Beverly in frustration one night having said “dance your fool head off,” then abruptly leaving. He often felt like he didn’t quite fit in, which only added to Dean’s crippling emotional insecurity. This wasn’t just true in his personal life, either.
Dean was even difficult at work. During his acting career, he was known for ditching the script and improv-ing scenes on his own accord, which kind of confused, and annoyed, his on-set colleagues.
This was especially problematic when he was working on live TV. One of the co-stars whom he downright baffled with improv was future president Ronald Reagan… he didn’t appreciate it, to put it mildly. But this was the least strange of Dean’s quirks.
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You see, hygiene wasn’t exactly his thing. Dean would show up to formal events barefoot and wearing grimy clothing barely held together by safety pins. Although the disheveled look suited him, he couldn’t be bothered to put any serious effort into his physical appearance.
In his spare time, Dean liked to practice performing magic tricks. The notorious cigarette smoker would show off his skills by putting both a lit match and an unlit cigarette in his mouth to then reveal a blazing cigarette. But soon, his own flame would be snuffed out.
At just 24 years old, Dean was taken from the world in September of 1955, when he and his Porsche 550 Spyder were involved in a fatal head-on collision in California. As spooky as it sounds, Dean and his friends predicted the terrible accident.
Once, Dean jokingly said he didn’t think he’d make it past the age of 30, considering his dangerous hobbies, which included bullfighting and car racing. But his death prediction only gets stranger.
During a conversation with his Rebel Without A Cause co-stars, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, Nick Adams, and Richard Davalos regarding Dean’s new Porsche, they had all come to the grim conclusion that Dean would get into a gnarly accident within a year.
They weren’t alone in their fears. In a 1977 interview on the BBC’s Parkinson Talk Show, English actor Alec Guinness reminisced about when he eerily told Dean, exactly one week before the fatal disaster, not to get into the 550 Spyder at all.
He continued by warning Dean that “by 10 o’clock at night next Thursday, you’ll be dead if you get into that car.” Guinness’ prediction was sadly correct. Stories like these helped solidify Dean’s haunting legacy.
The infamous crash and “cursed” Porsche are usually mentioned when discussing Dean, while other more personal elements of his life are often untalked-of, perhaps because of the ironic way he was killed.
Film at Lincoln Center
The posthumous Academy Award-nominated actor was very obviously a complicated person and a tortured soul. But it was also these qualities that made him who he is today: a true Hollywood icon.
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What’s strange, though, is that the set of Rebel Without A Cause must’ve been cursed because one of Dean’s iconic co-stars on that film met a grim fate just like him.
Looking at her humble origins, nobody could’ve predicted that Natalie Wood would become one of the biggest stars in the world. Of course, no one could’ve predicted she would vanish so suddenly either.
She was born Natalia Zakharenko in San Francisco in 1938 to Russian parents. Her father worked as a laborer while her mother had aspirations of stardom. With their meager finances, her dreams of seeing her name in lights never came true.
Natalia developed a fascination with cinema, and her mother brought her to the theater as often as she could manage. Soon enough, the two of them started hanging around movie sets, and one day some crew members took notice of young Natalia.
She started landing small film roles at age five. But what really set her apart from other aspiring child stars was the 1947 Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street. Now going by Natalie Wood, she saw other roles come flooding in.
Unlike other child performers who have careers that burn out in a year or two, Natalie gracefully transitioned into more adult roles. She showed real depth in juicy parts like Judy, James Dean’s love interest in Rebel Without a Cause.
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Natalie also shimmered as Maria in West Side Story, even though she didn’t do her own singing. Critics began to view her as a muse for teenage rebelliousness, and the good reviews really paid off.
By the time she turned 25, Natalie had received three Oscar nominations. She seemingly had nowhere to go but up, and every household in America knew her name. But at the same time, she made as many headlines for her personal life as she did for her career.
The beautiful young Natalie rotated through some of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors. For a short time, she even dated Elvis Presley, but they split before she could become queen to the King of Rock and Roll.
But at age 19, Natalie tied the knot with leading man Robert Wagner. Her mother thoroughly opposed the marriage, and Natalie finally relented in 1962. She and Robert divorced, though they hadn’t seen the last of each other.
As her film career continued to prosper, Natalie fell in love with producer Richard Gregson. They wed in 1969. Though she remained one of the biggest stars in the world, big changes for Natalie were on the horizon.
Her whole world changed when she brought her daughter Natasha into the world. Wanting to make motherhood a top priority, she announced her semi-retirement from show business.
Even after she divorced Richard, Natalie only handpicked projects here and there, particularly in the realm of made-for-TV films. She impressed critics in this budding format, and her success brought her back in the orbit of an old collaborator.
Though she rejected some huge starring roles, she wound up cast on projects with ex-husband Robert Wagner. They rekindled their flame before too long, and Natalie ended up marrying him for a second time in 1972.
But this second chance wasn’t all smooth sailing. Natalie and Robert bickered, and rumors of infidelity floated around. Still, they hoped a weekend cruise on Robert’s yacht would ease their troubles. They had some interesting company aboard the Splendour too.
NY Daily News
Natalie was in the middle of shooting a sci-fi flick called Brainstorm, and her co-star Christopher Walken joined the couple on the getaway. They apparently flirted, which only caused tempers to flare.
On that November night in 1981, Robert and Natalie had a tense argument — fueled by jealousy and alcohol — before splitting off to different parts of the vessel. By the time the other yacht passengers decided to turn in, nobody could find Natalie.
There was simply no trace of her. The yacht goers questioned whether or not they heard a woman scream in the night, but nobody could quite confirm it. Left with no other option, they called the police for assistance.
Hours later, authorities located the body of Natalie Wood. She was just 43. As fans and colleagues paid tribute to her, questions swirled around her death. The coroner ruled it an accidental drowning, though others weren’t so sure.
For one thing, Natalie’s younger sister Lana said she had a severe phobia of the water. Natalie never would’ve gone for a midnight swim, so, she concluded, she must have either fallen in or been pushed. She also got a few bruises on her tumble off the yacht.
Wagner’s behavior was also peculiar. He often refused to cooperate with investigators and instructed the yacht’s captain to withhold information about that night. He never faced any official charges of wrongdoing, though authorities did name him a “person of interest” in 2018 when they reopened the case.
However, Walken was adamant that he didn’t see anything suspicious that night. In his sparse comments on Natalie’s death, he shared his belief that a tragic accident befell her. Walken has never cast suspicions on Robert Wagner, his would-be rival.
Known evidence still cannot fully explain what happened to Natalie Wood. Perhaps we will never know. As tragic as her ending may be, her legacy is firmly cemented in Hollywood. She posthumously received a star on the Walk of Fame in 1986.
Ultimately, she’s best remembered as the little Russian girl who morphed into a star. Public interest in her mysterious death is still going strong today; maybe devoted fans searching for answers can take inspiration from a solved Hollywood crime…
Actor Dylan McDermott might be a household name, but that wasn’t always the case. Once he was just a little boy growing up in a troubled home. But instead of focusing on his dark past, Dylan put his heart and soul into his dream of becoming an actor.
Dylan was born in the quiet town of Waterbury, Connecticut, on October 26, 1961. Like so many other youngsters growing up, he saw his idols on the big screen and had dreams of following in their footsteps and becoming a famous movie star.
When Dylan was 15, that dream finally started to come true. His parents split when he was young, and his father, Richard, married the playwright Eve Ensler, who was known for her play The Vagina Monologues. She began scripting roles for the teenager—then known as Mark—in her own original productions.
Even though she was only a few years older than Dylan, Eve happily adopted him when she married his father. Though the couple would eventually divorce, Dylan and Eve were so close that, when she miscarried a son, he took on the name “Dylan,” which Eve had planned to give to her unborn child.
Eve’s support of her adoptive son helped him thrive. He scored a major coup appearing in the film Twister in 1989, and in 1999 he won a Golden Globe Award for his appearance in the popular TV series The Practice. But none of these successes could erase the memories of his dark past…
Before Dylan moved in with his father, he’d lived with his mother, Diane. Diane was just 15 when he was born, and Richard was two years older. After Richard left her, Diane moved into a house with John Sponza, a well-established figure in local organized crime.
From a very young age, John had a criminal bent. He was arrested for the first time when he was 15, and he was rumored to have once shot a man who crossed him in the face. But because his father was a police officer, John managed to avoid prosecution.
Life with John was not easy for Dylan. The man regularly hurled verbal abuse his way and terrorized his mother, both emotionally and with physical abuse. Diane was simply too frightened to take her son and leave.
Diane tried to comfort Dylan and keep him safe from John. When the violence continued to escalate, Diane threatened him, saying that her ex-husband—Dylan’s father—had spent time in jail and wouldn’t mind putting John in his place.
On February 9, 1967, John told Dylan—who was just five years old—to go outside in the frigid weather. Dylan wasn’t wearing a warm coat, but he was scared, so he did as he was told. Once he was outside, he heard a sound that he would never forget: a gunshot.
Even though Dylan saw his mother removed from the house on a stretcher and put into an ambulance, he didn’t understand that she was dead. His grandmother kept the truth from him and his younger sister for over a year.
While Dylan might not have known the truth, the police were already investigating and they thought John’s story was suspicious. John originally claimed that Diane touched the pistol he was cleaning and that it went off, killing her accidentally in the kitchen.
Then John’s story began to change. He claimed that Diane took his gun and went into the garage deliberately to take her own life. However, the forensics team said that the point of entry for the bullet proved that couldn’t have been the case…
However, in spite of their suspicions, no charges were ever filed against John. For more than four decades, Diane’s death was recorded as having been the result of an accidental shooting.
For the next 40 years, Dylan worked hard to make his Hollywood dreams come true. After being raised by his grandmother, he finally reconnected with his father and, in turn, with Eve. But he never forgot about his mother…
In order to survive and thrive in Hollywood, Dylan had to push down the memories of losing his mother so violently. However, in 2011, he finally felt ready to confront these tragic memories.
Dylan got in touch with authorities in his old hometown and told them he still had questions about his mother’s death. Three detectives agreed to reopen the cold case; that was when they quickly discovered that something just wasn’t right…
The investigators learned that the original case files were missing. They wanted to interview John again, but they couldn’t—in 1972, he’d been murdered and his body was left in the trunk of a car.
Dylan and the investigators weren’t about to let the case go unsolved, however. The police conducted more interviews and scoured old press reports from the time of the murder. Armed with new information, they were able to finally give Dylan and his family peace for the first time: they determined that John, indeed, killed Diane.
Of course, John would never face a trial for his actions. But the fact that the case was solved—and that John received his own sort of karmic punishment—was the closure that Dylan needed to help him return to his life as a happily married father and actor.