Skip to main content

As a public health precaution, all Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will temporarily close to the public starting Saturday, March 14 until further notice. Please continue to check back frequently at or for updates. In the meantime, please explore our website, resource materials and online exhibitions. 

James Dean

James Dean
Usage Conditions Apply
Roy Schatt, 1909 - 2002
James Dean, 8 Feb 1931 - 30 Sep 1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.7 x 42.2cm (13 11/16 x 16 5/8")
Sheet: 35.4 x 42.9cm (13 15/16 x 16 7/8")
Mat: 55.9 x 71.1cm (22 x 28")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Schatt
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
© CMG Worldwide, Inc.
Object number
Exhibition Label
James Dean was the first American teenager realistically captured by Hollywood, and he stamped adolescence with a half-squinting look of tormented yearning and tentative tenderness. Beautiful and bisexual, Dean remains "the poet of what it’s like to be young, lost, or alone," one biographer wrote. In his short, meteoric career, he combined small-town midwestern innocence (Indiana childhood, East of Eden [1955]) with mythic Americana (as Jett Rink in Giant [1956]), and urban bohemia (still photos in New York City) with the automotive escapism of suburban high school kids (Rebel Without a Cause [1955]). His appeal came from being "able to expose the emotion on-screen that he couldn’t in real life," one close friend said. Dean’s persona is still often invoked by young American actors, and his life is now myth, as if captured by the formulaic phrase, "live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse." As one writer claimed about Dean’s cool, "he made adolescent defiance heroic."
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection