Aspiring actor James Dean knew that he had to get out of rural Indiana if he was going to succeed. In the winter of 1951, he moved to New York, renting dozens of hotel rooms in midtown, none of them for more than a few weeks at a time. During this period, he appeared in seven TV shows, earning his living as a busboy in the theater district, before winning a small part in Broadway play See the Jaguar—which closed practically before it opened.
Around this time, with hopes of a burgeoning career in the city, Dean moved into a cheap fifth-floor walk-up at 19 West 68th Street, a tiny chamber with only enough space for a daybed, built-in desk and a hot plate: no kitchen, with a common bath down the hallway. Guests found his room cluttered with empty beer bottles, half-eaten cans of food, unsleeved records and dog-eared books.
In his New York heyday, Dean sketched and sculpted, and eventually roamed the streets of Manhattan, scouring bookstores, observing passersby. He took a dance class with choreographer Katherine Dunham and visited jazz clubs, pounding his bongo drums at smoke-filled jazz clubs. Among his reported favorite hangs: Cromwell’s Pharmacy in Rockefeller Center, Louie’s Tavern in Sheridan Square, Jerry’s Bar & Restaurant on 54th and Riker’s on 57th.
And then: He became a member of the Actors Studio, and while he was contrary and the experience short-lived, it ultimately changed his career as he adopted method acting. In 1954, he returned to Broadway in The Immortalist, which led to a screen test at Warner Brothers for the part of Cal Trask in the screen adaptation John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden. After winning the role of Jim Stark in 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause, he moved to Hollywood.
Of course, just after wrapping his shoot on third and final movie Giant, with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, James Dean was killed Sept. 30, 1955, when he was hit head-on by a 23 year old while driving his Porche Perhaps if Jimmy had remained in New York, he would still be alive today, huh? He would now be 80.