Some of his first jobs included a Coca-Cola commercial, walk-on speaking part in “Sailor Beware” (1952) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and a short run of a Broadway play called “See a Jaguar” -- the run of the play lasted four days. Actress Patricia Neal had worked with James while he was still an unknown in an Off-Broadway production of “The Scarecrow.” She found him
to be “. . .Jolly good in every way. I knew then that he was born to become an actor.”
In 1952, Dean was accepted into The Actor’s Studio by Lee Strasburg. As he had
written in one letter to his family, “I have made great strides in my craft.”
There was on famous acting exercise that helped James improve his craft - he studied the movement of animals.
In the same year, Dean was going to make even bigger strides. He competed with another actor, Paul Newman, for the role of Caleb in “East of Eden”, but Dean won the role. His portrayal received an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor in a leading role – one of two Oscars nominations Dean would receive in his film career.
Between the release of “East of Eden” and “Rebel Without A Cause”, Dean made over twenty-three television appearances. And in 1954, Dean played opposite future president Ronald Reagan in an episode of “The Dark Dark Hour” on CBS. “. . .I found him to be an intelligent young actor who seemed to live only for his work. He was completely dedicated, and although a shy
person, he could hold a good conversation on many wide-ranging subjects,” Ronald Reagan had commented on his experience on working with James.
With the release of “Rebel Without A Cause” (1956), Dean became a cult icon. He was confident that the picture would make an impact on the 1950s youth. “I think the one thing this picture shows that's new is the psychological disproportion of the kids' demands on the parents. Parents are often at fault, but the kids have some work to do, too. . . If a picture is psychologically
motivated, if there is truth in the relationship in it, then I think that picture will do good,” Dean had explained in a promotional interview for the film.
“Giant” (1956) would be Dean’s last picture and second Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Before his unexpected death, he was linked to possibly be cast in the following pictures but were replaced by Newman – “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956) and “The Left Handed Gun” (1958). James likely would have been in “The Angry Age” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958). It is no doubt that with the magnitude of Dean’s presence on screen, it is undeniable that as Gary Cooper said, “His death caused a loss in the movie world that our industry could ill afford.. .He had sensitivity and a capacity to express emotion.”