Martin Landau and James Dean got to know each other in the early 1950s when Dean moved from Fairmont, Indiana, to New York City. Landau had been working as a political cartoonist for the New York Daily News since he was seventeen but, like Dean, wanted to pursue an acting career. The two young men both studied at Lee Strassberg's famous and prestigious acting studio in New York and quickly became friends. Landau, who was three years older than Dean, recalled years later: "James Dean was my best friend. We were two young would-be and still-yet-to-work unemployed actors, dreaming out loud and enjoying every moment... We'd spend lots of time talking about the future, our craft and our chances of success in this newly different, ever-changing modern world we were living in."
When asked if his friend had been destined to die young, Landau resolutely answered "no". "Jimmy never talked about dying. Jimmy talked about living. Jimmy's only concern was that he would become an old boy, like Mickey Rooney. When Elia Kazan tested actors for East of Eden, Paul Newman and Jimmy auditioned on the same day. Paul looked like a man when he was 20, whereas Jimmy was still playing high school kids at 23. That bothered him a bit. But Jimmy did not want to die."
Still, Dean died at the much too young age of 24 on 30 September 1955, after he crashed his Porsche trying to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car. Shocked and devastated by the loss of his friend, Landau wrote the following letter of condolence to Dean's aunt and uncle Marcus and Orteuse Winslow (who had raised Dean after the death of his mother in 1940) and his father Winton. The image below is a rough draft of the letter that Landau eventually sent.
Dear Mr. + Mrs. Winslow
+ Mr. Dean,
I feel as though I know you, having been one of Jim's oldest + closest friends in New York. I had heard him speak of you, the farm, and Indiana many, many times, with the greatest admiration, love and respect.
In fact, we almost met in November of 1953, when Jim went home for a visit. He asked me to come along but I was rehearsing a play at the time and was unable to get away. I'm sorry now that I didn't, I would have liked very much to have been able to meet you.
I am writing this letter because I know and understand how much you meant to Jimmy. It is hard to believe that he is gone. Last Christmas night, Jimmy had dinner at home with me + my family. For three years my mother had heard me speak of Jimmy, and although they had spoken to him on the telephone, this was the first time they had ever met him. They practically fell in love with him, as did my entire family, and feel now as though they've lost a son.
The news of Jim's death was a terrible shock to me, I can't begin to imagine what his loss must mean to you who raised him and were closer to him than anyone else in the world. I want you to know how terribly sorry I am.
I wish I were better at expressing my sympathy. This boy had every reason in the world to live. None of the comforting phrases apply. All there is to be grateful for is that, young as he was, he had shown his genius, and that remains, even though a thin substitute for his continuing life.
I am proud and happy to have known Jim, both as a fellow actor and a friend. I am going to miss him very much.
There's really nothing more I can say. I am heartsick for you and for everyone who loved him.
Source: Indiana Historical Society
(click on the link to read the Winslows' reply)