4 August 2022

James Dean at UCLA

In May 1949, James Dean graduated from Fairmount High School and then moved back to California to live with his father Winton and stepmother. Until then he had been living with his aunt and uncle, Ortense and Marcus Winslow, on their Quaker farm in Fairmount, Indiana, following the death of his mother when he was nine years old. Back in California, Dean's intention was to enrol at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and study drama. His father didn't approve of his choice, however, and by the end of the summer had persuaded Dean to enrol as a pre-law student at Santa Monica City College. While majoring in pre-law, Dean took as many drama lessons as he possibly could, still determined to become an actor. After a year at Santa Monica College, he transferred to UCLA and finally changed his major to drama ("I wasn't happy where I was. I was studying a field I didn't like, so I transferred to UCLA for a drama major. I figured I might as well pursue this dream now, cause you'll never know if you'll have time to do so later."). During his time at UCLA, Dean was chosen out of a group of 350 actors to play the role of Malcolm in Macbeth and also attended James Whitmore's acting workshop. In 1951, he dropped out of UCLA to fully dedicate himself to his acting career. 

After graduating from high school in May 1949, James Dean wanted to study at UCLA in the fall and also attend the university's summer session. Needing his school records from Fairmount to attend UCLA, in early June Dean wrote the following letter to F. Stanton Galey, Superintendent of Schools in Fairmount. As said, Dean would major in pre-law at Santa Monica City College, like his father wanted, and it still took a year before he enrolled at UCLA and switched his major to drama. Although Dean spent only one semester at UCLA, it marked the beginning of his acting career, eventually leading him to the New York stage and finally to Hollywood.


June 6, 1949

Dear Mr. Galey, 

Well here I am, and I have inquired as to my education at U.C.L.A. (summer session). I hope this reaches you without any detainment because I must have my records or transcripts just as soon as possible. I would appreciate it deeply if you would send them special airmail and then send me the bill for postage. 

I really got a break on the first day. I met Mr. Wooten a Prof. at UCLA. He is from Fairmount and tomarro [sic] he is introducing me to the staff head of the Theatrical Dept. A mister McCowain used to be a director for Fox + Paramount. 

Send to room 10 University of California, Los Angeles 
Administration building

With all due appreciation and respect
Jim Dean

James Dean (right) as Malcolm in UCLA's production of Macbeth. The faculty newspaper criticised his performance: "Malcolm failed to show any growth, and would have made a hollow king."

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