Call Me Old-Fashioned But... Now that's entertainment!
While there's no question Dean endured a great deal of torment in his personal life – in part accountable to his poor relationship with his father and the loss of his mom at the tender age of nine, not to mention the disallowance to marry the love of his life because of belief differences – if it weren't for three distinct breaks he was handed, I can assure you that at least two of the aforementioned terms would have never come to be associated with his namesake ... nor would the posthumous Academy Award nominations.
As told by the film, after being disowned and ejected by his pops for dropping out of business school, break numero uno came when Dean set up an informal meeting with Broadway-acclaimed actor James Whitmore. Despite Dean having no money to pay for tuition or formal training beyond appearing in minor roles for his high school's drama club, Whitmore, then the headmaster of a prestigious acting academy, took Dean under his wing, concluding that those who aspire to be great rarely come from fortunate social situations.
Break two: Wishing to pursue in the footsteps of his idol, Marlon Brando, Dean submitted himself for roster consideration to the acting agency famed for representing the former. While the agency's frontrunner felt that Dean's unconventional character (i.e. he refused to audition for anything other than lead roles) and free-spiritedness (i.e. he smoked, drank and made a habit of street racing) could make him a potential risk to their reputation, the individual granted with "second-in-command" status willingly (and successfully) took on Dean as a side project in her spare time, for which she did not receive any compensation from the company.
Finally, and most importantly, when offered the opportunity to audition for a key role in the play The Immoralist, which would prove to be instrumental in both launching him onto the big screen and landing him an exclusive contract with premier movie studio Warner Brothers, Dean initially showed up unprepared and with broken glasses (due to a drunken haze the night prior) which prevented him from being able to read the script.
Taking an inexplicable liking to Dean, the lead casting director offered him $10 to have his specs replaced, and instructed him to return later that afternoon for a do-over. Dean, instead, used the money to eat and memorized the script by running lines with the food vendor. Hours later, Dean waltzed back into the theatre and nailed the part. When asked why his glasses remained cracked, Dean begrudgingly admitted to using the money for grub. As for the casting director's reaction to the "slap in the face" his generosity had just received? He was nothing more than amused!
I'm reciting this tale to you all in hopes of demonstrating something very important about the entertainment industry: just how much it has changed in the past 60 or so years, and I'm not just talking technology (though it plays a major part).
Anyone who has attempted to single-handedly work themselves from the bottom up in this biz is all too acquainted with the reality that you can only get so far without having an "in." While this is old news, the expression "no unsolicited materials" is something entirely new, and this expression already is or will become the nemesis of any contemporary aspiring talent.
Because of reality TV, because of YouTube, because of the emphasis on celebrity culture, because of the ever-expanding plethora of social networking sites and even more largely because of enabling technology, everyone from my neighbour's grandma to the crazy cat lady has somehow convinced themselves they are worthy of their 15 minutes of fame. While I believe that all persons of the world have something to offer, whether big or small, I do not believe that everyone is equipped with the same abilities. In a nutshell, leave the arts to those who have proven themselves artists.
Given this oversaturation, I understand the necessity and desire on the part of industry representatives to choose to exclusively work with companies and individuals who have proven themselves in the past; however, as they say, "Without risk, there's no reward." Don't kid yourself, economics play a major role in this "decision-making process."
What I'm trying to get at is this: the difference between what happened with Dean (someone unquestionably worthy of his acclaim) and the reality of our current industry can be summated by a simple comparison between his talent and originality and that which is brought to the table by the pop star currently in vogue who has been allotted iconic status and is, in reality, nothing more than a mere amalgamation of the most controversial aspects of Alice Cooper and Madonna ... minus the talent. In another nutshell, marketability (and who you're either sleeping or doing lines with) has come to supersede all else.
Find me contemporary society's on-screen equivalents of the brooding yet suave Humphrey Bogart and the sexy-without-letting- it-all-hang-out Lauren Bacall. Show me a current songwriter who deserves to be recognized among the likes of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin or Otis Redding. Show me a television program that is able to compel its audiences without having to rely on massive CGI explosions, petty drama, digital enhancements, explicit scenes of "viewer discretion" and the like. Oh wait, you can't ... and if you can, I bet my bottom dollar the talents responsible for delivering said real, genuine and admirable ability likely struggle to get representation.