Some of the most famous quotes were first uttered by James Dean. Whether they were movie lines or his own personal thoughts, they came to define him as a legend. Quotes from fellow friends, family and actors are proof that he not only knew how to captivate an audience, but also mesmerized whomever he came into contact with.

Quotes by James Dean

“Only the gentle are ever really strong.”

“If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”

“To grasp the full significance of life is the actor’s duty; to interpret it his problem; and to express it his dedication. Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world. You are all alone with your concentration and imagination, and that’s all you have. Being a good actor isn’t easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I’m done.”

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”

“Studying cows, pigs and chickens can help an actor develop his character. There are a lot of things I learned from animals. One was that they couldn’t hiss or boo me. I also became close to nature, and am now able to appreciate the beauty with which this world is endowed.”

“How can you measure acting in inches?!?” (when told he was too short to be an actor) James Dean’s actual height was 5’8″

“Trust and belief are two prime considerations. You must not allow yourself to be opinionated. You must say, ‘Wait. Let me see.’ And above all, you must be honest with yourself.”
— to Hedda Hopper

“There is no way to be truly great in this world. We are all impaled on the crook of conditioning. A fish that is in the water has no choice that he is. Genius would have it that we swim in sand. We are fish and we drown.”

“An actor must interpret life, and in order to do so must be willing to accept all the experiences life has to offer. In fact, he must seek out more of life than life puts at his feet. In the short span of his lifetime, an actor must learn all there is to know, experience all there is to experience, or approach that state as closely as possible. He must be superhuman in his efforts to store away in the core of his subconscious everything that he might be called upon to use in the expression of his art.”

“The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.”

“When an actor plays a scene exactly the way a director orders, it isn’t acting. It’s following instructions. Anyone with the physical qualifications can do that. So the director’s task is just that – to direct, to point the way. Then the actor takes over. And he must be allowed the space, the freedom to express himself in the role. Without that space, an actor is no more than an unthinking robot with a chest-full of push-buttons.”

“It was an accident, although I’ve been involved in some kind of theatrical function or other since I was a child – in school, music, athletics. To me, acting is the most logical way for people’s neuroses to manifest themselves, in this great need we all have to express ourselves. To my way of thinking, an actor’s course is set even before he’s out of the cradle.”

“Since I’m only 24 years old, guess I have as good an insight into this rising generation as any other young man my age. And I’ve discovered that most young men do not stand like ramrods or talk like Demosthenes. Therefore, when I do play a youth, such as in Warner Bros. Rebel Without A Cause, I try to imitate life. The picture deals with the problems of modern youth. It is the romanticized conception of the juvenile that causes much of our trouble with misguided youth nowadays. 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. But you can’t show some far off idyllic conception of behavior if you want the kids to come and see the picture. You’ve got to show what it’s really like, and try to reach them on their own grounds. You know, a lot of times an older boy, one of the fellows the young ones idolize, can go back to the high school kids and tell them, “Look what happened to me! Why be a punk and get in trouble with the law?Why do these senseless things just for a thrill?” I hope “Rebel Without A Cause” will do something like that. I hope it will remind them that other people have feelings. Perhaps they will say, “What do we need all that for?”If a picture is psychologically motivated, if there is truth in the relationship in it, then I think that picture will do good.
I firmly believe Rebel Without A Cause is such a picture.”
— from an interview at a preview of Rebel Without A Cause


Quotes About James Dean

“He was very afraid of being hurt. He was afraid of opening up in case it was turned around and used against him.”
— Elizabeth Taylor

“[Dean’s] death caused a loss in the movie world that our industry could ill afford. Had he lived long enough, I feel he would have made some incredible films. He had sensitivity and a capacity to express emotion.”
— Gary Cooper

“I didn’t know what to do. How do you tell an eight-year-old boy his mother’s going to die? I tried. In my own stumbling way I tried to prepare Jim for it. Nowadays, he lives in a world we don’t understand too well, the actor’s world. We don’t see too much of him. But he’s a good boy, my Jim. A good boy, and I”m very proud of him. Not easy to understand, no sir. He’s not easy to understand. But he’s all man, and he’ll make his mark. Mind you, my boy will make his mark.”
— Winton Dean in Modern Screen, August 1955

” All of us were touched by Jimmy,
and he was touched by greatness.”
— Natalie Wood

“He could look in a delicatessen window and suddenly start waving at a bowl of prunes, like they were alive. He was childish in a charming way.”
— Christine White

“He had the greatest power of concentration I have ever encountered. He prepared himself so well in advance for any scene he was playing, that the lines were not simply something he had memorized — they were actually a very real part of him.”
— Jim Backus

“Jim Dean and Elvis were the spokesmen for an entire generation. When I was in acting school in New York, years ago, there was a saying that if Marlon Brando changed the way people acted, then James Dean changed the way people lived. He was the greatest actor who ever lived. He was simply a genius.”
— Martin Sheen

“He would be bothered when someone would say he was mean and disrespectful. Because actually, he wasn’t. They took silence to mean he cared little or nothing for them. They didn’t have the insight, or didn’t care to exercise the insight, in knowing that he was a shy boy that just didn’t know how to approach them. Instead of making an attempt to approach him, they just, well, they just wrote him off.”
— Lew Bracker

“He didn’t show you very much. He’d challenge you to find him. Then when you’d found him, he’d still make you guess. It was an endless game with him. The thing people missed about Jimmy was his mischievousness. He was the most constantly mischievous person I think I’ve ever met. Full of tricks, full of magic, full of outrageousness.”
— Stuart Stern

“Every time I go to Europe, I remember that James Dean never saw Europe, but yet I see his face everywhere. There’s James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe – windows of the Champs Elysees, discos in the south of Spain, restaurants in Sweden, t-shirts in Moscow. My life was confused and disoriented for years by his passing. My sense of destiny destroyed – the great films he would have directed, the great performances he would have given, the great humanitarian he would have become, and yet, he’s the greatest actor and star I have ever known.”
— Dennis Hopper

“I’m obsessed. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I’m hoping to keep his memory going. It’s a tribute.”
— David Loehr (Dean Archivist, The James Dean Gallery, Fairmount, Indiana)

“When I worked with him on TV, 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

A few weeks before the group recorded its first hit record, “LOVE ME DO,” in 1962, fifth member Stuart Sutcliffe died at the age of 21. Years later, John Lennon is quoted as saying: “[Stuart Sutcliffe] was really our leader, and he was really into the James Dean thing. He idolized him. Stuart died young before we made the big time, but I suppose you could say that without Jimmy Dean, The Beatles would have never existed.”

“When he was interested and participating, his energy was powerful. He had the greatest of intellectual qualities – curiosity about everything.”
— Roy Schatt

“He said, “We both have to get married and have families. That’s what we both want; that’s what we both need. He never talked to me like a man that was worried about cutting it [life] short or having it cut short.”
— Lew Bracker

“I liken it to a kind of star or comet that fell through the sky and everybody still talks about it. They say, ‘Ah, remember the night when you saw that shooting star?”
— Julie Harris

“He seemed to capture that moment of youth, that moment where we’re all desperately seeking to find ourselves.”
— Dennis Hopper

“[James Dean] was spectacularly talented, handsome in a fragile sort of way and absolutely outrageous. He was an original. Impish, compelling, magnetic, utterly winning one moment, obnoxious the next. Definitely gifted.”
— Edna Ferber author of best-selling novel “Giant” from her autobiography “A Kind of Magic”

“Sometimes we’d just sit and talk, or we’d listen to music for a couple of hours at a time without saying a word. Sometimes he’d get up and dance. He used to do modern, interpretive things. Jimmy had a wonderful pantomimic gift – I couldn’t compare him to anyone else. He had a quality and style all his own.”
— Jane Withers

“In Texas, one disgustingly hot night during the filming of Giant, he and I ate a full jar of peanut butter, a box of crackers and six Milky Ways, and drank twelve Coca-Cola’s!”
— Mercedes McCambridge (Luz Benedict) from her autobiography, “The Quality of Mercy”

“In front of the camera, he had an instinct that was nearly uncanny. I don’t recall ever working with anyone who had such a gift. I recall one scene, where he was in a shadow, and had to lift his head to the light. We explained how it should go and he played it exactly right, to the half inch, the first time. He just seemed to know how it should be, without rehearsal or anything.”
— William C. Mellor, Cinematographer

“Jamie and I were like brother and sister. He told me in fact he thought of me as a sister. Our relationship was strictly platonic and spiritual.”
— Eartha Kitt

“Jimmy was a very close and good friend of mine. I have fond memories of Jim, the days we spent together in New York City as young actors — walking the streets and talking about the theater and wondering about our next job, reading books and discussing them; seeing plays, seeing films; working in acting workshops and being serious young fellows about the thing we loved most, which was acting in the theater and films.”
— Martin Landau

“Jim had a year away from Warner Brothers. We had planned to use that time to get our company started. We would have done both feature pictures and a television series, which would have allowed Jim to break in as a director. I think he would have been a great director.”
— Nicholas Ray

“To the ranchers and the people around there, he was just as nice as could be. Dean came to me and said, ‘Bob, I want to be a Texan twenty-four hours a day. I’d like for you to work with me. I’ll even pay you out of my pocket.’ So I got him some clothes and boots and he starts talking like a Texan every day.”
— Bob Hinkle

“We took a walk that first day, and there was a building going up near Sixth Avenue, and we virtually became sidewalk superintendents by barking orders to people. And we proceeded to go over to Rockefeller Center where there was a young girl skating, and we applauded her and she did her command performance. Our minds, our ability to fantasize, and our ability to communicate was kind of an instant thing. I had an amazingly instant rapport with him, and as a result we became friends immediately. He used to come out to my house, my parents’ house in Queens, and my little nephews adored him. [We had] Christmases and Thanksgivings [together]. We were sort of a surrogate family.”
— Martin Landau On their first meeting

“He turned out to be a fascinating and intelligent young man who talked fluently about artists in music. And he was surprisingly knowledgeable about such recondite composers as Schönberg and Bartók.”
— Oscar Levant

“While we were making Giant, I think we all knew that young Jimmy Dean was giving a performance that not even the extreme adjectives of Hollywood could adequately sum up. It’s not often a unit gets a feeling like that.”
— William C. Mellor

“What I remember most about him was the little boy quality shining forth at you from behind those thick glasses of his, tearing at your heart. He had that extreme and touching idealism of youth which made you wish that he would never have to be disillusioned. Now he won’t be.”
— Louella Parsons

“Jimmy Dean loved the feel of Indiana soil under his feet and I think that was the source of much of his strength.”
— Adeline Nall

“It wasn’t so much a matter of whom I was acting with, it was whom I was watching. Marlon Brando, Maureen Stapleton, Geraldine Page, Jimmy Dean . a pretty hotshot group.”
— Paul Newman on his apprenticeship at the Actors Studio

“Actually, the person I related to was James Dean. I grew up with the Dean thing. Rebel Without A Cause had a very powerful effect on me.”
— Al Pacino

“The only time I ever worked with James Dean was in a 1953 off-Broadway production called The Scarecrow. He played the Scarecrow’s reflection in the mirror. He was an unknown then but he was jolly good in every way. I knew then that he was born to become an actor.”
— Patricia Neal

“Jimmy was not only an internal actor, but an expressionist, which came partly from his studying dance. He would physicalize actions, such as the way he lifted himself up on the windmill in Giant, or goose-stepped measuring off the land, or his sleight-of-hand gesture as Jett Rink. He had the amazing capacity to pick up and learn a new trick almost immediately, tossing a rope and making a knot, a card trick from a magician, coin tricks, racing a car…”
— Dennis Hopper

“I have never seen an actor as dedicated, with the extreme concentration and exceptional imagination as James Dean. He could take the written imaginary circumstance and make it his own by improvising – lying on the ground in a fetal position playing with a wound-up toy monkey beating its cymbals, giggling while being searched in the police station because it tickled, standing up in a drunken daze making the sound of sirens with his arms outstretched, hitting his fists into the sergeant’s desk, jumping off a diving board into a swimming pool with no water, or doing the voice of Mr. Magoo throughout the movie, which was the voice of Jim Backus, his father in Rebel – things that were not written on the page, things that were invented by the actor.”
— Dennis Hopper