When most of the 50s films were idealized with conventional portrayals of men and women, young people wanted new and exciting symbols of rebellion.
Hollywood responded to audience demands – the late 1940s and 50s saw the rise of the anti-hero – with stars like newcomers James Dean, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando. Sexy anti-heroines included Ava Gardner, Kim Novak, and Marilyn Monroe – an exciting, vibrant, sexy star.
Two other youth-oriented actors and their films in the 50s would portray the potentially-scary, self-expressive, and rebellious new teenage population.
Marlon Brando a Symbol of Adolescent, Anti-Authoritarian Rebellion and James Dean The First American Teenager sickened by the deadening hypocrisy and shallowness of 50s values.
Marlon Brando was trained by Lee Strasberg’s Actors’ Studio in New York in raw and realistic ‘method acting,’ and influenced by Stella Adler. He also contributed a memorable role as a self-absorbed teen character. He played Johnny – an arrogant, rebellious, tough yet sensitive leader of a roving motorcycle-biking gang (wearing a T-shirt and leather jacket) that invaded and terrorized a small-town in Laslo Benedek’s controversial The Wild One (1954) (banned in Britain until a decade and a half later). The film was noted for one line of dialogue, typifying his attitude: “What are you rebelling against?” Brando’s reply: “Whadda ya got?” A nasty Lee Marvin led a rival gang of bikers named The Beetles.
The anguished, introspective teen James Dean was the epitome of adolescent pain. Dean appeared in only three films before his untimely death in the fall of 1955. Rebel Without a Cause was the film with Dean’s most-remembered role as mixed-up, sensitive, and defiant teenager Jim Stark involved in various delinquent behaviors (drunkenness, a switchblade fight, and a deadly drag race called a Chicken Run), and his archetypal scream to his parents: “You’re tearing me apart!”
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A new Cinema’s era begun… but an icon was lost.