Though Hollywood keeps its tacky red mouth shut about things like this, James Dean wasn't the only person they had in mind for Rebel Without a Cause.
They also thought of Marlon Brando.
They thought of Marlon Brando, who hadn't even made a movie (yet) and didn't know his way around a camera (yet). They thought of him cuzzadafact that he had already made a searing splash as Stanley Kowalski on the stage, and somebody must-of thought: this boy has talent, and not only that, I'd like to suck his face.
I lied a while ago and said that I wasn't reading the massive 1994 Brando bio by Peter Manso. I've started reading it to get to sleep at night, and it works, except it cuts off the circulation in my legs. I wonder what this Manso thinks of Brando. I know he was eccentric to the point of craziness and scarfed down Mallomars by the box, but. . . I've been watching some clips of interviews with him, later ones like the Connie Chung one in which he seems pretty much like an old crank. But once in a while, a certain facial expression, a light in those dreamy eyes will bring back the hard-bodied but soft-faced, almost androgynous hero who ripped his way through a couple dozen brilliant films, playing everything from Marc Antony to a goofy little Japanese guy in a teahouse.
Brando wasn't always good, he wasn't always in good films, and some of them were fatal mismatches (Sky Masterson? The guru in Candy?), but he was as intrepid as Captain Kirk aboard the Starship Enterprise, grabbing at one means of expression after another. He was a primitive with an intricate mind, emotionally damaged, and a leveller: of egos, of feelings, of human mystery. All would be smoothed flat by the forward blaze. I believe he was frustrated and angry and curious and very much like a small child rushing around in the woods, ripping things up and eating them and spitting them out.
Anyway, that's what I think. Though he failed his screen test, he's still worth making gifs of, 60 or so years later.