The Commercial That Led to James Dean’s First Decent Role (and a Fan Club)
James Dean is best known for his leading roles in Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant. With Hollywood good looks, talent, and charm to boot, he became one of the most-desired actors of the 1950s before his sudden death in 1955. While the actor is best known for only three movies, his imprint on showbiz remains fixed, and he boasts an unwavering legacy within and outside the entertainment industry.
Yet, before James Dean became a big-screen actor, he landed a couple of small gigs, and luckily for him, he got chosen for a commercial that led to his first decent TV role.
James Dean and a Pepsi-cola commercial
As History.com reports, James Dean performed in several high school plays and continued acting in college; he started his acting studies at Santa Monica College but transferred to UCLA in 1950. He dove deeper into performing upon transferring.
When Dean landed a role in the UCLA production of Macbeth, one of his fraternity brothers brought him along to serve as an extra in a Pepsi commercial. After his first day on the shoot — which allowed Dean to get his feet wet behind the camera — he was given a bit more responsibility. He danced around a jukebox while singing a Pepsi jingle the second day.
Dean caught the eye of the commercial’s producer who chose to put him in a television special — Hill Number One: A Story of Faith and Inspiration. In Hill Number One, Dean portrayed John the Apostle.
All about ‘Hill Number One’ and what came shortly after
Hill Number One is an on-screen interpretation of what might have happened between Jesus’s followers in the three days following his Crucifixion. The story unfolds in the context of a US Army company stationed in Korea during the Korean War. Arthur Pierson — an actor and director known for Home Town Story, Dangerous Years, The Fighting O’Flynn, and more — directed the special.
Dean only had a couple of lines in the TV special, but those lines were enough to seal his future in the industry. The special aired on Easter in 1951, and a couple of years later he would star in Rebel Without a Cause.
Not to mention, he reportedly gained a fan following right after the special. A couple of women banded together to form the Immaculate Heart James Dean Appreciation Society following his appearance in Hill Number One, according to History.com.