Rebels who changed us

At about the same time Bill Haley & His Comets recorded “Rock Around the Clock,” introducing a new rebellious tone to pop music, there was a small group of actors who were bringing the same kind of rebellion to movie and TV screens.

Probably the most famous of those rebels was Marlon Brando, but he had some contemporaries who went on to do pretty well — including Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Nick Adams.

But, the quintessential rebel was James Dean, star of “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without A Cause” and “Giant.” That’s all — three movies, made within an 18-month span, released over two years. Then he died in a car wreck at the age of 24 and a legend was born. Sept. 30, 1955.

Only “East of Eden” had been released before his death.

The influence Dean and his fellow rebels had on pop culture is immeasurable. When joined by the early purveyors of rock ‘n’ roll music, it is safe to say the two groups shattered the saccharine tones of the bobby-soxers era and brought in a cruder, brasher view of life.

The music was faster, harsher and sexier; the movies were darker, more serious and less puerile. While the early attempts at rock music and method acting may seem tame by modern standards, they were a shock to mores of the ’50s.

The 64th anniversary of Dean’s death is a good time to look back at what those rebels wrought.

Certainly the rebels of the ’50s paved the way for the rappers and the R-rated world we live in today. Progress? Well . . . maybe. Change? Certainly.

(A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.


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