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Positive reviews for Dean's 1954 theatrical role as Bachir, a pandering North African houseboy, in an adaptation of André Gide's book The Immoralist (1902), led to calls from Hollywood.

In 1953, director Elia Kazan was looking for a substantive actor to play the emotionally complex role of 'Cal Trask', for screenwriter Paul Osborn's adaptation of John Steinbeck's 1952 novel East of Eden.

The other two roles that defined his stardom were loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955) and surly ranch hand Jett Rink in Giant (1956).

After his death in a car crash, the only child of Mildred Marie (Wilson) and Winton Dean.

In contrast to the book, the film script focused on the last portion of the story, predominantly with the character of Cal.

Before casting Cal, Elia Kazan said that he wanted "a Brando" for the role and Osborn suggested Dean, a relatively unknown young actor.

Dean met with Steinbeck, who did not like the moody, complex young man personally, but thought him to be perfect for the part.

The most famous improvisation of the film occurs when Cal's father rejects his gift of ,000, money Cal earned by speculating in beans before the US became involved in World War I.

Instead of running away from his father as the script called for, Dean instinctively turned to Massey and in a gesture of extreme emotion, lunged forward and grabbed him in a full embrace, crying.

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