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December 13

James Dean

The Pepsi commercial was James Dean’s first acting job. He earned $30 for laughing, banging on the piano, and sipping soda.

Photo by John Kobal Foundation/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1950: Rebel Without a Coke
James Dean appears in a Pepsi ad
An undiscovered actor named James Dean wound up playing a fun-loving teenager in an early Pepsi commercial. He’s the fellow who whacks the player piano, prompting it to magically play a dance tune. As luck would have it, the handsome Dean caught the eye of folks casting a show called Hill Number One, landing him the part of John the Baptist.

More Hollywood roles followed, then a couple of parts on Broadway. All of these early assignments set the stage for feature roles in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, films with which Dean is most closely identified. Seen in his short life as both a heartthrob and an actor who showed great promise, James Dean also came to embody the restless, but idealistic American teenager.
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