James Dean and Paul Newman were filmed together in a crude screen test in New York that still exists, according to Dean biographer David Dalton in "The Mutant King" (1974). In the screen test, Newman is quite cool and stares straight ahead while Dean is more animated, and is flipping something up and down in and out of his hand like George Raft and his nickel in Scarface. When Dean is asked what the object is, he admits that it is a switchblade, the premier symbol of the juvenile delinquent menace much feared in the 1950s. In an excerpt of the test now available on the Internet, there is no evidence of Dean playing with a knife.
James Dean refused to attend the premiere party, which almost cost him the lead in Rebel Without a Cause
James Dean would provoke Raymond Massey off-camera so that the elder actor would hate him and he could get into character easier.
Timothy Carey, who had a small part as Joe the bouncer, drove director Elia Kazan to such distraction with his bizarre behavior that Kazan, a longtime avowed pacifist, physically attacked him, the only time he had ever done such a thing.
Elia Kazan first toyed with the idea of casting Marlon Brando as Cal and Montgomery Clift as Aaron, but at 30 and 34 years old, respectively, they were simply too old to play John Steinbeck's teenage brothers. Ironically, the youthful-looking Paul Newman, who was one year Brando's junior, was a finalist for the part of Cal, which eventually was played by Newman's friend James Dean. Dean was seven years younger than Newman.
Elia Kazan, in his autobiography "A Life" (1988), said that Raymond Massey came to despise James Dean. Kazan did nothing to dispel the tension between the two, as it was so right for their characters in the film.
Jack L. Warner was opposed to the casting of Julie Harris, since she was a decade older than her character.
Average Shot Length (ASL) = 10 seconds
During the production of the film, Elia Kazan used to write letters to his friend John Steinbeck, with whom he had worked closely on the original screenplay for Viva Zapata!, to keep him abreast of the film's progress. Steinbeck thought James Dean was a perfect Cal, and tremendously enjoyed the final film.
Film debut of Richard Davalos.
In the scene where Adam refuses to accept Cal's money, the script called for Cal to turn away in anger from his father. It was James Dean's instinct to embrace him instead. This came as a surprise to Raymond Massey, who could think of nothing to do but say, "Cal! Cal!" in response.
The Bible quotes are from Psalm 32 verses 1-2 and 5-7 (the reading at the table) and Genesis chapter 4 verses 9 and 16 (quoted by the Sheriff).
The New York premier was at the Astor Theater on Times Square in Manhattan. Among those in attendance were Marilyn Monroe, Carol Channing, Milton Berle, John Steinbeck and Joel Grey. The night was a benefit for the famed "Actors Studio".
This is the only one of the "big three" James Dean films to be released before his death.
Upon being introduced to James Dean on the set, author John Steinbeck exclaimed, "Jesus Christ, he IS Cal!"