A growing anti-establishment culture, baby boomers with disposable income, growing cultural sexual consciousness, and an industry reaching out to a younger audience all combined to propel the Dean myth to almost dizzying heights, said Sharrett.
"He's kind of like Orpheus or Dionysus, the figures from antiquity who are kind of androgynous. They're challenges to a society, they're very charismatic, they die young, and they're martyrs, actually. It's an old, old myth. It's the story of the dying and reviving god. You could say Dean, in some way, without stretching the point too much, is kind of a messianic figure.
"He symbolizes the promise of eternal youth, eternal rebirth, because you've got this image after all. But the fact is the image we have of him is this blond, good-looking guy with that interesting squint, that kind of wary look as if he's skeptical of the whole world with his red jacket and his tight jeans, and that very interesting sexuality, which has not been transcended."