Dean made only three films before he died in the wreck of his sports car. But each film was dominated by his intense, brooding image of the teenage rebel. A painfully sensitive face, full of hurt and the bewilderment of misunderstood youth was Jimmy Dean's tool. David McCallum had that same waifish appeal.
He was cast, or perhaps the word is type-cast, as the mixed-up kid brother of Belinda Lee in "The Secret Place." Ironically, the lovely young actress was killed in a car crash shortly after completing the film.
Another mixed-up kid brother part awaited David in "Hell Drivers," which starred toughies Stanley Baker and Patrick McGoohan. David played Baker's crippled brother. A very touching performance.
After the drama of "The Secret Place" and "Hell Drivers," David was plunged into a good old adventure yarn in "Robbery Under Arms."
This time, David wasn't anybody's kid brother in particular, but was cast as the husband of a highly-individualistic blonde beauty called Jill Ireland. This pleased him no end, since only a few weeks before he had spotted her picture in a newspaper and put it in his wallet, hoping to meet her.
Seven days after meeting Jill for the first time, David proposed, not quite knowing how she would react, since she was confidently expected to marry another actor at that time.
David's mother recalls the outcome of that proposal:
"David rang one morning and said 'we'll be round for coffee.' I was just wondering who 'we' was when he walked in with this lovely girl and announced that they were married."
Jill and David said their "I wills" without fuss or publicity at the North Islington Register Office on 11th May, 1957. If their marriage was a surprise to their parents, it came as an even bigger surprise to their fellow film-makers when they arrived on the set the next day to do a wedding scene for the film, and confessed that they'd just played the scene for real.
Their honeymoon was as unconventional as their wedding. The bride's going-away outfit was a tangerine shirt, cashmere sweater and cavalry twill trousers, which was a reasonable combination for a honeymoon spent rock-climbing in the isle of Arran on the Clyde. In the evenings, the newly-weds relaxed with Mozart records.
Eventually, David had to get-back-to-it-all, and was plunged, characteristically, into a film about teenage violence in Liverpool. In "Violent Playground" he was back on the rebellious kid brother bit.
Director Clive Donner remembers him as one of the first British actors to study The Method. (The method being to think yourself inside the part.)
"Even when we weren't working on the film, David was working on his part. When we were on location on bomb sites in Bethnal Green he sat amid the rubble for hours just trying to get the feel of the atomosphere."
David turned in a beautiful performance. His big scene, where he terrorised a classful of school-children by keeping them prisoners while on the run with only a sawn-off shotgun on his side, was a classic. And critics began to wonder if he was something more than a teen idol with a chip on his shoulder.
The big build-up for David McCallum reached new heights. He was given his own dresser, responsible for his on-set and off-set wardrobe. He was promoted by his own publicist, who remembers him as "a very professional working chap." And his face was photographed from every conceivable angle. Mainly by a gentleman called Cornel Lucas who recalls:
"David had an interesting face. Good bone structure. But not, I would have thought, the face of a star. But, then, how can you tell?
"I used to go to parties at his flat after he and Jill married. They lived on the top floor of a house in Cromwell Road. The people who went there were mostly actors and painters. Artistic people. We used to sit around and talk into the small hours.
"He had strong views on acting and was a keen Method actor. I couldn't see him settling down in glossy Hollywood, and was surprised when he went to America. Perhaps he thought he was a failure here. He was certainly well before his time. The leading men of that time in Britain were the romantics. The Dirk Bogardes and the Kenneth Mores."
It was with Kenneth More that David made his next film...a small but important role in "A Night To Remember," the story of the ill-fated Titanic. He was still in uniform in "The Long, The Short And The Tall," which followed.
"David played a cowardly soldier," I was told by Leslie Norman, who directed the film. "Quite out of character, of course. He was a great little worker...sincere, dedicated and never a 'pusher.' He was friendly, but he never went off for a drink with the other actors. He would sit at the side of the set, quietly reading. Whenever we talked, it was always about the theatre, which he loved.
"I'm not surprised that he's become a teenage idol. I'm only surprised that it happened in America. He seemed to shy and retiring ever to make it in brash Hollywood."
Before "brash Hollywood" claimed him, David appeared in "Billy Budd," "Freud," and "The Great Escape." The star of "Freud" was Montgomery Clift, a restless, neurotic person who is usually somewhat unapproachable. Curiously, the gentle David was one of the few people on the film to get through to him.
"The Great Escape" set was different altogether. Swash-buckling James Garner, fresh from his Mississippi gambler roles in TV's "Maverick," had a permanent card school. Cards bored David. He spent most of the time with Jill. When she was rushed off to a German hospital during location work David worried himself sick. He was very grateful to the hospital when Jill was allowed to leave after the wonderful treatment at the hands of the doctors and nurses.
David was due for another lucky break... the biggest one of his film career. He was offered the key role of Judas in the important Cinerama epic "The Greatest Story Ever Told." The big snag was that the film was to be made in Hollywood over a long period. David and Jill talked it all out and packed their bags.
The boy that no-one thought could survive in Hollywood was on his way. But there was a big surprise around the corner for him.