ABOVE: James Dean in 1950, looking even younger than his nineteen years.
TWELVE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, one teenager fought bravely in the Civil War, one fled the Holocaust, one made a Pepsi commercial, and one died of AIDS-related causes. Taylor Swift, who found fame as a teen, was born this day.
December 13 was a dreary day for most of the following. The soldier endured the very bloody Battle of Fredericksburg, the young Austrian said goodbye to everything he’d known, and the departed Ricky Ray was part of a tragic family.
DEC. 13, 1862: WALLACE A. BECKWITH, nineteen, displays “extraordinary heroism,” according to his Medal of Honor citation, at the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg. A Union private from Connecticut, Beckwith “gallantly responded to a call for volunteers to man a battery, serving with great heroism until the termination of the engagement.”
DEC. 13, 1938: OTTO NEWMAN, sixteen, flees Austria for England on the Kindertransport to escape Nazi anti-Jewish policies. He is one of 9,354 young people to escape Nazi-occupied areas through the Kindertransport, or Children’s Transport. Newman would later study at Oxford and thrive as a gambler, sportsman, businessman, and professor.
DEC. 13, 1950: JAMES DEAN, nineteen, makes his first television appearance in a Pepsi commercial and earns $30 for his work. One year later, he has his first speaking part in a war film titled Fixed Bayonets. Dean’s character says, “It’s a rear guard coming back,” a line that would be cut from the film.
Dean became a star with East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956). He died in a car crash on September 30, 1955, before the release of his last two films.
1989: TAYLOR SWIFT is born in Reading, Pennsylvania. At sixteen in 2006, she records a self-titled country album and follows it up with Fearless, which spends 11 weeks atop the Billboard 200 pop chart in 2008 and finishes as the number-one-selling album of 2009.
1992: RICKY RAY, fifteen, dies of AIDS-related causes at his home in east Orange County, Florida. The Ray brothers, Ricky, Robert, and Randy, had become national figures after an arsonist burned down the family home in protest of the boys’ desire to attend public schools in 1987. An advocate for AIDS treatment, Ricky “wanted people to understand AIDS is not just this word that happens to somebody else — it can happen to everybody,” his mother, Louise Ray, told the Orlando Sentinel