Warner Brothers bought the right to psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner’s 1944 book, Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath, intending to use just the title for a film. Attempts to create a film version in the late 1940s eventually ended without a film or even a full script being produced.
In 1947, Marlon Brando was a 23 years old stage actor playing Stanley Kowalski in a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Warner Brothers called him in to film a screen test with fragments from one of the partial scripts. He read the lines for a character named Harold who – like the final film’s protagonist Jim Stark – was a rebellious teenager.
The five-minute screen test opens with a shot of a clap board bearing the movie’s title and Brando’s name plus the following details: “Age: 23, height: 5’10”, weight: 170, hair: brown, experience: stage 3 years.”
Brando was not cast in the role and eventually made his film debut in 1950, when he starred as a disabled former soldier in The Men.
Rebel Without a Cause was shelved until Brando’s The Wild One (1953) opened floodgates for dramas about American youth. Director Nicholas Ray, then working on a similar project, was brought in to direct the film, which was shot in 1955 – 8 years after the original Brando screen test – with a totally new script written in the 1950s.