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James Dean

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

James Byron Dean was born in Indiana in 1931 and died in California when he crashed his Porsche Spyder in 1955. His career was brief but brilliant. He made just three films in a little over a year and personified the restless youth of America in the mid-50s.

Rebel Without A Cause was the story of three troubled and frustrated teenagers. It was a springboard to fame for Dean and his co-actors Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. Ironically, the three stars all met tragic early deaths.

Dean was nominated for Academy Awards for his roles in East of Eden and Giant. Director Elia Kazan's East of Eden was adapted from John Steinbeck's novel, an updated re-telling of the Biblical story of rival brothers Cain and Abel and a paradise lost. His co-stars were Julie Harris and Raymond Massey.

His last film Giant was adapted from Edna Furber's novel, set in Texas in the early 1920s. It was an indictment of an overbearing and racist culture, illustrating the callous discrimination faced by women and Mexican-descended Texans. Dean was cast with Hollywood luminaries such as Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker.

With just three films under his belt, it is amazing that the man whose life ended at 24 years of age is still remembered worldwide by fans who are known as 'Deaners'. The rebel actor made such an impact, Warner Bros is having a year-long tribute 50 years after his death.

Getaway travelled to Fairmount, Indiana in the west of the US, a town of fewer than 3000 residents surrounded by farmland. The town would be totally anonymous if not for James Dean. Fast food and chains have been kept out by the locals. They are content with small stores rather than mega malls and have kept the town as it was in the 1950s. There is plenty of James Dean memorabilia and each September it is the venue for the James Dean Festival.

Dean's boyhood home, Winslow Farm, is a perfect example of a midwest farmhouse. His mother died when he was just nine and his aunt and uncle raised him here with his cousins. His cousin Marcus Junior still lives here. While it is a beautiful house, it is not open to the public.

Lenny Prussack from the Rebel Rebel store on Main Street sells records, ashtrays, T-shirts and what he calls classic American nostalgia. Lenny, who wears 1950s clothing, will supply shoppers with a list of Things James Dean to see in the town.

The James Dean Gallery is the largest private collection of memorabilia and archives dealing with the actor's short life. It is a seven-room exhibit in a beautifully restored 1890 Victorian home on a tree-lined street. The collection belongs to David Loehr, who began collecting in 1974.

There are thousands of items, including clothing worn by Dean, high school yearbooks, school paper, snapshots, signed photographs and the lease to his last place of residence.

A new James Dean Gallery exhibit and gift shop is open at the Kruse Automobile Museum Complex in Auburn, Indiana.

Dennis Stock was one of the last people to speak to James Dean and the man responsible for many of the very familiar photographs of the star. He saw an advanced screening of East of Eden and was surprised when Dean agreed to be photographed at his family farm. They formed a strong friendship and in 1955 Stock took the famous photograph of Dean hunched into his trench coat at Times Square. Another irony is a picture taken by Stock of the actor lying in a coffin. He was killed just one month later. The Armes-Hunt Funeral Home, established in 1903, is where Dean's body was taken.

From sleepy Fairmount the crew went to Hollywood where Dean's life ended. The towns could not be more different, but in each his presence is still strong.

He initially lived in California until the death of his mother, when he returned to Fairmount to be cared for by his aunt and uncle. After graduation, he returned to California where he attended Santa Monica Junior College and UCLA. His acting abilities landed him television commercials and small film and stage roles and he worked as a busboy to supplement his existence.

He was very proud in 1952 when he became a member of the Actors Studio, along with luminaries such as Marlon Brando, Julie Harris and Arthur Kennedy.

Santa Monica High School was transformed into Dawson High School in Rebel Without A Cause, where James Dean as Jimmy Stark was in trouble on his first day for standing on the school emblem. In real life it was attended by Rat Pack members Rob and Chad Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn and Robert Downey Jnr.

Chateau Marmont, based on a French castle, has been a Hollywood fixture since 1927. It was the location for a steamy scene between James Dean and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without A Cause. Some believe the romance continued when the cameras stopped rolling.

The Intersection of Routes 41 and 46 in Cholame is the site of the crash that ended James Dean's life. He had owned the Porsche Spyder for just nine days.

Jack Ranch Café, at the site, features the James Dean Memorial. Made of stainless steel and aluminium alloy and wrapped around an oleantheum tree, it is surrounded by a garden of polished Japanese stones and plaques inscribed with quotes from people who were influential in the actor's life.

Like most screen idols, James Dean has his place on Hollywood's Walk of Fame; you'll find his star just up from Hollywood and Vine.


Fairmount Indiana in the US midwest.


The James Dean festival in Fairmount Indiana will be held between September 27-30, 2007. James Dean Gallery entry is around $7.

More information

Rebel Rebel
425 North Main Street
Fairmount IN 46928 USA
Ph: 0011 1 765 948 3326

The James Dean Gallery
425 North Main Street
Fairmount IN 46928 USA
Ph: 0011 1 765 948 3326

James Dean Gallery
Kruse Automobile Museum Complex
Exit 126 off Interstate #60
Auburn IN 46928 USA
Ph: 0011 1 260 927 9144

Santa Monica High School
Pico Boulevard and 4th Street
Santa Monica CA 90405 USA
Ph: 0011 1 301 395 3204

Jack Ranch Café
Off Highway 46
Cholame CA 93461 USA
Ph: 0011 1 805 238 5652

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