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James Dean
James Dean
Where he grew up
Where he grew up

James Dean

Thursday, September 29, 2005

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

Rebel Without A Cause was the story of three troubled and frustrated teenagers. The film was a springboard for Dean and his co-actors — Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo — and, ironically, the three young stars all met tragic and 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 those under his belt, it is quite amazing that the man whose life ended at just 24 years of age is still idolised and remembered world wide by fans who are known as "Deaners". The rebel actor created such an impact on the film industry, Warner Bros is having a year-long tribute, 50 years after his death.

Getaway travelled to Fairmount, Indiana, in the west of the United States, a town of fewer than 3000 residents. The town is surrounded by farmland, fields and country roads, and would be totally anonymous had James Dean been born anywhere else. Fast food and drugstore 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.

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

Lenny Prussack from the Rebel Rebel store on Main Street sells such things as records, ashtrays, tee 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 to see, including clothing worn by Dean in films and in his private life, high school yearbooks, school paper, snapshots, signed photographs and the lease to his last place of residence.

Dennis Stock was one of the last people to speak to James Dean and is 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.

The Armes-Hunt Funeral Home, established in 1903, is where Dean's body was taken. Another irony in the short life of James Dean is a picture taken by Dennis Stock of the actor lying in a coffin. He was killed just one month later.

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. A legend after just three films and as adored today as he was 50 years ago.

He 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, 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 Brat Pack members Rob and Chad Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn and Robert Downey Jnr.

The Chateau Marmont's design was based on a French castle and has been a Hollywood fixture since 1927. It has hosted everyone from Greta Garbo to Gwyneth Paltrow and was the location for a steamy scene between James Dean and co-star Natalie Wood in Rebel Without A Cause. Some believe the romance continued when the cameras stopped rolling, but we will never know for sure.

The Intersection of Routes 41 and 46 in Cholame is the site of the fatal crash that ended James Dean's life. He had owned the Porsche Spyder for just nine days — legend has it that it was cursed from the word go. The doctor who bought the salvaged engine parts was killed and a young man was seriously injured when the two surviving tyres he bought blew while driving.

Jack Ranch Café at the site has 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 United States' mid-west


James Dean Gallery entry is around $7.
Flight Centre has return flights to Indianapolis, valid for sale until March 31, 2006 and valid for travel between November 3 and December 8, 2005 and January 26 and April 1, 2006. Taxes are included. Conditions apply.
  • Sydney $2291
  • Brisbane $2302
  • Melbourne $2323
  • Adelaide $2584
  • Perth $2272
    To book call Flight Centre 131 600

    Air New Zealand has return economy airfares to Los Angeles valid for sale until December 31, 2005 and valid for travel between November 1and December 9 and February 1 and March 31, 2006. Taxes are included and conditions apply.
  • Melbourne $2329
  • Brisbane $2332
  • Sydney $2345
  • Perth $2766
    To book call Air New Zealand

    Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

    More information

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

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

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

    Chateau Marmont
    8221 West Sunset Boulevard
    West Hollywood CA 90046
    Ph: 0011 1 323 656 1010

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

    Air New Zealand
    Ph: (02) 8235 9960
    Fax: (02) 8235 9946
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