In Memory of JAMES DEAN
"...dream as if you'll live forever,
live as if you'll die today.."
When he died, he had Liz Taylor's phone number in his little black
book, along with the bug exterminator, proving even rebels must at
times lead normal lives.
James Byron Dean, Hoosier farm boy, alias the universal symbol of
adolescent attitude died over 45 years ago in September of 1955. It
was an abrupt conclusion to a life and a career, both revved up and
cruising in high gear.
Dean was only 24 years old when his Porsche Spyder collided with
another vehicle on a California highway. He had just completed
filming his third and final motion picture, Giant, with co-stars
Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.
The impact of this collision was felt around the country, but nowhere
more than the Indiana farming community of Fairmount, where Dean was
born and where he spent much of his childhood. The town would never
be the same.
Playing with his cousin, Markie, in Fairmount
At the Sweethearts Ball in Fairmont, February 14, 1955
(seven months before his death)
In life, Dean preferred the fast-paced life in New York City and
Hollywood where he could perform before an audience, but in death he
will forever reside in the rural Midwest town he called home. No place
could be further from the fast lane, yet he still has his audience and
his dedicated fans.
Since that September day, the icon James Dean has inspired songs,
hundreds of articles, numerous books, monuments, fan clubs, movies and
plays. The young man given the label, The Rebel Without A Cause,
created a sensation not only in the US, but around the world. Fans of
all ages still trek to Fairmount from as far away as Australia and
Japan. Dean's instantly recognizable image, the dangling cigarette and
the characteristic slouch, has been deeply etched into our own
James Dean in the 130, Spyder Porshe
But was James Dean really the rebellious, lost
youth as he's been typecast? Dean was active in school, playing guard on the basketball team, was
on the baseball team, and a champion pole vaulter. Even with poor
eyesight and a slight build he was considered a well-rounded athlete.
He rode his horse and played ice hockey with his buddies. Although
his grades were only average, Dean won a speech contest and an art
award. He participated in the drama club, winning yet another award
and joined the senior class trip to Washington D.C. It hardly sounds
like the description of a tough and aimless young man. His classmates
remember him as "just one of the guys."
Like other young men his age, James Dean was enamored with motorcycles
and speed. Residents of Fairmount recall seeing teenage Dean
plowing through farm fields and careening about town on his 1947
Czech Whizzer, the first in a line of motorcycles. His antics on the
cycle cost him his two front teeth and at least four sets of
eyeglasses. Youthful exuberance and high spirits yes, but hardly
unusual for a teenage boy with a set of wheels.
Dean found his true avocation in acting. In his short career, he
starred in only three movies. The first was East of Eden, adapted
from a John Steinbeck novel. But, Jimmy Dean is best remembered for
his second starring role in the film Rebel Without a Cause, originally
intended as a vehicle for the fast-rising star, Marlon Brando.
Ironically, Dean was already in his grave by the time the picture
opened in October 1955. His final film, Giant, also premiered after
James Dean was twice nominated, posthumously, for an Academy Award in
the best actor category, though he didn't win.
Rebel or not, Fairmount cherishes their favorite son, whether for the
tourism revenue or in genuine affection. Most of the town's
residents, including Dean's family, expected visitors during the first
few years after his sudden death, but no one could have predicted the
phenomenon would continue for four decades. As of now, it shows
no signs of stopping. Fairmount, population 3000, manages to retain
it's small town simplicity regardless of the continuing hubbub over
And why is that? Is it the lost potential we mourn when a young man
dies just when the world had begun to stand and take notice?
Afterward, we're left to think of what might have been. Still
another theory suggests we appreciate Dean all the more because he
died long before he could disappoint us. Or perhaps it's his
charismatic screen presence and natural acting ability they admire.
The following quote might sum it up best:
"...There is no simple explanation for why he has come to mean
so much to so many people today. Perhaps it is because, in his
acting, he had the intuitive talent for expressing the hopes and
fears that are part of all young people ... in some movie magic way,
he managed to dramatize brilliantly the questions every young person
in every generation must resolve.."
Just two weeks before the car crash which took his life, Dean taped
a public service television commercial with actor Gig Young, for the
National Safety Council. The topic: highway safety.
FINAL PHOTOS OF JAMES DEAN ...
Filling up that final day
A photo snapped by a fan
who recognized Dean as he drove by; taken just minutes before the
On September 30, 1955, James Dean & his mechanic were driving his
Porsche Spyder from Hollywood to a sports car race in Salinas when,
late in the afternoon around Cholame, a young Cal-Poly student turned
left in front of them on his way home to Fresno for the weekend. The
crash crumpled the tiny Porsche race car and instantly killing Dean,
with the mechanic (who survived) being through out of the car.
Donald Turnipseed, the student, lived until just a few years ago
(November 2000), claiming to his death he never saw Dean's car.
Ironically, Dean's last words were "He's GOT to see us."
The crash scene ... loading the victim
One last ride
"Every man has to die,
but not every man lives"
For anyone who wants to know the real James Dean, I highly
recommend Elizabeth Sheridan's fantastic book Dizzy & Jimmy,
which chronicals one of the greatest love stories of all time.
I personally consider Dizzy (as she was known then) as the closest
thing to being "James Dean's Widow", because theirs was a love that
you only find once in a lifetime, if you're fortunate.
Liz went on play many roles through the years, and is probably best
known for her portrayal as Jerry's Mom on "Seinfeld".
But after reading her incredible book documenting her relationship with
Jimmy, she will forever be linked as the great love of James Dean's life.
In one of the stars, I shall be living,
In one of them I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing
When you look at the sky at night
You, only you, will have stars that can laugh.
(from The Little Prince)