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Following in the Footsteps of a Rebel

Having studied violin and dance as a child, Dean’s teenage pursuits ran from motorcycles to athletics, “the heartbeat of every American boy,” as he wrote.

James Dean, 1955

Photo: archive photo

Even as his star was rising, James Dean was no stranger to Fairmount; in early 1955 he stopped by the downtown furniture store, where pulled a pitiful mug while posing for a photo in one of the store’s display caskets.

When he crashed his new Porsche Spyder days after wrapping production of his third movie, rumors circulated that the accident had left James Dean seriously injured, but still alive. A pink granite headstone in Fairmount, Indiana refutes the claim. The cemetery plot is just one of the many Grant County landmarks charting the short life of the Hollywood legend.

A plaque at the corner of 4th and McClure Streets in Marion marks the site of the 1931 birth of James Byron Dean. Spending his early years in a home at the corner of Vine and Washington Streets in Fairmount, Jimmy moved to California with his parents at age six, only to be sent back to Indiana three years later when his mother died. Taken in by his paternal aunt and uncle, devout Quakers, Dean spent his adolescence on the Winslow’s 180-acre farm on the north side of Fairmount.

Having studied violin and dance as a child, Dean’s teenage pursuits ran from motorcycles to athletics, “the heartbeat of every American boy,” as he explained in his high school autobiography. When he wasn’t in the gym, Dean hung around Carter’s Motorcycle Shop, formerly on the north side of town. In 1949, Dean graduated from Fairmount High School, at 201 South Vine Street, where he not only excelled in art and music but also made his acting debut.

Dean pursued theatre at UCLA , and in New York, where he joined the Actor’s Studio and was cast on Broadway, capturing the eye of director Elia Kazan, who cast him as the wayward Cal in East of Eden in 1954. His subsequent role as the angst-ridden Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause secured Dean’s legendary status, albeit posthumously. Rebel hit the box office four weeks after Dean’s death at twenty-four; the actor’s third movie, Giant, was released the following year.

Even as his star was rising, James Dean was no stranger to Fairmount; in early 1955 he stopped by the downtown furniture store, where pulled a pitiful mug while posing for a photo in one of the store’s display caskets.

It was only months later that Dean’s body returned to Fairmount, for viewing at the Hunt Funeral Home (now the Armes-Hunt Funeral Home), located at 415 South Main Street. After a funeral held at Fairmount Friends Church at 124 West First Street, James Dean was laid to rest in the city’s Park Cemetery.

Every September the Fairmount Historical Museum celebrates its native son’s life with the James Dean Festival, featuring movie screenings and look-a-like contests.

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