In the 1950s, James Dean was the living embodiment of teen angst and swaggering cool. In death, he became a larger than-life legend, forever young and rebellious. And some would say that Dean’s restlessness in life carried over to his afterlife as well. James Dean was born in Marion, Indiana, on February 8, 1931, though by the time James turned 5 years old, the Dean family had moved to Los Angeles. He returned to Indiana following the death of his mother and was raised on a farm in Fairmount by his paternal uncle and aunt. After graduating high school, Dean pursued his dream of acting, first by attending UCLA and James Whitmore’s acting workshop, then by joining Marlon Brando and Juliet Harris in the prestigious Actors Studio in New York. Following rave reviews on Broadway, James Dean got his big Hollywood break and filmed East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause in quick succession. He used his new-found fame to finance the one thing he was more passionate about than acting: fast cars. He bought his first Porsche and began entering road races across Southern California. Dean was killed on September 30, 1955, in a freak highway accident. He was driving a rare, silver Porsche Spyder that he had nicknamed “the Little Bastard.” The car has become almost as legendary as its owner and is said to be “cursed.” Despite having only filmed three movies in his short career, James Dean was catapulted into legendary status, due in part to his untimely death at the tender age of 24. Dean was a maverick, with a reputation of being a hellion off-screen.
He became in death an immortal icon symbolizing American youth and the rebel mystique. Some would say James Dean’s spirit refused to die, and one need only visit his grave in Fairmount for the proof. Long-time fan Marc F. stated: “James Dean’s tombstone is a mecca for people that want to keep that fire alive, you know. We come there to feed off of that ‘something’ that he had…that perpetual cool. People leave their little mementos. Lipstick kisses on the headstone, flowers, photographs, beer, and cigarettes. It’s a ritual. And you can feel him there. His presence is strong. One night, as we started to leave, I thought I smelled a cigarette burning… just a whiff. I turned around, and the smoke I had left for Jimmy was gone and I could see a pinpoint of fire just off by the old Sycamore tree. I called out and it disappeared.” James Dean’s gravesite is open to the public year-round, and a festival is held in his honour annually.
Written by Bob Freeman Senior Investigator, Nightstalkers of Indiana
THE GRAVESITE OF JAMES DEAN
PARK CEMETERY, 1/2 MILE NORTH OF SR 26 ON CR 150 EAST