My Encounter with James Dean!
On our way home from Portland, Indiana, we stopped in Fairmount Indiana’s Grant County where James Dean lived most of his life. My knowledge of the mega star was really very small. I knew of his role in the movie Rebel Without a Cause and that he died in a car crash. I knew he is probably more famous today than when he died on September 30, 1955. What I didn’t know was that he grew up on a farm and that during our visit we would be able to interview James Dean’s cousin!
James Dean’s Story
We learned during our stop in Fairmount that James Dean was born on February 8, 1931, in Marion, Indiana. I read that there is a Memorial at the birthplace site. In an interview his cousin Marcus Winslow, he shared, “James Dean lived here in Fairmount ages after his mom, Mildred Dean, passed in California, but they had lived here before they went to California so he kind of knew everyone.”
So the Dean family lived in Fairmount until James, who was called Jimmie was five. Then they moved to Santa Monica where his father Winton worked as a dental technician. Marcus mentioned that he was very close to his mother.
In July 1940 his mother died of cancer and his father unable to take care of him sent him back to Fairmount, Indiana. There he lived with his Aunt and Uncle Marcus and Ortense Winslow.
Marcus said that Jimmie was like a brother to him. According to the brochure that we got at the James Dean Gallery it stated, “Jimmie attended Farimount schools and was an average student. He participated in sports and excelled in basketball and track. He was a member of the Debate Club and took part in all of the school plays. Upon graduating from Fairmount High School in 1949, he returned to California and attended Santa Monica City College and later UCLA where he was a theater major and performed in a production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth(1950).”
In 1952 he moved to New York. He made three movies East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant only East of Eden was released before his death.
The James Dean Gallery
Our first stop was the James Dean Gallery. The Fairmount Historical Museum was closed during COVID-19, but thankfully owner David Loehr had the gallery open and was available to share his collection and knowledge with us. David Loehr had collected if not the largest, one of the largest collections of Dean memorabilia around. The collection includes childhood photos, high school yearbooks and personal items of James Dean’s.
Keith and I enjoyed the original movie posters and the stand up cardboard cutout of James Dean. There are also books and magazines, paintings, drawings and sculptures of Dean and more along with novelty items.
David Loehr’s interest in James Dean started while living in California after reading a book about James Dean and seeing all three of his movies. Starting in 1982 David Loehr offered a Walking Tour of James Dean’s New York Hangouts for ten years. Then after several visits back and forth to Fairmount, he finally opened the James Dean Gallery in 1988. “Over 400,000 people from 46 states and 22 countries visited last year,” David said.
Setting up an interview!
We bought the book James Dean by photographer Dennis Stock.
In this book I saw a picture of James Dean standing in front of a Minneapolis Moline UB on the Winslow farm where James Dean grew up after his mother passed away. We wondered it the tractor was still there and David said yes.
James cousin Marcus still lives on the farm and granted us an nterview about James and the tractor!
At the end of your tour at the James Dean Gallery David hooks you up with a map of the sites around town. He is very generous with his time and information. We purchased the book James Dean by Dennis Stock which is a photo essay of James Dean in New York and in Fairmount. David Loher mentioned that if it had not been for that book that they would not have many of the pictures of Dean in his hometown. He came home for this photo essay and Dennis Stock captured him and his essence on the farm and at his high school haunts.
There are several stops to see. There is the Back Creek Friends Church where the Winslow family went to church. There is the Carter’s Motorccyle Shop where Marcus said his father bought James his first cycle. There is of course the James Dean Gallery and the Fairmount Historical Museum. James Dean’s Gravesite and Mildred Dean’s Gravesite is also on the map as well as the Armes Funeral Home. Keith and I enjoyed posing like James Dean downtown as well.
The Interview with Marcus Winslow
Marcus Winslow was so gracious to let us visit the Winslow farm where James Dean spent most of his growing up years. He shared with us that Dennis Stock of Life Magazine came and took pictures. Watch for an article about the Minneapolis UB in an upcoming issue of Farm World!
We loved our visit to Fairmount. We learned that James Dean was not a rebel at all. According to the information we found, he was a quiet studious young man that loved to act and loved speed! He loved his family and to watch others. He is an icon that lives on in pictures, his films and the image that Hollywood has built. To see the real James Dean, head to Fairmount.