By: Ann Warr - Fairmount Historian
James Byron Dean, son of a dental technician and a farmer's daughter, Winton A. and Mildred Wilson Dean, was born February 8, 1931, in the "Seven Gables" apartment house, 4th and McClure St., Marion. Jimmy was the gradson of Mr. & Mrs. Charles Dean, Fairmount and Mr. and Mrs. John Wilson, Gas City.
Mr. & Mrs. Dean, with their young son, moved to Fairmount shortly after his birth to reside in three homes within town limits and a small home located at the north edge of the Winslow farm, before moving to California when Jimmy was five years of age. Dean's mother died of cancer when he was nine years old. His mother was buried in Grant Memorial Pak, Marion. The family decided that Jimmy would live with his aunt and uncle, Marcus and Ortense Winslow and cousin Joan on their farm north of Fairmount. Jimmy was 13, when his cousin Marcus Jr., was born.
He started to school at the Fairmount West Ward (Old Academy) and entered Fairmount High School in 1945 where he was very successful in sports, drama, art, and band. At graduation exercises in May of 1949, he received the dramatic, art, and athletic awards. He also placed first in the Indiana State Contest of the National Forensic League with his presentation of "The Madman" by Dickens, and sixth in the National contest held at Longmont, Colorado.
After graduation he enrolled in college in California (U.C.L.A.) where he majored in drama for two years before leaving U.C.L.A. for New York. Jimmy pounded the pavement of Broadway for two years seeking a "break" on the stage. His first role was in the play See the Jaguar with Arthur Kennedy and Constance Ford. Later, as the blackmailing Arab in The Immoralist, he won the Daniel Blum Award as the most promising newcomer of 1954 and a movie contract with Elia Kazan for East of Eden. He also appeard in some of the best TV programs, including Schlitze Playhouse, Studio One, and Kraft Theater.
The movie-going public first saw James Dean on the screen in East of Eden with Julie Harris. In this film, Jimmy was an overnight sensation. Fame and fortune seemed his. In his second film Rebel Without a Cause he was ably supported by co-stars, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. For his performance in East of Eden he was nominated for an Academy Award. He received the first Audience Poll Award as Best Actor in 1955. His film awards with many other artifacts and memorabilia from the family collection are on display in the Dean Memorial Exhibit at the Fairmount Historical Museum, 203 East Washington St., Fairmount, Indiana.
Jimmy had looks, appeal, talent, a serious attitude toward his profession and a keen desire to become a director. His friends and co-workers felt his sensitivity and talent. Rugged sports were a necessity in his life. Often at Warner Brothers Studio he would spar with an athletic coach. His first purchase in Hollywood was a beautiful Palomino horse, next a motorcycle and finally his $7,000 German made sports car, a Porshe Spyder 550. During the filming of Giant with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, the studio forbade him to engage in any kind of sports racing. The day after the film was completed, Jimmy was happily preparing for one of the year's most important and exciting sports car racing events. He left Los Angeles headed for the race in his Porshe--suddenly at the intersection of Routes 466 and 41 near Cholame, a car appeared--a collision and death came instantly to Dean at age 24, September 30, 1955. Jimmy was brought back to Fairmount and laid to rest in the Winslow family plot in Park Cemetery, Fairmount, a short distance from the farm home where he grew up. Funeral Service were held at the Fairmount Friends Church, October 8, 1955.
This young man from Fairmount--his memory will live on--the handsome, gifted, fascinating and restless boy on his way to become one of the greatest actors of his time, through his films, the museum, his fans and the annual Fairmount "Museum Days" Festival--Remebering James Dean the last three day weekend in September.