By Emily Schilling
James Dean truly was the man, the myth and the legend. The Fairmount, Indiana, native may have lived fast and died young, but even after his death on Sept. 30, 1955, his iconic presence endures.
I’ve been intrigued by Dean since my freshman year of college. I fell under his charismatic spell during a humanities class movie screening of “Rebel Without a Cause.” I thought it was so cool that he was a Hoosier and, in the age before Google, I set out to learn more about him the old-fashioned way: books.
I found out about his growing-up years, his early career, and his love of racing cars. I discovered his other movies — including one of my all-time favorites, “Giant.” This epic three-plus-hour-long classic chronicles the lives of a wealthy Texas ranch owner, his family, and the ranch hand (Dean) who strikes it rich when he discovers oil. Dean had just finished filming the movie when he died in a car crash enroute to a road race. He was only 24.
Each year, the town of Fairmount has commemorated the anniversary of his death by celebrating his life on the last full weekend of September. Events have included a look-alike contest, a 1950s dance contest, screenings of his three films and a parade. Authentic James Dean memorabilia is displayed, too.
This year’s Remembering James Dean Festival, which would have acknowledged 65 years since his death, has been canceled due to the pandemic. Although fans from near and far won’t be converging on his Indiana home this month, they will continue to do what the festival was designed to do: remember James Dean. And, while around the world he remains an ageless representation of teenage angst, in Fairmount he is much more than a legend. He is one of the community’s own. Isn’t that really the best way to be memorialized?
EMILY SCHILLING is editor of Indiana Connection