The “Rebel Without a Cause” is not without his fans. Forty years after his death, they refuse to let his memory fade.
An estimated 250 of them gathered in James Dean’s hometown Saturday to dedicate a park in his name.
Brian McKay, a 33-year-old waiter from Perth, Australia, hoarded tips for years to finance his pilgrimage.
“This has been 15 years in the making, and I know it’s worth it,” said McKay, who arrived Friday with a friend from Australia.
Dean died in a car wreck in Southern California on Sept. 30, 1955. He was 24. His legacy of just three feature films - “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant” - captured an image of a brooding sex symbol that still draws a worldwide following.
Fairmount, a farm town of 3,200 about 65 miles northeast of Indianapolis, has encouraged the legend of the man locals called Jimmy.
The centerpiece of James Dean Memorial Park is a larger-than-life bronze bust that captures his characteristic swooped-back hair, cocked head and mischievous grin. A plaque reads: “This is not a monument to a rebel, those were only roles he played.”
At the sunset dedication, actor Frank Mazzola paid tribute with words from a Mayan prayer.
“Jimmy was a light that will shine forever,” said Mazzola, who got into a knife fight with Dean in “Rebel.” “I think essentially that’s what he gave us.”
Retired Fairmount High School drama teacher Adeline Nall, 89, thought her old student would have approved of the honor: “I think he would be expecting it by now.”
Much of the $25,000 collected for the park’s construction was donated by Masao Hayashi, a Japanese businessman whose son died before realizing his longtime dream of visiting Fairmount.
Lenny Prussack, a New York City native also drawn to Fairmount by Dean’s aura, recalls that Hayashi visited Fairmount two years ago with family members and friends of his late son, Kentaro.
“They were carrying these enlarged mounted photos of this dead boy, almost like they wanted him to ‘see’ the gallery,” said Prussack, who works at the gallery.
Marcus Winslow Jr., Dean’s cousin, has witnessed many similar displays over the years. As heir and protector of Dean’s image, Winslow says it’s something he has to put up with.
What he finds unpalatable, however, are stories that Dean was bisexual, a reckless lost soul, a difficult actor. Those just aren’t true, he says.
Dean lived in Fairmount with his parents, Winton and Mildred Dean, for a few years, then the family moved to Los Angeles in 1936, so the elder Dean, a dental technician, could take a job at a VA hospital.
When Mildred Dean died in 1940, the 9-year-old Dean was sent back to Fairmount to live with his aunt, Ortense, her husband, Marcus Winslow Sr., and their 13-year-old daughter, Joan. Marcus Winslow Jr. was born three years later.
His cousin recalls the two ice-fishing and Dean’s love for reading, drawing, cars and motorcycles.
After graduating from Fairmount High School, Dean returned to California in 1949. He studied acting at UCLA before he moved to New York, where he soon landed television roles.
Dean would return to Fairmount a half-dozen times over the years.
Winslow said Dean’s father was bitter that the Hollywood media branded him a coldhearted man who abandoned his son after his wife died of cancer. Winton Dean died in February at age 88.
“The truth was that he’d spent all his financial resources on his wife’s illness and he thought it was the best thing for his son that he come to Indiana,” said Winslow.
“Winton was very proud of Jimmy. We all were.”