FAIRMOUNT, Ind. (WISH) — James Dean was the epitome of cool. The Hollywood rebel who left us wanting more.
But behind the good looks and the mysterious grin was a Hoosier.
Imagine that: The coolest guy in the room, the most iconic Hollywood legend, was an Indiana farm boy.
“He was just an ordinary guy; no one dreamed at the time when he was here that he would be a movie star,” said Marcus Winslow.
Winslow knew Dean well: They were cousins, raised in the same house, where Winslow still lives.
“His dad and my mother were brother and sister, and after his mother passed away, he came here to live with my mom and dad, which would’ve been his aunt and uncle. He helped dad on the farm and played basketball and was involved in school plays and things like that,” Winslow said.
The family farm is just outside downtown Fairmount, where David Loehr opened up a James Dean Gallery in 1988.
“Well, I had this huge James Dean collection. I had been living in New York and moved out here, and this big old house was available, and we set up the exhibit. And it’s been 31 years now, and over 400,000 people have come through the front door,” Loehr said.
Loehr said he’s not surprised that — even after all of these years — people are still fascinated by Dean.
“He was just so popular. We get a lot of young kids, a lot of teenage girls who are still crazy about him. Taylor Swift did a song about him not long ago. All of these young girls are coming in because of that, and the Jonas Brothers just did a song where they mention him, so he’s constantly turning up in popular culture,” Loehr said.
Dean was killed in a car accident on Sept. 30, 1955, in California. And every year on that day people from all across the world come to Fairmount, Indiana, to remember Dean’s life and legacy. This year, there were more than 20,000 people.
“All year we work together to organize it so that it can occur,” said Dorothy Schultz with the Fairmount Historical Museum, the group behind the James Dean festival.
“There’s a huge car show, there’s a James Dean look-alike contest, there’s a lasso contest, which takes place because of his role in Giant. There’s a parade that goes on right over here. It’s a great time. Thousands of people come from all over the world just to pay tribute to him,” Schultz said.
Many of those people also visit Dean’s gravesite, where flowers from this year’s festival and remnants of lipstick still remain. The gravesite’s not more than a mile away from the house where Dean and Winslow grew up.
“Any funeral is sad for a family member, but it was extra bad when you had so many people around you that you didn’t know and it’s never let up really,” Winslow said.
When Dean died actress Natalie Wood said, “All of us were touched by Jimmy, and he was touched by greatness.”
If you ask the people in his hometown, she just might have been right.