James Dean

The life and acheivements of James Byron Dean. His rise to stardom was tragically cut short.

James Dean was born in Marion, Indiana on February 8, 1931. His parents, Winton and Mildred (Winslow) Dean were upper-middle class, respectable citizens with high hopes for their son. Shortly after his birth his family moved from their modest apartment into a larger house with a yard in Fairmount, Indiana. By the time James was five he had lived in 4 such houses in Fairmount. Shortly before his sixth birthday his father's job as a dental technician required the family to relocate to Los Angeles.

Three years after their move to California, James lost his mother to cancer. No one told him how she died and in a school writing assignment in 1948, he writes;" it still preys on my mind." After the death of his mother James returned to Indiana to be raised by his Aunt and Uncle, Marcus and Ortense Winslow and their daughter Joan. Their home was a farm just north of Fairmount and it offered James a safe haven to recover from the death of his mother and to play with other children. The Winslows gave birth to a second child when James was an adolescent and his cousin Marcus was a source of great joy in his life.

James was a good student. He loved life and had high hopes for his future. In an essay he once listed seven different areas he thought he could build a career in. He felt as if the world were full of doors, waiting for him to open. He knew his strengths and was full of confidence. His Aunt and Uncle were very supportive of his many hobbies and pursuits; they enjoyed his enthusiasm for the arts.

He attended Fairmount High School and excelled in sports, music and drama. His classmates remembered him as a "happy, lighthearted young man full of warmth and energy." Upon Graduation he was awarded honors in Art, Drama and Athletics. His dramatic talents were recognized by the National Forensic League, where his portrayal of "The Madman" by Charles Dickens won him first place in the Indiana State division. He proceeded to the Nationals in Longmont, Colorado where he placed sixth.

After high school he returned to Southern California, to Santa Monica City College and studied law. He transferred to UCLA where he majored in drama for two years. During that short time he landed roles in quite a few commercials, on stage and in films. On the advice and encouragement of James Whitmore, his acting teacher, he moved to New York.

His presence in New York was a success. He appeared in seven television shows while pursuing a shot at a Broadway play. His employment as a busboy helped him make many contacts and eventually he got his "break." His performance in "See the Jaguar" with Arthur Kennedy and Constance Ford was memorable. Later, he was awarded the Daniel Blum Award for "The Most Promising Newcomer of 1954" for his performance in the role of a blackmailing Arab in the show "The Immoralist."

In late 1954 he went to California to film "East of Eden" with Julie Harris, an Elia Kazan film based on the John Steinbeck novel. James Dean was an overnight sensation. He was nominated for two Academy Awards and he received the Audience Poll Award for Best Actor (1955.) When production finished and he returned to New York he appeared in the television shows Schlitze Playhouse, Danger (with Mildred Dunnocks,) Studio One and Kraft Theater.

Following the success of East of Eden, James bought a palomino horse, a motorcycle and a Porsche Spyder 550. He enjoyed racing and was quite successful.

His second film offer came before Eden was even released and in 1955 he landed a role as Jim Starke in "Rebel Without a Cause" co-starring the beautiful young Natalie Wood and actor Sal Mineo. This film prompted his move to Hollywood. He participated in a Santa Barbara race following the filming of Rebel; not knowing it would be his last.

He then traveled to Marfa, Texas to film "Giant" with Elizabeth Taylor. Aware of his daredevil reputation, Studio Executives forbade him to participate in any dangerous activities during the shooting of the film - this included racing. In the fall, when the production had wrapped, he eagerly headed for a race in Salinas, Ca. On September 30, 1955 - the day after production ended he collided with another vehicle and was killed instantly.

His success, having starred in three films in one year, was unprecedented. Fans and film experts mourn the James Dean that might have been while treasuring the talents of the James Dean who was.

Funeral services were held a week after his death, friends and family waited with disbelief for the return of his body. He was laid to rest near the farm he grew up on, in the Winslow Family plot at the Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Illinois only blocks from his birthplace, only 24 years old.

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