One of America’s greatest cultural icons hails from right here in Grant County. James Dean was born in Marion, Indiana in 1931, later moving to his aunt and uncle’s farm in Fairmount, Indiana. Dean became popular among his classmates and participated in many extracurriculars, such as baseball, basketball, drama and public speaking. Dean eventually headed to California and pursued acting.
He started his career acting in commercials, television specials and walk-on roles in feature films. During this time, Dean worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios. Dean found a mentor at CBS Studios, who convinced Dean to move to New York to further his career. After arriving in New York, Dean had a short stint as a stunt tester for a popular game show and appeared in a few more television shows.
Dean then gained admission to New York’s revered and exclusive Actors Studio where he studied method acting with thebest teachers of the time. He refined his cool persona depicting the classic teenage loner at the Actors Studio, earning him numerous auditions. Dean portrayed different versions of the rebellious youth in various television and theater roles in New York before moving to film.
In 1955, he got his first big break Hollywood called him back to play the emotional and complex character, Cal Trask, in East of Eden. He soon became a celebrated icon of 1950s angst and rebellion. Dean improvised most of his performance, which would later earn him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Shortly after wrapping his first film, Dean took on his most iconic role. Most people will recognize the Hollywood star from his role in Rebel Without a Cause in the famed red jacket and angsty attitude. His final role was in Giant acting next to some of the greatest actors in history. Dean shed his bad boy persona, earning him another Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Jett Rink.
When Dean wasn’t acting, he was racing cars. After the success of East of Eden, he purchased two racing cars. He competed in his first professional racing event in 1955, winning first place in the novice class and second place in the main event. Tragically, Dean passed at the age of 24 while traveling to his next race before Rebel Without A Cause and Giant premiered. Dean was brought back to Fairmount for his funeral and final resting place.
James Dean’s short life left a big impact on American culture. He brought to life the teenage experience in the 1950s on both the small and silver screens. His cool demeanor still resonates today. The James Dean Landmarks Trail allows visitors the opportunity to where he was born, significant places in his life and his final resting place. Many James Dean fans make the pilgrimage to Fairmount every September to celebrate his legacy at the James Dean Memorial Service and Remembering James Dean Festival.