Life Ain't Fair: James Dean and His Hometown
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
FAIRMOUNT, INDIANA - I've spent the majority of my teenage and young adult years playing competitive sports at a high level. Throughout those years I've learned a lot. I've learned that I love a fair fight, I don't like to cheat, and don't enjoy being cheated.
I've also learned that an official can't make the game fair, and neither can I. The game is the game, and games are rarely ever fair. Well that's how life works right? Life is life, and it ain't always fair.
James Byron Dean was born in Marion, Indiana, on February 8, 1931. He would soon leave the Hoosier state with his two parents and move to California. James Dean would learn that life wasn't fair at an early age. When he was just 9, Dean lost his mother due to uterine cancer.
"Mom became ill and passed out of my life at the age of nine. I never knew the reason for Mom’s death; in fact, it still preys on my mind." - James Dean, 1948 HS Writing Assignment
Dean's father sent him back to Indiana to live with his aunt and uncle. Dean took the train, along with his mother's casket, from Los Angeles, California to the Quaker town of Fairmount, Indiana.
James Dean, 1938
James Dean on the family farm in Fairmount, Indiana
James Dean went to Fairmount High School, where played varsity sports and of course, acted. The high school is no more, but the stage remains! The community of Fairmount has worked to preserve the original stage and incorporate it into a local park!
The school's last graduating class was in 1970. Fairmount High School consolidated and joined the newly formed Madison-Grant High School. James Dean, however, was a member of the 1949 graduating class, and after he crossed the stage he took his talents right back to California. (not his basketball talents)
James Dean, #3 for the Fighting Quakers!
Dean enrolled at Santa Monica College for a while and then gave UCLA a shot.
Biography.com - After appearing as Malcolm in the school's production of Macbeth, Dean dropped out of UCLA. His first television appearance was in a Pepsi Cola commercial, while his first big-screen parts, uncredited, were in 1951's Fixed Bayonets! and 1952's Sailor Beware, a comedy starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. To make ends meet, Dean worked as a parking-lot attendant at CBS Studios.
Dean would then move to the Big Apple, where he would go on to cement his legacy on the big screen. Dean starred in the iconic films: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant.
JamesDean.com - In just more than a year, and in only three films, Dean became a widely admired screen personality, a personification of the restless American youth of the mid-’50s. Dean was nominated for two Academy Awards, for his performances in East of Eden and Giant.
During his career, James Dean crossed paths with photographer Dennis Stock and the two went to Indiana with the intentions of creating a visual biography of Dean's life.
Independent.co.uk - Jimmy talked about his childhood in Fairmount, Indiana, with such feeling that Dennis told Jimmy that he would like to do a visual biography of his youth. No photographers at that time had ever visited the childhood home of an actor, because few actors had ever been willing to expose their roots, to admit that the seeds of their talent came from quite ordinary soil.
Here are a few of the legendary photos that Stock was able to capture of Dean during the visit.
Those familiar with James Dean are aware that acting wasn't his only interest. Dean, like many raised here in Indiana, enjoyed the speedway. While most of us get involved with autoracing by watching from the couch or in the grandstands, Dean got his thrill from behind the wheel.
LA Times, October 1, 1955 - James Dean, 24, one of Hollywood's brightest new motion-picture stars, was killed early last night in a head-on collision at the rural town of Cholame, about 19 miles east of Paso Robles, the California Highway Patrol reported.
The young actor met death in his German-built Porsche sports car while en route to road races at Salinas. Patrolmen said Dean was dead on arrival at the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital following the crash at the intersection of State Highway 41 and U.S. 466.
Life ain't fair in Fairmount, and life ain't fair in Hollywood. We don't play the game because it's fair, we play because it's the game. It's not fair that James Dean had his life end at 24. I'm 24 right now, and Dean's life makes me think about my future, makes me hope to even have one.
I cherish each day, but I have BIG goals in mind that I want to reach along the road.
As one strives to make a goal in a game, there should be a goal in this crazy world for all of us. I hope I know where mine is, anyway. I’m after it. - James Dean, 1948 HS Writing Assignment
You can read Dean's full essay written to his principle at Fairmount High School right here.