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 to pursue an acting career in Hollywood.
His career launched acting in commercials, television specials and walk-on roles in feature films. To make ends meet but stay connected to acting opportunities, Dean worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios. He found a mentor at CBS Studios, who convinced Dean to move to New York to advance his career and broaden his acting chops. 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.
James Dean got one of his biggest breaks when New York’s revered and exclusive Actors Studio accepted him as a student. There, he studied method acting with the best instructors of that time. He defined and refined his cool persona depicting the classic teenage loner at the Actors Studio, that led to numerous auditions. Then, Dean landed several roles portraying different versions of a rebellious youth in various television and theater roles in New York before moving on to film.
In 1955, he got his first big Hollywood break. He was called 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 agitated attitude. His final role was in Giant acting next to some of the greatest actors in history, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. In this film, 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 was killed in a car accident in California at the age of 24 on his way to his next race. He died 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 visit 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.
Places to stay when you are visiting the James Dean sites.
Cool places in dine.
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