In Search of James Dean
 
 
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 I don't remember exactly what was happening. I think I had gotten into a argument with my girlfriend who traveled to Ohio from Calif to visit. I only remember thinking I'm going to go see James Dean's grave site. It was dark. I had no map. I knew it was one state over in Indiana. I was right on the border. I had this overwhelming feeling of wanting, maybe needing, to go see my dead hero. James Dean brought cool to the party. We had Pat Boone(God Father of Soul ). We had the Lennon Sisters, Perry Como, Tab Hunter, Dobie Gillis, Doris Day...and then this kid came out of Lee Strasberg's acting classes, along with Nick Adams, Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper, Steve McQueen They were a new breed. Out of all of these new faces, James Dean was different. He had this restlessness. He was a tough guy, if he wanted, but also had this fragile vulnerability.
 
He once had an interview with the infamous Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. She was so powerful, actors literally were terrified to be interviewed by her. She could make, or break you. He not only showed up late, he shuffled around her living room, mumbling his answers so that she had an impossible time getting quotes.

She became outraged. What did James Dean do ? He walked over to her mantel...picked up a flower vase and spoke into it, as if it were a microphone " Please, send Mr Dean's car for him, his interview is over," and then walked out. Even Hedda didn't have the power to stop this bizarre acting actor. He had just finished " Rebel Without a Cause" and "East of Eden."
 
That's who I was going to see. Everyone wanted to be that kind of cool. He was the new heart beat of a generation lost. I pulled into Fairmount with the morning sun shining into my eyes. It was just as I envisioned it. It had one main street, with stores on both sides. I was twelve when James Dean was killed. I combed my hair like his. I learned his slow rambling shuffle. I dangled my cigarette from my lips like he did. I was driving a car with California plates. He had been dead twelve years.
The town was used to strangers and stars coming to pay their respect. They seldom knew who was who. I found a diner open...parked, and did my best James Dean, as I entered. It was mostly filled with farmers wearing Bib overalls. The waitress was younger. She saw me pull up. I saw her peering out the window.
 
" You from Calif, huh. Come to see Jimmy ?" She asked, with her friendly mid western style.
 
I took a sip from my coffee. " Is it far from here ? " I mumbled.
 
She laughed, " Honey, nothings far from here," she grinned.
" You know that church you passed coming down main...just make a left and go straight, You'll go right by it, and a mile or so down the road is the Winslow farm where he was raised. If Ortense, or Marcus is around sometimes they invite you in. "
 
"Ortense ? " I asked, never hearing the name.
 
" Ortense and Marcus Winslow, they raised Jimmy," she said, as she poured more coffee.

"You an actor," she asked, as if she'd asked it a hundred times.
 
" No, I'm no-body...just want to pay my respects." I told her.
 
" Well, that's weird, she laughed. Everybody's an actor, or gonna be."
 
She looked at her watch. " You know what you should do...go down to the Newspaper and get you a copy of his accident. It's a copy of when we learned about Jimmy. It's pretty cool to have. " She said, then walked back behind the counter.

That was a great idea. I paid and walked out to the car. She was looking out the window as I stood there looking down the street for the newspaper office.

I gave the James Dean one hand wave...a waist high, palm down motion. James Dean... He received over a million fan letters in 1956, a year after he died. Why ? What nerve did he touch ? He was a mid-western, heartland kid, who played basketball and was a pole vaulter in high school. He was in acting classes. He loved music. He loved dance. He was not a super popular kid. What did he have that made people like me want to be like him ?
 
I got the paper. It was Headline Bold Print. James Dean killed in crash. Here it was twelve years after and people like me were traveling great distances to pay their respect, or as I found out later...disrespect. I found an open flower shop, and bought a dozen roses...six for Jimmy and six for Ortense. I then turned down the road that led to his grave site. I found the cemetery. It didn't take long to find his stone. They had placed a statue of him near his stone, shortly after his death, but a vulture stole the bronze head. Someone out there has it. They put another up...it was stolen, they finally gave up. I got out and slowly walked to his stone. The first thing I noticed was someone had chiseled out his middle initial "B". It stood for Byron. Then I saw the absolute chipping away at my hero's memorial. I was more than angry. I had brought with me a an ace of spades. I sat on his stone, and wrote, 
"Death is the only absolute truth" on it. It was something he had once said, and I remembered. Seems kind of immature, now, but that was just me, then. I scraped away  enough grass to bury it, then patted it down so you couldn't tell. 
 
I spent hours there, sitting in my car, walking through the cemetery. I was waiting on the sun to get warmer, then I was going to where he was raised. I left a half dozen roses on his stone. And, as stupid as it sounds now...a couple cigarettes and a book of matches.
I left there an drove a short distance until I saw the house. I recognized it from pictures I'd seen. There was an old man coming off the steps when I drove up.
 
"You come from California to see Jimmy ? He asked
 
"Yep, I lied. I brought these for Mrs Winslow, I held the flowers out for him to see.
 
He stood in the front door and waved me to come in. I could see an old basketball rim attached to the barn. That's where he practiced, I thought. I could feel him all around. I knew it was dumb to have someone you thought was so cool, you wanted to do all the things he did. I didn't care.

Ortense met me at the door, and I handed her the flowers. She thanked me and kept talking as she found a vase to put them in.
She told me to have a seat. All I could think of was this was the woman that raised James Dean from nine years old, when his mother died.
 
We talked about Jimmy, as she called him, and a little about me. Then she said,
 
" Well honey, I don't know what I can give you of Jimmys...been so many people come here wanting something," she said as she headed upstairs.
 
"Mrs Ortense, I don't want anything, except if I could just walk around the barn for a few minutes." I told her.
 
She had a surprised look. " I'm sure I could find something...an old comb...something. Man, there was something inside screaming for me to take it...get something, but I resisted. Something, I still kind of regret. We talked for quite a while, and then I knew it was time to go.
 
" Would you mind if I walked around the farm for a few minutes, Mrs, Winslow ? " I asked.
 
" Oh, heavens no, young man. You take your time, and thank you again for the flowers, that was very thoughtful. You come back anytime you want. You take care, " she said as she walked me to the door. " Bye now" she said as she shut the door and went back inside.
 
Looking back, I did some pretty strange things when it came to James Dean. But, that day I walked around, and tried to put myself in his place. Where would he go to be alone ? What trees would he climb...silly stuff. Eventually, I got back in the car and drove back towards the cemetery. I took one last look. I felt anger. People who thought they could chip away some cool to take home with them. There were flowers there from all over the world. I spent some time looking through those, then got back in the car and started home.
 
 I was still restless, and years before my traveling was over, I found myself outside of Paso Robles, where he was killed. He died on Sept 30th at 5:32 PM, on a little nothing highway. I managed to find a restaurant that had some people who were around that day. I was like a sponge. I wanted to soak up every piece of information I could. 


He was on his way to a race in Salinas, and had his mechanic, Mr Roth, in the car with him. He had just got a speeding ticket an hour before his crash, but it didn't prevent what seemed fated for him. I found out exactly where it happened. He was driving the car he was going to race. They had tried to stop him. They tried to convince him to let them haul it on the trailer, like they always did. But, he insisted he needed to get used to it.
 
There's a slight hill he had to come over on that highway. At the bottom of that hill was a little road that was on Jimmy's side. When he came over the hill, there was a car waiting to turn left unto it. Mr, Roth was quoted as saying this might have been the only person James Dean ever trusted.
His last words were, " This guy is going to wait on me..right ? "
The guy didn't wait. He turned in front of Jimmy. To miss him, Jimmy swerved the car, just missing him, but hitting a ditch at 70 mpg, killing James Dean instantly. Miraculously, Mr Roth lived. The guys name that turned in front of James Dean, "Mr Turnupseed."
 
One of the bizarre things I did, which I felt I had to do...was go lay in the ditch where he was killed. I laid there for a couple hours. Why ? I'll be damned if I know. I just felt like doing it.
Was I obsessed ? I could have seen him across the street, and I wouldn't have crossed over to bother him. Why ? I don't know, I just know I wouldn't have.
 

James Dean had one true love. He dated every top actress in Hollywood. But, there was only one girl they said he truly loved...Peir Angeli. Her mother despised him, because he wasn't Catholic. She forbid her from seeing him, and eventually forced her to marry Vic Damone. Pier Angeli was said to have worshipped James Dean. I don't think it was a coincidence that Pier eventually took her life.  I know more about James Dean than I probably know about myself.  I don't believe in fate and destiny and all that other stuff. I just know his life somehow effected mine in a way when I was younger that lasted a long time. Even today, although I laugh at some of the things I did, I have seven pictures of James Dean on my wall. Rock on...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Comments:
 
shakatoah   shakatoah wrote
on 2/19/2009 8:37:42 PM
You have such a strong 'voice'. You just kind of tell the story in a way I imagine you might sit by the fire at night and tell it to your children or grandchildren. It's like being right there in a fireside chair with you...hanging on your words. Well done my friend.

shakatoah   shakatoah wrote
on 2/19/2009 8:37:26 PM
You have such a strong 'voice'. You just kind of tell the story in a way I imagine you might sit by the fire at night and tell it to your children or grandchildren. It's like being right there in a fireside chair with you...hanging on your words. Well done my friend.

kt6550   kt6550 wrote
on 1/28/2009 6:27:55 PM
You paid your respects, and thanked him for what he gave you. And you were honest with your feelings. What more is required? Nothing. Be at peace, my friend.

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Synopsis
I've been to his gravesite many times. It's been chipped away by human vultures who used a chisel to chip at his stone thinking they could steal some cool and go home with it.. I've been in his house, and to where he crashed his Porshe. Don't ask why. I don't have a logical answer. He was just my hero in those times.
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