My good friend, Carole, sent me a copy of an official publication from a JAMES DEAN fan club. Inside was a lengthy story she had written recounting the 1988 trip that she and six other "die-hard Dean fans" (including Jimmy's boyhood friend, Bob Pulley) made to California, during which I escorted the group to several of the prominent Dean-related sites in Los Angeles. Happily reliving those days through Carole's recollections, I was inspired to lose myself in my copy of Dennis Stock's JAMES DEAN REVISITED. His JAMES DEAN: FIFTY YEARS AGO is essentially a special, retitled hardcover reissue with the photographs beautifully enlarged, and a few splendid ones previously unpublished now included.
My copy - a gift from my employer in 1993 - is inscribed, "To a fellow alien who straddles two worlds...the art is in the living." My magazine-publishing boss bought me the book, but being a major fan, naturally, this essential book for Dean fans was already in my bookcase. I subsequently gave away my older copy and kept his gift.
As a wannabe actor fresh out of high school in 1977 (Santa Monica High, coincidentally also known as Dawson High in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE), I discovered Dean at a Fox Venice Theater showing of what I consider Dean's greatest film, EAST OF EDEN. This was before movies were available for purchase and home viewing. I was mesmerized then knocked out of my boots; everything struck a chord of harmony within me: the sense of youthful alienation; the brooding intensity; the moodiness; the frustration; the quest for meaning. I was hooked, and James Dean became my idol.
In September of 1980, I took my first extensive solo trip, flying into Indianapolis and then driving to Dean's hometown, Fairmount, for the festival honoring the 25th anniversary of his death. Through happenstance (?), I met Carole and her friend Russ (both would remain my very good friends). I'd heard that Martin Sheen was to attend the festival, and when Russ asked if I wanted to accompany them to the Indianapolis airport to pick up "Martin", I said, "Sure" - assuming that the "first name only" implied that this Martin was famous and a last name was unnecessary. It turned out to be Martin, hard-core fan flying in from England. (I'm still in touch with this non-Sheen "Martin", too.) Well, in the days that followed, my disappointment from the "Martin Mix-up" turned to elation when I discovered how well-connected my new friends were, and I found myself meeting Adeline Nall, Jimmy's high school drama teacher, and then getting a private tour of his boyhood farmhouse conducted by the aunt who raised him, Ortense Dean Winslow. I saw his motorcycle and leather motorcycle jacket, his bongo drum sitting quietly in the corner, and his childhood artwork hanging on his old bedroom walls. Very heady stuff for a young fan! (I've experienced so many strange "coincidences" in my 47 years that I'm not at all convinced this life is "real.")
Well, as the years wore on, I surprisingly lost interest in acting, and a series of spiritual episodes completely changed me and my world-view. I no longer idolize human beings, but I still recognize that James Dean was (and remains) the most imaginative, most innately gifted American actor. The direction hinted at in GIANT gives an indication of where he was pointed as an artist, and ultimately he would have emerged as a "giant" of a film director. He may have started life as a hayseed, ending it with a Turnupseed and with Life's promising highway left unexplored before him, but JAMES DEAN LIVES, both in his three films, and in these beautiful black and white photographs by the fine lensman, Dennis Stock.
Do you wish to see why the name James Dean turns up in the songs of Rock stars? (David Essex, Lou Reed, John Mellencamp, Ian Hunter, and The Eagles, to name but five.) Want to see why all the boys wanted to BE him, and all the girls wanted to BE WITH him? (As a female friend recently wrote regarding his performance in East Of Eden: "I think Dean also aroused a lot of maternal feelings with that performance. You're attracted to him, but you also want to mother him. What's a girl to do?") Well, it's all in these pages:
The Offbeat Humor: Encircled by calves and pigs, Jim sits with his bongo drum on a patch of ground on the family's farm and bangs out a "rhythm to moo and oink to."
The Bizarre Morbidity: Jimmy posing in a coffin at a Fairmount funeral home just 7 months before his corpse would be taken there.
More Bizarre Morbidity: Jim examining the chicken head held by a small, joyful girl loitering on a New York sidewalk, while the girl's older sister holds onto the leash of their disinterested dog.
The Eerily Mysterious: He sits dressed in coat and tie, reading a book in the farm's hayloft while light filtering in reveals him to be surrounded by spider web-sealed old trunks. (A dynamite piece of photography! Absolutely first-rate.)
The Classic Cool: James Dean marches through the city streets, cigarette dangling, and shoulders hunched in his overcoat against a Times Square rain.
The Ultimate Rebellion: An edgy Dean holding a gun point-blank on future president Ronald Reagan on the Hollywood set of the television play, THE DARK, DARK HOUSE.
These and so many more stellar shots - some posed and some candid - await the James Dean fan on thse pages. The decades have whittled down my once massive Dean collection to just a few portrait reproduction post cards sent to me by the late artist, Kenneth Kendall, who sculpted the actor's bust on display at The Griffith Park Observatory in L.A., and to this book of 1955 photographs by Dennis Stock. This should tell you plenty about the quality of these photos. Come and "see" the original Voice of teen angst, the red-jacketed rebel in glorious black and white.