The Rebel
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Why do thousands of people invade Fairmont, Indiana, each year in late September? A clue: it’s to commemorate the life of a film legend who was raised in this town and also buried there. Yes, after Googling “Fairmont,” you’ll find that we’re approaching the date of the James Dean Festival. According to his web site, (yes, many long deceased superstars have websites, such as Brando and Bogart.), this Sept. 27 through Sept. 30, fans will converge on the city to visit his grave and even participate in the annual James Dean Run. The Fairmont Historical Museum’s web site maintains that fans will be dancing to live music and even participating in a flame-throwing contest. James Dean died in a car crash in central California on September 30 at the age of 24. I personally don’t remember much of him, though. After all, he died when I was only five days old.

I also don’t fully understand this obsession that the world has with James Dean. David Essex paid tribute to him in his 1973 hit, “Rock On,” and the Eagles followed in their 1974 song “James Dean.” He has an online fan club, and I can’t count the number of young women I’ve spotted who sport a sexy T-shirt with his image on it.

East of Eden, taken from a portion of the acclaimed John Steinbeck novel, is the movie for which Dean won an Oscar after his death. The setting is in the heart of California’s farmland during WWI. Adam (Raymond Massey) desperately tries to make a living while raising two sons alone. Dean plays Cal, who competes with his brother, Aron (Richard Davalos), for his father’s affection. As Cal always seems to mess up, he believes that there’s an inherent reason why he’s “bad.” Though both boys were told that their mother died when they were young, Cal discovers that she’s actually a cold-hearted madam running a brothel in Monterey. Does he dare tell Aron? Julie Harris plays Abra, Aron’s girlfriend, who’s frightened but also intrigued by Cal. East of Eden was the only one of Dean’s three movies to be released while was still alive.

The movie that Dean is probably best known for, though, is Rebel Without a Cause. He plays Jim Stark, the new kid at school, who befriends another social outcast, Plato (played by a very young Sal Mineo—soon to be a 1960s heartthrob). Dysfunctional families, juvenile delinquency, bullying, knifings, chicken road games, and teen rebellion explode in 1950s fashion. Of course, Stark’s eye is on Judy (Natalie Wood), one of the popular girls. There are no surprises in this film, but you get a glimpse of the ‘50s youth culture and maybe the persona of James Dean.

Though East of Eden was my favorite James Dean movie, Giant is where he shows off his gritty sex appeal and his actual talent. Though the movie takes a while to get going, it’s worth sticking out its 3 hours and 20 minutes. Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), a Maryland socialite, marries Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), a Texas cattle mogul. Upon moving to his ranch, she rebels against the class structure and a culture in which women and minorities have their distinct roles in society. What really provokes trouble on the ranch is when the hired hand, Jett Rink (Dean), inherits family property from Benedict’s sister. This acquisition transforms Jett into a wealthy and formidable opponent for the Benedicts. The couple’s grown children further challenge the status quo as they’re determined to follow their own dreams.

I think that Giant was the movie that illustrated Dean’s true talent, and thus the question arises of how far this young man could have gone. Even to this day, fans are trying to dispute the sheriff’s report that maintained that Dean was speeding at the time of the crash. But as the Eagles remind us in “James Dean,” “You were too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye.”

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