Today is the 59th anniversary of James Dean’s death. The man would be 83 years old now and who knows what he would have done with his life and career had he survived a car crash. He may have gotten fat or bald, made terrible movies or been hawking products in TV commercials. Instead he is frozen in time just like this:
Eternally young, handsome and cool. Recently my boyfriend and I watched East of Eden because we were going to the central California coast where the movie is set. I watched Dean’s movies a lot when I was a teenager and spent most of that time alternately swooning and grieving that he was so stunningly beautiful and so tragically dead. Watching it now with an adult perspective I really appreciated how incredibly talented he was and how he certainly was one of the first true archetypes of the Wounded Misunderstood Man Child Who Just Wants to be Loved that so many of us are drawn to (paging Dr. Doug Ross, looking at you Tim Riggins.)
On our trip we drove out to Cholame where Dean died and is memorialized around a shady tree next to a diner right out of a movie set. The first time I saw it in the early 90’s there had been small sort of cameos of his face as part of the memorial that had been filled over with plastic to keep them preserved. But over the years fans had chipped away at the plastic attempting to get to the image underneath. Those were no longer there and I figured that this long gone, not many people stop there to see the memorial anymore.
Inside the Jack Ranch Cafe next door with its walls covered in Dean memorabilia, country music playing in the kitchen and warm cherry cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream we learned from our waitress that every single day people still come in there because of James Dean. EVERY. DAY. That’s some pretty amazing longevity for someone who is probably more well-known by Kids Today for merchandise with his face on it rather than his film work or cult of celebrity.
So rest in peace James Dean – nearly six decades gone and we’re still watching you, talking about you and looking for you.