In February 1955, James Dean took a break after filming his first starring role in East of Eden and headed to his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana to celebrate his birthday. The event was chronicled by photographer Dennis Stock and would eventually feature in Life magazine.
From his book "James Dean: Fifty Years Ago", Stock writes of trying to get the rapidly rising actor to agree to let the photographer chronicle Dean’s return to New York and Indiana.
"The story, as I explained it [to Jimmy],” Stock wrote, “was to reveal the environments that affected and shaped the unique character of James Byron Dean. We felt a trip to his hometown, Fairmount, Indiana, and to New York, the place of his professional beginnings, would best reveal those influences…. I would solicit an assignment guarantee to cover expenses. The obvious magazine to approach was LIFE…. It took only a week for LIFE to approve the assignment.”
LIFE ran a number of the pictures in its March 7, 1955, issue, under the headline, “Moody New Star.”
Stock's photos provide an intimate look at the movie legend's life on the farm and small town America in the 1950's.
Poignantly, it revealed how down to earth his life was and how drastically stardom had changed all that.
You feel a sense of sadness in his demeanor. Perhaps regret and the realization that fame stole any chance of a normal life going forward.
The majority of the photos capture a reminiscent James on his Uncle Winslow's snow covered farm. This was where he grew up since the age nine after his mother died of cancer.
Other photos show him mingling about town with his old classmates and the locals.
On February 12th, James dressed in a black suit, black shirt, lilac tie and his famous coiffed hair and made a surprise appearance at his old high-school. The Valentines Day Sweetheart's Ball was a yearly event at Fairmount High and James stole the show, even playing bongo drums with the band.
The event is described in an interview with Brenda Hayes found at theoriginalvangoghsearanthology.com
"Brenda was in attendance at the Sweetheart Dance in 1955, where she was seated next to James Dean. The event has come to be immortalized through the photographs of Dennis Stock."
How did you first meet James Dean? What do you remember about it most?
I met Jimmy at the Fairmount High School Sweetheart Ball in February 1955. I had the good fortune to be seated at the table next to where he was playing the bongo drum. During the evening, he asked me if I would like to play the drum, but I was shy and so declined his invitation.
What do you remember most about the Sweetheart Dance of 1955? Did you get to meet Dennis Stock at the time?
I was 14 years old and The Sweetheart Ball was my first car date and formal dance. That was a really big deal, and I was just excited to be there with my friends.
Was the whole town excited about of their visit?
We had no idea that Jimmy was in town until he showed up at the dance.
What was it like to be seated next to Jimmy at the dance?
It was exciting. Here it’s my first car date and I wind up seated next to a famous movie star. How many girls can say that?
Did he seem to mind people asking for autographs and such? I mean did he ever seem to get tired of it?
No, not at all, he was very friendly and engaging.
What sort of mood was he in that night?
Jimmy seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He was at home, relaxed, talking to everyone, just having a good time.
By the end of the week the trip to Fairmount, Indiana was coming to a close.
" Stock recalled. "Jimmy knew he'd never be coming back to the farm. That's why he had me set up the last shot of him in front of the farmhouse, with him looking one way and his dog, Tuck, turning away from him. It was his interpretation of that line, 'You can never go home again.' I don't mean that he thought he was going to die, but that he just felt it was gone. There was no way he could ever return to what he'd been, and that's what the farm represented to him."
Eight months later, Jimmy returned to Fairmount and was buried alongside generations of Dean's and Winslow's in the meadowland outside of town."
All photos found on: