15 December 2015
That’s me in the picture: Marcus Winslow plays with his cousin, James Dean, at home in Fairmount, Indiana, 1955
Jimmy was like my older brother. He was a normal kid. He was kind and playful. No one ever dreamed he’d be a star.
By Hannah Booth
James Dean with his cousin Marcus. Photograph: © Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos
Jimmy had lived with our family for as long as I can remember; he was nine when he moved in after his mother died. I was born three years later, so he was more like an older brother. He called my mother, his father’s sister, “mom”. My grandfather built the farmhouse in this picture, in Fairmount, Indiana, in 1904, and I still live here.
He was a normal kid. He’d play with me, setting up electric trains on the floor, or put me on his motorbike and drive to an ice-cream parlour, with me sitting in front, holding on to the handlebars. He bought me this toy racing car. He was kind and playful; we were very close, and he called me Markie. “Jimmy” was a very different person to “James Dean” – not a rebel, but warm, caring and good at anything to do with the arts. But no one dreamed he’d be a star.
He left home at 17 for California. Once his acting career started, first there and then in New York, he would send us postcards, telling us when he was going to be on TV; he did a lot of TV shows early on. He was also an artist: he sketched, took photographs, painted oils and watercolours, and was working on a sculpture of himself when he died. His father wanted him to be an attorney.
This photograph is one of a series taken by Dennis Stock in February 1955, for Life magazine; he shot Jimmy in New York, in Hollywood, and back home in Fairmount. My dad picked him and Dennis up from the railroad station one evening and Mum cooked us a big dinner. I was 11. To me, he was the same old Jimmy, but my dad thought he seemed a bit nervous. When we said goodbye, he said he’d be back in a couple of weeks. It was the last time I saw him.
I was staying with my older sister when I heard about his death in September. My parents weren’t home: they had driven to California to see him. Jimmy’s dad called my sister to tell her. My parents found out when they got back. It was such a terrible shock. His funeral, at the Quaker Church, was the biggest Fairmount has ever had. His death changed our lives.
Today, I manage Jimmy’s legacy. I take the responsibility seriously – I try to make sure anything that’s done is in good taste. It was the 60th anniversary of his death a few months ago; it’s hard to believe he’s been gone that long.
He still has such a huge following. I think people relate to his personal life, losing his mother at such a young age. East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause were both movies about teens in conflict with their families, and a lot of people have had similar experiences.
Of all the photographs of Jimmy, Dennis’s pictures are how most people remember him. Without them, I don’t think I would remember much of the time he lived with us. They appeared in Life in March 1955, just a few days before East Of Eden was released. He’s very photogenic – I’ve never seen a bad picture of him. In this picture, I was having so much fun, and so was he.