James Dean is Still Cooler Than You
A version of this content originally appeared on She Liked Imaginary Men Best of All, 9.30.14
Today is the 61st anniversary of James Dean’s death. The man would be 85 years old now and who knows what he would have done with his life and career had he survived the car crash that killed him at a youthful 24. 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:
Two years ago my boyfriend and I watched East of Eden before a trip 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 that he was so stunningly beautiful and grieving because he was so tragically dead. Watching it with an adult perspective I could really appreciate 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 that is like something right out of a movie set. The first time I saw the memorial in the early 90s there had been small cameos of his face as part of the memorial that were filled with plastic to keep them preserved. But over the years fans had chipped away at the plastic attempting to get to the images underneath. Those are 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 to the memorial 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 being name-checked by Taylor Swift rather than his film work or cult of celebrity.
So rest in peace James Dean — over six decades gone and we’re still watching you, talking about you and looking for you. If you’re not familiar with that “James Dean daydream look” that Taylor was referring to, do yourself a favor and take a look at his brief, but bright film career.
Amy H. Johnson is the author of The Fangirl Files and rues the day she gave idiotically away her James Dean cookie jar.