It is a document and a wonderful photo as well: James Dean, age 1, in a stroller, staring into the camera, while his 4-year-old cousin, leaning over the baby carriage, contorts her face in the silly way that children act whenever they are in front of cameras. The crowd gathered for the James Dean slide show watches appreciatively.
As they have many times in the past, the friends and family and fans of James Dean -- the fate-kissed movie star who made the shrug of rebellion a totem of '50s teens -- have gathered here in Fairmount, Ind., to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
This year the crowd was larger: Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the day Dean slammed his silver Porsche into another car on a California highway near Salinas and ended his life at the age of 24, one day after completing his third motion picture, "Giant."
About 500 people were here: a 35-year-old woman from New York City, constantly wiping tears from her eyes; a dozen fans from Japan, one bearing a thousand origami flamingos -- a symbol of life, she said -- and hundreds of letters from devoted admirers to lay at his grave; a woman from Spain, and two from France; six young men from England and Americans from at least 20 states.
Only a few from Fairmount. They didn't really like him here because he never registered for the draft, and this is the heartland of America. Then again, prophets have always had a hard time in their hometowns.
"He summarized American youth," says one of the British boys, a would-be rock 'n' roller, 20 years old, from Rochester, 30 miles south of London, "and in death he really made rock 'n' roll able to happen. Without Dean, there might have been no Presley, no youth revolution at all.You might say he was the first punk."
Another slide: Dean, age 10, in a grown-up's fedora, mugging for the camera, his eyes frozen on the lens.
"A born actor," says Martin Sheen, driving across the flatlands of Indiana. He was heading for Fairmount, as he had promised 78-year-old Adeline Nall, Dean's drama coach in high school here, and now the vestal virgin of his cult.
Sheen is an absolute Dean fan. "There was never anyone like him before, or anyone since. He created himself. Absolutely the most important American actor who has ever lived."
Sheen looks amazingly like Dean, which he denies. And when he is mobbed in Fairmount by autograph hounds -- because he is the only celebrity who has actually shown up -- he is outwardly kind and obliging, but inwardly upset.
"I just want to be a fan, like anyone else," he says.
Another slide: The Fairmount High School class of 1949's trip to Washington, D.C. Dean, circled in the back row, stands before the U.S. Capitol. For once, he looks inconspicuous.
In fact, his life was not unlike a slide show, photography being an attempt to capture the uncapturable:
"In James Dean, today's youth discovers itself," Francois Truffaut wrote in the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema . "Less for the reasons usually advanced: violence, sadism, hysteria, pessimism, cruelty and filth, than for others, infinitely more simple and commonplace: modesty of feeling, continual fantasy life, moral purity without relation to everyday morality but all the more rigorous, eternal adolescent love of tests and trials, intoxication, pride and regret at feeling one's self 'outside' society, refusal and desire to become integrated and, finally, acceptance and refusal of the world as it is."
His childhood was traumatic -- his mother died when he was 6 while the family was living in California, and his father sent him back to Fairmount to be raised by an aunt and uncle. In Indiana, his upbringing was a model of Midwestern normalcy. After winning several acting and speaking awards in high school, he returned briefly to Callifornia to live with his father and attend Santa Monica Junior College. But he became so obsessed with acting that he left California for Broadway.
He attended Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio, and eventually landed several TV parts, including some anonymous work as a juke joint dancer in 1951 Pepsi commercials. He made his Broadway debut in "The Jaguar" in 1952 and then attracted the eye of Elia Kazan with his performance as an Arab blackmailer in Gide's "The Immoralist." Kazan cast Dean as the male lead, Cal, in "East of Eden." The next year he became an overnight sensation.
Slide: In the background the old farmhouse he lived in and in the foreground is Dean, now a high school graduate, slouched over in the defiant pose that would be made famous in "Rebel Without a Cause." He is still staring into the camera.
The farmhouse is still here, and yesterday it seemed almost like a postcard of a bygone era, capped by blue sky and puffy white clouds, cornfields falling off toward the infinite horizon of the Midwest flatlands.
Watching Adeline Nall's slides in the armory near here, it is almost as if he could still be around, maybe down at the filling station gassing up his motorcycle. Midwestern boys like speed -- a good way to get rid of the land's awesome timelessness.
"If someone had stopped him and asked him what his life was all about," said Sheen, "he would have shrugged his shoulders and said, 'I'm just passing through.'"
A final slide: Railroad tracks. Just railroad tracks reaching out toward the horizon, seen from the caboose of a train.
Adeline Nall calls this James Dean's last view of Fairmount, leaving the town for a new life ahead.