Keeper of the Flame




If Dean hadn’t died so young, what kind of career do you think he would have had?
Based on looking at a lot of his screen tests and rare footage of him, I think he would have made some comedies because he was very comical. He wanted to do Shakespeare. He was working on a Jekyll and Hyde screenplay at the time of his death that was more about a psychological transformation than physical. He wanted to be behind the camera. I think he would have been like Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman, who were pretty much his contemporaries. They went on to direct and star in films and do great acting jobs, and in Newman’s case had a career as a race car driver. He would have aged gracefully and went on to give us a much bigger body of work.

The annual James Dean Festival is this weekend. How many people come to Fairmount for it each year?
We get 20,000 to 30,000 people. There are 3,000 custom cars and a parade and a look-alike contest and a ’50s dance contest. It’s great. It’s a real boost for the local economy.

Do a lot of celebrity fans come to Fairmount to pay homage to Dean?
Rufus Wainwright has been here a few times. We became friends, and he came and did a benefit performance for the Fairmount High School restoration project. Morrissey filmed a video [1988’s “Suedehead” — see below] here. Bob Dylan came through late one night. Jamie Bell, Jeremy Davies, Meat Loaf and his band have all stopped by. It’s interesting. It’s a small Indiana town, but it has an international flair to it. Besides celebrities, we get people from all over the world.

You and your partner, Lenny, are a gay couple who live in Fairmount, which is a fairly small town, and there are a lot of gay fans of Deans who visit throughout the year. Whats the attitude toward gay people there?
They’re surprisingly very understanding. Perhaps it’s because there are a lot of Quakers here, and Quakers are very tolerant and understanding of others. Lenny and I started this thing in 1980, and we got our first apartment here in 1985 or and then opened the gallery in 1988. So we’ve been here for 25 years. There’s been the occasional incident where someone drives by and yells names, but it doesn’t happen very often. It’s pretty amazing. The town is great, and I think we’re pretty well accepted. We live in one of the most prominent houses here, a huge Victorian right in the middle of Main Street. We don’t walk down the street holding hands or waving flags, but we’re very visible. I think we’re very accepted. Just by being here 25 years and living our lives honestly, we’ve made an impression on people, and they see that we’re not so bad.

The 35th annual James Dean Festival takes place in Fairmount, Ind., September 25-27. For more information on the James Dean Gallery, click here.

Watch Morrissey's video for “Suedehead,” filmed in Fairmount, below.

Tags: film