15 November 2014

James Dean's advice to his cousin

In 1940, after the death of his mother, 9-year-old James Byron Dean was sent by his father to Fairmount, Indiana, to live with his uncle Marcus Winslow, aunt Ortense and his 14-year-old cousin Joan. He would spend the next nine years in Fairmount, attending school and helping out at his uncle's farm, meanwhile discovering things he liked: sports, arts, motorcycles ├índ acting. 

James Dean had been living with his family for three years when his cousin Marcus Winslow jr. was born. Marcus was the closest thing to a brother Dean had and, like a big brother, Dean was always giving him advice. The following letter is from Dean to 'Markie' (as he would call him) concerning drawings his cousin had sent him. Apparently Dean didn't approve of the things Markie had drawn and advised him to draw other things. Dean's letter is undated but was presumably written between 1951 and 1953 (seeing that he used stationery from Hotel Iroquois in New York where he lived during that period). Incidentally, James Dean was raised religiously -in a Quaker household- as is apparent from the letter.

The last time James Dean visited his family in Fairmount was in February 1955. LIFE-photographer Dennis Stock accompanied him and made a series of great photos. Stock's photos of James Dean and Marcus jr. (see also below) were taken just seven months before Dean's tragic death. 


Dear Marcus Jr.

First I want to thank you for the fine pictures.
I feel the urgent need to warn you about something. Anyone at all can draw soldiers, guns,  and barred gates with locks on them. Why? because there are a lot of those things to see. That shouldn't mean they are good things to draw. We live in a world where these things become very important. And that is bad. You should be aware of that because you don't have to see too many of those things because you live on land that is greatly blessed by Lord God.
It would be much better if you would spread your talents toward the greater arts. Everyone can't draw trees, clouds, sheep, dogs, all kinds of animals, the earth, hills, mountains, seas, oceans. I beg of you please do not draw buildings of confindment [sic], jails, castles or zoos rather draw places of shelter. Do not draw people in uniforms, rather draw people who are free. Do not draw things of destruction, they are not so important to the good + true artist that he must draw them- rather draw tool, things that build. There are many things to draw at home. All you have to do is look and you will see. They are harder to draw because they were harder to grow. Have your daddy help you read this.


Photographed by Dennis Stock, 1955.

Photographed by Dennis Stock, 1955.


  1. What a wonderful,unusual letter.

  2. Thank you... Altmaan doc-film mentioned it, you posted it// perfect. Thanks again