10 April 2015

Eulogy to James Dean

On 8 October 1955, James Dean's funeral service was held at the Back Creek Friends Church in Fairmount, Indiana. It was the largest funeral in the history of Fairmount with 3000 people attending (1000 more than the town's entire population). But except for Jack Simmons --Dean's good friend and actor who played a bit part in "Rebel without a Cause"-- hardly anyone of Dean's Hollywood friends or colleagues was there (Elizabeth Taylor, who had collapsed after the tragic news, was in the hospital and had sent flowers). Dean's former high school friends were the ones who carried his coffin and brought him to his last resting place, close to the farm where he had lived with his uncle, aunt and cousins.

James Dean photographed by Sid Avery (above). Below: this may be the last photograph taken of Dean before he crashed his sports car on 30 September 1955.

The document for this post is not a letter but the original eulogy delivered at the funeral by Pastor Xen Harvey; it ends with the prophetic words: "The career of James Dean has not ended, it has just begun."

Image: heritage auctions (reproduced with permission)


The Life of James Dean-- A Drama in Three Acts

I shall always remember the life of James Dean as a drama in 3 acts. Act I was his boyhood and youth. Act II represents the career that gained national prominence. And Act III is the new life into which he has just entered. Here in Fairmount, it was in the very first act of this drama that we learned to love James Dean. We loved him as a small boy in and out of town; we loved him when he was fast breaking with the basketball team; we loved him in the lean, hungry years of his career; and we loved him as he stood on the mountain peak of success.

We loved him so much, it is a bit difficult for us to be understanding with those who, in the emptyness [sic] of their lives, and the littleness of their spirits, have come only out of curiosity, to look and to stare. However, in contrast to this, we appreciate deeply all of you who have come because you, too, learned to love him along the way. We know you came to share our sorrow and we humbly thank you. Also, we find it hard to be charitable with publicity hungry, amateur psychologists, who have entertained themselves psychoanalyzing our boy. Because we knew him as a normal boy, who did the things normal boys do. He was part of a good solid home in the community where understanding people live. He was loved by the members of that home, and he loved them in turn. He was not brooding, or weird, or sullen, or even odd. He was fun loving and too busy living to sulk.

Though he was a normal boy, he had an extra measure of energy and talent. What energy he had! On the basketball court he didn't have the physical equipment to be a basketball star. But what he lacked in stature he made up in fighting spirit. He was one of the teams leading scorers just because of his great energy and drive.

With affection, we remember how he hustled that little English motorcycle around town in high school days. That motorcycle had a rough existence. When Jimmy was riding it, he was always in a hurry. 

When we speak of his talent, we naturally think of the theater. But his talent was not limited to acting. He was interested in all the arts. Much has been said of his interest in bull fighting, but it is only right that you know he was a serious amateur sculptor.  You know of the bongo drums, but you should know he was devoted to the best in classical music. He enjoyed also the best in fine literature and was a student of philosophy. He could discuss intelligently the great philosophers and their schools of thought, Wm. James pragmatism for example.

But for all of his interest in the other arts, the theater was his first love. James Dean was an actor. He was an actor in the noblest meaning attached to the term. He lived with the characters he portrayed. He was so sensitive he suffered when they suffered, brooded when they brooded, and rejoiced when they rejoiced. He was the master of his profession.

Like other masters of his art, he took the values of all good literature and multiplied them time upon time. To some he brought rest and relaxation and to others hope and challenge.

Just a word in regard to the worthiness of his profession. In days gone by when the church was all powerful politically, it would reach out with its long arm of censorship and ban the theater entirely. But the agency that always brought back the theater was the church. It was needed, not only to dramatize that scene that happened so long ago in Galilee, but to make vivid the lessons that the best of literature has to teach.

To those of you who were closest to James Dean, remember that this God of whom we speak, is more than trustworthy and can be trusted with your loved one. The career of James Dean has not ended, it has just begun. And remember, God himself is directing the production.

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