Brenda Hayes is best known as the wife of Jim Hayes who works to preserve the MainStreetFairmount.org project to restore the classically iconic main street of Fairmount, Indiana. Brenda was also in attendance at the Sweetheart Dance in 1955, where she was seated next to James Dean. The event has come to be immortalized through the photographs of Dennis Stock.
What was Fairmount like back when you growing up? What did you love most about the area?
I grew up during the 1940’s and 50’s which was a great time to be young. It was the era of drive-in restaurants and theaters. The entire country was booming and Fairmount was a thriving little community with a wide variety of businesses. It’s the kind of place where you always felt safe. High school sports, especially basketball, played a huge role in the town. On Friday nights the gym was packed with raucous fans of all ages. During my high school years, the shelter house at our local park, which featured a juke box and dancing, was a favorite destination for high school aged kids from all over the area.
How did you first meet James Dean? What do you remember about it most?
I met Jimmy at the Fairmount High School Sweetheart Ball in February 1955. I had the good fortune to be seated at the table next to where he was playing the bongo drum. During the evening, he asked me if I would like to play the drum, but I was shy and so declined his invitation.
From what you knew of him, what was he like as a person?
He was 9 years older than me, so I didn’t know all that much about him although everyone said he was a fun guy to be around.
What do you remember most about the Sweetheart Dance of 1955? Did you get to meet Dennis Stock at the time?
I was 14 years old and The Sweetheart Ball was my first car date and formal dance. That was a really big deal, and I was just excited to be there with my friends.
Was the whole town excited about of their visit?
We had no idea that Jimmy was in town until he showed up at the dance.
What was it like to be seated next to Jimmy at the dance?
It was exciting. Here it’s my first car date and I wind up seated next to a famous movie star. How many girls can say that?
Did he seem to mind people asking for autographs and such? I mean did he ever seem to get tired of it?
No, not at all, he was very friendly and engaging.
What sort of mood was he in that night?
Jimmy seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. He was at home, relaxed, talking to everyone, just having a good time.
How did it feel to see a memory in time brought to life on the big screen in the film LIFE?
The movie brought back a lot of memories, especially the scenes from the Sweetheart Ball. The producers did their home-work. The gym in the movie was decorated almost exactly like our gym in 1955.
Why do you think people are still trying capture the brief moments that he got to live and keep them alive for future generations?
Jimmy has always had a magnetic appeal for young people world-wide. I think he speaks to the timeless struggles, insecurities, rebelliousness that all young people experience.
Do think trying to keep his memory alive is a fitting way for people the world over to show love and respect for who he was an actor and for the man he was?
Jimmy is relevant to the youth of today. Although, Jimmy passed away 60 years ago, he represents the present, not the past.
Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
It’s been exciting to have shared an evening with Jimmy before he became a legend and it’s certainly been a great conversation starter over the years.