Born in Marion, Indiana to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson Dean, James Dean suffered the tragic loss of his beloved mother at the young age of 9. Raised in the delightfully small town of Fairmount, he grew up on a 180 acre homestead alongside his cousins Marcus and Joan under the guidance of his aunt Ortense and her husband Marcus Winslow.
With a lifelong love of theatrics and all things creative, and a determination to succeed he was destined for greatness. His career started with a commercial for Pepsi Cola and led to three motion pictures that would make him a star of epic proportions. With his passing in 1955 the world lost one of the most genuine creative geniuses of modern time.
Over 60 years since Marcus now works tirelessly to maintain the farm and preserve the memory of the man he knew as a brother. It is an honor to have the chance to talk to Marcus Winslow Jr. about what life was like before the fame and to give the reader a further glimpse into the life of the man behind the legend that is James Dean.
Tina Ayres: What was the Winslow farm like when you were all growing up there together? Can you tell us a little about that?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Well it was more of a working farm then. Years ago farmers had a lot of different kinds of livestock. I can remember we use to have chickens and hogs and cattle and some sheep, had some geese, geese you know geese, weren’t really a farm animal, but they were here. I guess the first thing dad got rid of farming was the chickens. Which suited me fine. They always seemed like kind of a dumb animal, but anyway, a lot of people had them. And mom had them because it gave her some, that was her income. Dad would get the feed and stuff and feed them and then she’d collect the eggs and that was hers. Then he finally got rid of the hogs which called for a lot of work. They’re dirty, they’re dusty, especially years ago. They were really dusty. I always liked hogs, but I wasn’t upset when he got rid of them. And by that time I was doing other things and really didn’t have much time to help any way. And we’ve still got cattle here on the farm.
Mark Kinnaman : How many head you got right now? How many acres do you have now?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Now we have, they are all Coy’s cows, I think there is around 40 head about approximately 20 head of calves and the same amount of brood cows. When dad died we had about 40 some group cows. He had a lot of cattle, but we got rid of a lot of them after he passed away. We’ve always kept cattle on the farm because the way the grounds laid out here you can’t farm a lot of it so the cattle help eat the grass down.
Of course when Jimmy was here we had milk cows too. I can remember the milk cows being here, and then dad must have got rid of them around 1950 or so because I never had to milk any. He got rid of them before I was old enough. Milk cows are a lot of work and a lot of time. I’ll never forget you go to check the chicken house if you didn’t make some noises and let them know you was coming then all of the sudden you come to the door they just fly and go crazy and dust would roll It’s not like you see in the pictures.
There are 180 acres right here on this piece of ground.
Mark Kinnaman: Is that when Jimmy was here?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Right at it. Well theres more than 180, there is almost 300 now. There is 111 acres and another piece of ground that has 40 acres than we had 180 here so that’s where I come up with over 300. But the basic ground that dad had is still here. It’s the same piece of ground it always was. I tried to keep as close to what it was. I like old buildings anyway so that is one reason I kept it that way, of course the fact that fans have all seen it in movie magazines and stuff over the years I suppose that enticed me to try to keep it looking the same. Anybody that is really interested recognizes it I think. Without question. They are all pretty similar to what they were 60 some years ago.
Mark Kinnaman: The little pushcar it looks like you had a blast with that? Jimmy pushing you and all…
Marcus Winslow Jr: I did.
Mark Kinnaman: Did your dad make that?
Marcus Winslow Jr: No I made that. I found some wood and found some long piece of rod. I don’t remember if dad had to drill holes in it or not. It was something I threw together as a child. I’d have only been about 10 or 11 years old when I made that, but I had a lot of fun with it. Me and my friends would go out here and shove it down the hills. Of course the worst thing was if you shoved it downhill you had to push it back up. We enjoyed it.
Tina Ayres: Do you happen to remember what your first memory of Jimmy was? What is your clearest memory of him?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Well my earliest memories are of him just being around here. I can remember he used to go to school. I can remember him either riding his motorcycle to school or sometimes Mrs. Nall would pick him up, she went right by here. Sometimes she’d pick him up take him to school and bring him home.
He worked for a canning factory in Fairmount. It was seasonal job just in the Fall. We used to raise tomatoes around here more so than they do now and in the fall well they’d hire a lot of extra people to peel tomatoes and do whatever they had to do. He did that some I know.
Tina Ayres: Did he ever speak to you of his mother? Do you think her influence on him contributed to his unique sense of self? Do you think experiencing such deeply profound loss so early in life in part made him more aware of the things that matter most?
Marcus Winslow Jr: No. Not to me he didn’t. I never heard him mention her. Of course I was so little when he was here that I didn’t even realize the circumstances really. He was just here and that is just the way it was.
Mark Kinnaman: Well your mother and father provided a nice home for him.
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yeah, they sure did. I don’t think he talked about his mother much. Not that he didn’t care or whatever but I’ve heard mom and dad say they never heard him mention his mother. Whatever that means I don’t know.
Tina Ayres: What would you say is the best advice he ever gave you?
Marcus Winslow Jr: I don’t know that he ever gave me any advice. When Jimmy died I was almost 12. I liked a couple months of being 12 years old and I don’t know that he ever gave me any good advice about anything. I was still just a child you know.
Mark Kinnaman: He was more like an older brother…
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yeah. I can remember him real well but I don’t think he ever gave me any advice.
Tina Ayres: Do you remember the day he left for California in 1949? What stands out most clearly in your mind from that time?
Marcus Winslow Jr: I can remember. My sister had a going away party for him on a Sunday and I can remember mom and dad was there and of course me and my sister and her husband, their son, and their daughter was a baby then, and my uncle Nolan and his family. I can remember being out in the yard and playing. We got some pictures, well we got a family picture of us outside. Everybody’s picture except mom, I think, probably because she took the picture.
My sister said, see I don’t remember this but she did, She says we were leaving, they lived up along the lane, she said, “As we were leaving going home Jimmy hung out the back door of the car, out the back window and hollered at my sister and said, “See you in Hollywood!” She said she never forgot that.
Tina Ayres: What was it like around the house when he brought Dennis Stock to capture life in Fairmount? Was that a planned visit or a spur of the moment thing? How did your family feel about having your home life captured forever in photos?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Well, I don’t know that Jimmy planned it. I don’t know how far ahead that he planned it but, they knew someone was coming home with him. A photographer. Dennis seemed to fit right in here. Dennis took a liking to my dad and talked to him an awful lot. Jimmy and Dennis would go to town or somewhere, and of course wherever they went why Dennis would try to capture some pictures and he did take some of Fairmount and Jimmy. They went over to uncle Nolan’s one day and went out in the garage and took a couple pictures of Jimmy sitting in, I think Jimmy was in the race car, my uncle Nolan was building a quarter Midget. I don’t know if he ever got it, totally finished it or not. It had an Indian motorcycle engine in it if I remember right.
I know a lot of times when I’d get home from school he had something planned, they’d want to go to town and he’d want to know if I wanted to go with them. Of course every time someone seen they’d holler at him. At one time he knew about everybody in Fairmount, but this time of course he’d been gone for five years and a lot people he didn’t remember who they were or their face would look familiar. I can think of two or three times he asked me, “Who is that?”, before the people would get to us and I’d tell him. It probably made him feel good to call them by name you know.
I remember the banker in Fairmount Vick Selby he hollered at Jimmy one day and wanted to know if he could bring his Jaguar out, he had a Jaguar sedan, a four door sedan that he drove some and Jimmy said, “Why sure.” I don’t know if it was the same day or next day, he came out late in the afternoon with it and we all got in that Jaguar. Let’s see it was Jimmy and Dennis and Vick Selby and his daughter Anne, she was real small then, we all got in and Jimmy drove. He drove over to Jonesboro I remember and every time he’d go around a corner he’d gun it and slide the back end around a little. Vick got a big kick out of that. That was an experience I’ll always remember. I forget what they called it a Mark something, the Jaguar, but it was a neat old car at the time.
Once he showed me a big full page ad with a Speedster in there I remember he showed me that magazine and said, “This is what I got coming.” I think it was about a month later that he got the car so of course he didn’t enjoy the big Jaguar sedans like he did the little sports car I am sure but, he got a kick out of it.
I imagine that he was tickled that Vick let him drive it.
Tina Ayres: Do you feel honored to be left guardian of Jimmy’s memory?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yeah. I’m, I feel proud of Jimmy. I certainly didn’t do anything to cause him to be famous, but I am very proud of him. It took me a lot of years to realize how famous he was. I mean when he is growing up with you and doing some television shows and so forth…
Mark Kinnaman: That was exciting to see him on t.v.
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yes it was. Very Exciting. We used to…mom and dad had a television and sometimes Jimmy would let us know what show he was going to be on and the date. Of course we always made a point to watch it. Every time something would come on that he was on the phone would ring and ring. Of course that was back when you didn’t have cell phones. The phone was in the dining room and we’d take turns jumping up and going to answer the phone because we knew it was someone telling us Jimmy was on in case we didn’t know it.
Mark Kinnaman: What was your reaction when you saw him on East of Eden? When you saw the movie?
Marcus Winslow Jr: It just seemed like him. I kept thinking to myself why he’s not acting. That’s just him. I was really tickled. I didn’t have any idea what East of Eden was about or anything and it turned out it was in the late teens WWI was breaking out and there was a lot of old cars, which that fascinated me. It was a period in history that I was interested in and I was just tickled to death with the movie. I thought he did a great job. I still think it is one of his best.
Mark Kinnaman: It’s my favorite. Adeline Nall told me, “ If you want to know what James Dean is like watch East of Eden.” That is what she said.
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yeah. He didn’t seem like he was acting in it. It just seemed like he was up there saying the words and going through it, of course there is more to it than it appeared, but he made it appear that way.
We seen him in a kind of a special showing that the theater in Marion had in the morning and then that evening is when the public started watching the movie. I don’t remember who all was there, Mrs. Nall was there I know, and mom and dad and I, and I think my sister was probably there and a few people that were close to Jimmy or to the family. It was really exciting.
Of course that was the only showing that was made when he was living. Even though Rebel was really a good movie I never enjoyed it as much because I knew he wasn’t alive anymore and I knew that he wouldn’t be making anymore. Of course I knew Giant was coming out. I didn’t know anything about Giant but, Giant was so dog gone long, it was three hours long. I remember they had an intermission between when it was half over. It was year after he died, ‘57 sometime, so as a matter of fact it might have been a little over a year.
Tina Ayres: What would you like the world to know about Jimmy most?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Well, he was very devoted to his craft. He was just a tremendous actor. He read acting books and he liked to study people. He was very theatrically inclined and anything to do with the arts he was good at. He was a good artist, he was a good sketcher. He did dance a little. Took some dancing lessons. He’d taken some dancing lessons as a kid from what I understand. Of course we know the pictures of him and Eartha Kitt that Dennis Stock took in New York City. I am sure that dancing helped his movement on stage. He was just unreal in the devotion that he put towards his career and the characters he played. You know he went all out to be those people he was portraying. It didn’t really seem like he was acting.
Tina Ayres: What do you think he would think about the festival and all of that sort of thing?
Marcus Winslow Jr: I think he’d probably be getting a big kick out of it. He was a kid at heart. I don’t think he’d object to it at all. I think it is something he’d get a big kick out of it.
Mark Kinnaman: Does it amaze you that even now all these years later the foreigners that come over from all over the world…It just amazes me that people come halfway around the world and they come to here. That blows my mind.
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yeah it does me too. I mean even after all these years. It is kind of hard to understand. I can remember when I was a little kid there was people coming here from Japan and France and foreign countries. At the time I just thought it was something that’d blow over. Usually when people get interested in an actor or an actress they get real involved in them and then after a while they, especially if they pass away, why they go on to something else but, that didn’t seem to happen to Jimmy. His old fans are still interested and he gets new fans, which is very unusual.
Tina Ayres: Out of all of your memories of him are there any that stand out most clearly in your mind today, after so many years have passed?
Marcus Winslow Jr: None more so than any other I guess. I can remember before he ever left here, things he used to do, riding his cycle and helping dad here on the farm baling hay and so forth. Of course my clearest memories are the ones last time he was home because Dennis Stock took so many pictures. I can remember when every one of them was taken about, that I was there, and those always bring back memories. They are good memories they’re not…no hurt about any of them. I guess I was older then too, getting a little older. I remember the kids at school giving me their autograph books wanting to know if I’d bring them home and have Jimmy sign them. I didn’t know if he’d like to do that or not but he seemed to be pretty tickled to do it. I think he was enjoying his popularity somewhat.
Mark Kinnaman: Well he worked so hard for it.
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yes he did.
Mark Kinnaman: I think he liked the benefits that came along with it?
Marcus Winslow Jr: Yeah, of course when he was here East of Eden hadn’t even been released yet. It was a couple weeks later before it was released. If it had been released a couple weeks before he came home I think he’d have really been bothered by fans. A lot of people didn’t know too much about him other than little things they read in the paper and the tv shows, of course a lot of people didn’t know those were coming on. He played in a lot of tv shows, over 30. For being live and not able to go back and correct mistakes and stuff they were very, very good.
Tina Ayres: How do you think he would have most liked to have been remembered?
Marcus Winslow Jr: As a great actor I would say.
The preceding interview was originally written by Tina Faye Ayres in 2015 and conducted by Mark Kinnaman on September 13, 2018 on the Winslow Farm in Fairmount, Indiana. It is with my deepest thanks to both Marcus & Mark that I offer up this interview here today. This interview is a rather dear and sacred matter to me. Thank you both for making it possible.
All images are by Dennis Stock (except for the earlier family photos of course). All images are used with permission from Marcus Winslow Jr.