James Dean’s Church, Back Creek Friends

an Otto logo       Updated 29 April 1998. URL is http://our.tentativetimes.net/dean/mservice.html
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The James Dean
Memorial Service

Jesus and lamb

The James Dean Memorial Service is held each year on September 30, the anniversary of Jimmy’s death. We meet at 1:00 p.m. in Back Creek Friends Meeting. Tom Burghuis of Michigan has assumed informal leadership since we lost Adeline Nall.

You may want to print this report out and read it off-line. It has grown quite long.

Featured folks: Tom Berghuis…… Pam Schwetz…… Kenneth Kendall…… Bob Pulley…… Phil Ziegler…… Christina Dulworth & Mattie Sellers…… Mark Kinnaman…… Nikky Bazooka

Mattie Sellers played a beautiful prelude. These were the songs:

  • Bells Are Ringing, in chimes, adapted from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
  • Hymn of Joy (from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony)
  • Amazing Grace
  • Londonderry Aire (which I thought was Danny Boy….)
  • Love Me Tender
  • Somewhere My Love
  • Goin’ Home (from the New World Symphony, and played at Jimmy’s funeral)
  • Blest Be The Tie That Binds (postlude)

Tom Burghuis  Tom Burghuis welcomed us promptly at 1:00 p.m. He greeted Marcus and Mary Lou Winslow; he thanked Martha Howell and Mattie Sellers and the rest of the Friends. He mentioned that our donations make a difference. There would be a plate at the rear after the service. (That’s the one that was hidden by the crowd.)

Burghuis referred to Martin Sheen’s appearance on Tom Snyder’s TV show. Sheen had pointed to his eyes and said “when you say it here, you don’t have to say it here,” pointing to his mouth. Dean said more without words than most actors ever express.

Pam  Pam Schwetz from Chicago spoke first. She had not been expected, but she brought a surprise from Julie Harris. Pam had written to Miss Harris who was appearing in Chicago, asking if she might have a message for us at this Memorial Service. Julie was most gracious, replying

I send my love and I think of Jimmy daily, and I love him very much.

She also called him “remarkable, wonderful, touching, endearing.” Her envelope even had a Dean stamp.

Tom commented on how Dean transcends generations. “It is obviously not just gray-haired people. It isn’t a movement; it is a continuous presence. We are a preservation society. Each generation assimilates these feelings.”

Tom next read Susan Bricker’s poem about Fairmount. She was only ten years old when she wrote it, but she wrote what we all feel.

Tom said fans most often use poetry to express their feelings for Jimmy. He read a poem by Lance Stell from Arkansas. Lance won the lookalike contest four years in a row. He’s now in Hollywood. His poem was “Ride.” Perhaps I could print it here if I get Lance’s or Tom’s permission. But I suspect it was the first time Dean’s Hollywood nickname was spoken aloud in Back Creek Friends Meeting.

K. Kendall  Kenneth Kendall, seated with the Winslows, took the stage. There was an outpouring of applause, after Tom said it was permissible. Dean first came to Kendall’s studio/home with Toni Lee, to see the Kendall sculpture of Brando. Kendall reflected on Jimmy’s regret that Marlon Brando didn’t want to get to know him. Jimmy was wearing light flannel pants, a sweater with no shirt and the famous watch fob on that visit.

Kendall felt reduced to a gibbering idiot by this young man! He felt nervous and awestruck. Dean told Kendall that Brando would like the intellectual pursuit of sculpture, but that his screaming, in the pose, might be something Brando would want to forget.

Kendall was at that time sculpting Steve Reeves who had been Mr. America in 1948. He told Dean to go ahead and fiddle with the clay, and Jimmy worked on the nose.

Returning to the house, Kendall offered to let Dean look through his Brando scrapbook. Dean had been holding his mouton-collared leather motorcycle jacket. He dropped it on the floor in his eagerness to see the book. He studied every page. As he closed the book, he asked Kenneth if he might consider doing a sculpture of him (Dean.)

Kendall replied that Jimmy would first have to have Warner Brothers make a life mask. The mask was subsequently made, and Bill Hickman told Kendall where to find it after time had passed. Winton had Jimmy’s effects. Kendall finally won Winton’s consent to make a copy of it. One copy is in the Smithsonian, one is at Princeton, one is at the Players Club in NYC and one is at the Historical Museum in Fairmount. (I know the Gallery has one too. Feel free to send corrections to me.)

After Dean flashed his most famous smile at Kendall as he left, freezing Kendall in his tracks… they never met again. Kendall wanted to hold that smile in his mind; he wouldn’t even work at Warner Brothers, as he didn’t want to see Jimmy with another expression before he sculpted him. Kendall’s card was in Jimmy’s wallet, after the crash.

Kendall was at the old Hollywood Ranch Market when he saw a newspaper headline, “Bobbysocks Idol Killed in $6,000 Car.” He went home and started his sculpture that night. But George Stevens stopped all publicity about James Dean. He seemed jealous of the Dean mystique. Many jealous actors panned Dean at that time. The fans were not organized to do anything about it. Time passed.

In 1980 Bill Dakota wanted to commission a full size statue of Dean for Hollywood Cemetery. Time passed.

In 1984 on September 30, Mayor Tom Bradley declared James Dean Day in Los Angeles. Kendall decided the time had come for his sculpture to be cast and placed at Griffith Observatory. This is not as simple a task as it sounds! Kendall himslef had to pay the $5,000 to cast the head. Dr. Crump at the observatory took three years to decide where the head could be placed. At the last minute, he ordered the letters, “James Dean” be made only two inches tall instead of three. Then there was the matter of where the plaques would be place, on which side of the sculpture’s base. Kendall lost. His plaque telling about James Dean is in the back.

(This is the same head you will see in the James Dean Memorial Gallery (of a different material) and the James Dean Memorial Park.)

It is significant that many people learn about James Dean from coming upon the sculpture at Griffith, yet you can’t read that smaller lettering until you are only fifty feet from the head.

Kendall, along with many others this weekend, spoke out against the authors who slander James Dean for profit. It is time to fight back, both by ignoring them and by contradicting their lies.

In conclusion Kendall remarked “So anyway, we have two James Dean monuments. I hope they’ll be there forever.”

Bob Pulley  Bob Pulley brought a light touch, while adding that he tells the same stories but there are new people here. He talked of hockey games on the frozen pond of the Winslow farm, and how they would try to trip each other with their sticks. Pulley wore his senior cords, at his wife’s insistence, and wondered what year that tradition started. Jimmy wore senior cords at Fairmount High School too.

There was not much to do in those days, Bob remembered. Movies were five cents or ten cents, and you needed a car to get anywhere outside of Fairmount. But it doesn’t feel like it was really that long ago.

Bob shared how much he enjoys the fans each year, and how welcome the new ones are. Bob was brief.

Phil Ziegler  Phil Ziegler was introduced as one of the newer citizens of Fairmount. You may have met him as he guided you through the Historical Society Museum, or at the other activities all weekend. He gave us a series of interesting quotations from A.C. Doyle, Camus, Thos. Wolfe, Carlyle and others.

Phil too spoke out well and passionately against some of the so-called Dean “biographers.”

You’ll know which are rotten and ill-written. Your good sense will prevail. Leave Jimmy as he is.

Phil also said something about “must have been a great delight to God as they are the best he ever created.” I’ll try to phone him to get that just right. Seems as if the Fairmounters leave town after we tourists go home!

Christina  This was our interlude in which Christina Dulworth sang her beautiful rendition of Whispering Hope, accompanied by Mattie Sellers.  M. Sellers

Mark Kinnaman  Mark K. Kinnaman was the next-to-last speaker. It was his first time, and fulfilled one of his life’s greatest goals. Mark is an artist in Fort Wayne, Indiana but he grew up near Elwood. It’s not just because I know him that I was held in thrall by his account.

This is certainly paraphrased and condensed

Mark told us:
I was brought here to Fairmount since I was a tiny child. My Dad was a big fan. He brought us all here three times a year. I just thought “so what.”

When I was nine, we moved to a farm. I grew up just like Jimmy, who came to the Winslow’s farm when he was nine. We had the same life and chores.
Then one rainy Sunday when I was thirteen, Channel 4 was running continuous movies. Our chores were done, we couldn’t go outside and Dad made us watch East of Eden. I was transfixed from the opening scene. No movie had ever affected me before. When I went to school on Monday, I asked everyone if they had seen it. No one else had. This was 1969. I bought a red jacket right away. People just thought I was weird.

I left the farm when I was 18, just like Jimmy did.

I joined the Army, and was stationed in 26 states and 11 countries. In each and every one, they knew James Dean. In Topkapi Palace park, a small boy about nine years old chased a soccer ball by me. He saw my Dean tee-shirt and stopped in his tracks. He knew who James Dean was.

In the market there, there are about a hundred post card stands. Every single one of them had rows of James Dean postcards for sale. This was 1988. That same year, I went to a 1950s pizza place in Turkey. It had a Rockola, pictures of Buddy, Marilyn and on one whole wall, an eight-foot mural of James Dean as the Rebel. The Turks think James Dean IS America.

I was on a Cyprus beach; same thing. Rebel Without A Cause was playing in a theatre near there, in English with Turkish subtitles. In Cold War Berlin, 2:00 a.m., I came upon a two-story brick building, one block long. One side of it was a mural of James Dean in the Giant pose with his feet up. (It was a cigarette ad.)

[Mark held up a metal Zippo.] In July of 1988 I bought my James Dean lighter. I carried it every day in Desert Storm.

At this point Mark was overcome with thoughts of our first year without Adeline, and he took his seat amidst applause. He forgot to mention that he is the father of two daughters. Their names? Jamie and Dena (pronounced Dean-ah.)

Tom Burghuis tried to talk about our not having Adeline with us, but it was very hard for him. Again I will include his message,

“she’s up there in Heaven with Mildred and Winton and Marcus and Ortense. In my mind she’s with us today. May we never forget her.”

Tom urged us to visit the James Dean Memorial Gallery, to join We Remember Dean International (the fan club) and concluded the service with a poem about James Dean thinking aloud on September 30, 1955.

Nikky   Nikky Bazooka took the stage with a beautiful yellow rose for Adeline. There was no scarf for anyone this year. After the briefest of remarks, he led the way out to the parking lot and took his accustomed place at the head of the march to the cemetery.

There are pictures from the cemetery on line here. Anyone who wants to can speak in the cemetery, reciting poetry or just talking from the heart. It was beautiful weather, a fitting conclusion to an emotional week. Please return for the picture pages at the cemetery.

If you missed finding the plate as you left the service, or if you weren’t able to be here this year, you can send a donation to

Kenneth Small
Back Creek Friends Treasurer
2520East 750 South
Fairmount IN 46928

The telephone there is (765) 948-5640. There is an answering machine for the first time.

Mattie wrote that the excellent sound system was a 1996 gift from Jim Curran, a Dean fan from Massachusetts!

Read the welcome given us at the service by the Friends, and Susan Bricker’s poem. Susan is Martha Howell’s granddaughter.


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sketch of James Dean by Robert W. Richards of New York CitySketch by Robert W. Richards of New York City.