He had that smoulder, those brooding eyes, the kind that gave girls goosebumps and dads nightmares.

In the 1950s, as big band swing music gave way to rock and roll, teenagers came of age all at once, and James Dean, fair-haired and chiseled, was the perfect embodiment of teen angst. In his three films, “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “Giant,” he wanted nothing but love, respect, and the acceptance he doubted he would ever get.

Today, Dean would be an old man, 84. But he isn’t. He is 24 — and always will be.

“Things haven’t really changed in 60 years. Kids still have the same problems with their parents. Jimmy just brought those characters to life.”

“I feel that part of his staying power is the spiritual quality of the boy,” Adeline Nall, who taught Dean in high school in drama and speech, said some years back. “He was not a deeply religious boy, but he did come to me one time and say, ‘Mrs. Nall, you’d be surprised, wouldn’t you, if I told you I was going into the ministry?’ And I said, ‘Not at all, Jim. A good minister is certainly a dramatist.’

“To me, he has reached out through the screen and touched people’s lives. It’s amazing. People associate with him so readily,” said Nall, who passed away in 1996. “They have all suffered like he suffered, in a way.”

Dean died 60 years ago Wednesday in a crumpled Porsche 550 Spyder on a California highway near Cholame. A 23-year-old Cal Poly student named Donald Turnupseed, driving a 1950 hot-rod Ford Tudor, never saw the silver-gray racer in the dusk, turning left in front of him, sending the smaller car airborne and slamming it into a barbed-wire fence.

Dean, the first famous fatalist for teenagers, had told some friends he didn’t expect to live past 30. When talking about racing cars, he said, “What better way to die? It’s fast and clean and you go out in a blaze of glory.”

Dean became one of the three ill-fated cultural icons of the ’50s, along with Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

LZ-info-thumb_James Dean (10226)“’East of Eden’ and ‘Rebel’ were films about kids and their problems with their parents,” said Marcus Winslow Jr., Dean’s first cousin who regarded him as an older brother when they were growing up in rural Jonesboro, Indiana. “Things haven’t really changed in 60 years. Kids still have the same problems with their parents. And Jimmy just brought those characters to life.”

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Dean, in his Lee 101 Rider jeans, white T-shirt and black leather jacket, is still the definition of cool. No wonder he attracts fans of high school and college age. Each year, they make the pilgrimage to his Midwestern hometown of Fairmount, Indiana, where he was reared by an aunt and uncle after his mother died. Fans stroll the streets that look just like they did when Dean walked them in the early ’50s.

Though he can’t “friend” back, James Dean enjoys 1.7 million followers on Facebook.

They identify with his anguished, rebellious characters, romanticize him from pop songs such as Taylor Swift’s “Style,” and can’t resist the sharp marketing by the Curtis Management Group, which licenses his name and image for commercial products that include MasterCard and expensive Swiss watches. In 2013, Dean was a near-miss on the Forbes Top-Earning Dead Celebrities list (the lowest earners started at $7 million). And though he can’t “friend” back, he enjoys 1.7 million followers on Facebook.

Sixty years later, folks still care.

Winslow, forever captured as an 11-year-old in the famous Dennis Stock photos from the actor’s last trip home, is accessible to the fans. He answers questions and poses for photos if they drive up to the farm, something he does because his parents did it, too. He also understands the need to keep Dean around.

“Jimmy’s touched a lot of hearts. I try to make his fans feel that they’re a part of his life,”  he said.

Each September some 20,000 people come to Fairmount for the annual James Dean Festival.

While new fans arrive year-round, each September some 20,000 people, many of them regulars, come to Fairmount for the annual James Dean Festival. It’s a three-day event with a parade, a show of vintage and custom cars, a ’50s dance-off, a Dean look-alike contest and a memorial service at the Quaker church Dean attended, followed by a walking procession to his grave in Park Cemetery.

This year’s celebration, the 40th, was be held from Sept. 24-27. On Wednesday, the anniversary of Dean’s death, David Loehr will help dedicate a 6-foot-tall black granite monument in a park-like setting at Fourth and McClure streets in nearby Marion, Indiana, where Dean was born.

“It’s going to be spectacular,” he said.

Loehr has devoted his adult life to Dean’s memory. At the James Dean Gallery he runs in Fairmount, he sells items such as Greg Swenson’s book, “Recipes for Rebels: In the Kitchen with James Dean,” which has more than 200 recipes from friends, family, and Dean’s favorite restaurants. The gallery also displays the largest collection of Dean memorabilia in the world, including the fence from “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Loehr is one of many Dean enthusiasts who have made a new life in a place where time seems suspended. In 1986, he left New York for Fairmont, where people look out for one another. Before retired optometrist Phil Zeigler moved there from York, Pennsylvania, in 1996, Winslow told him, “We’ll see if we can’t find a place for you,” and helped Zeigler move into the house Dean’s father, Winton, owned next to the Winslow farm.

If we’re conservative, we focus on James Dean, the nice farm kid from Fairmount. If we’re bohemian, we focus on his time in New York.

Dean fascinates, said Keith Eliot Greenberg, author of “Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: James Dean’s Final Hours,” a book that debuted in September, because “he’s a blank slate. He’s clean, so we can project whatever we want on him. If we’re conservative, we focus on James Dean, the nice farm kid from Fairmount. If we’re bohemian, we focus on his time in New York. He can be all things to all people.”

Had he lived, Dean would be 85 on his next birthday. Most likely he’d be the eternal hipster, like his late friend Dennis Hopper. Some speculate he would have ended up as Marlon Brando, fat, eccentric and estranged, while others think he would be vibrant and socially active, writing, directing and producing films.

There is one thing for sure about the man who reportedly said, “The only greatness for man is immortality.” He would have enjoyed the attention.

“I think he’d be tickled to death,” Winslow said. “He’s probably laughing about it all.”​

Alanna Nash is the author of seven books, including four on Elvis Presley.  

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