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The Human Ashtray

In 1955, when my uncle Larry was in the EIGHTH grade, he saw Rebel Without a Cause. From there on out, he was totally obsessed.

Film still by the author

In 1955, when my uncle Larry was in the eighth grade, he saw Rebel Without a Cause. From there on out, he was totally obsessed. After graduating from high school, Larry was so focused on his perverted gay hero that he was spending more than all his money on collectible junk and was forced to live in a trailer. After he lost his job, his welfare checks were spent on beer and posters, books, videos, records, and anything else remotely Dean. Eventually, his bedroom became so full of crap he had to sleep on the couch. Then he made a big wood sign-post that read "Little Reata," like from the Dean film Giant, and stuck it in his yard. Despite his lack of income Larry managed to scrape up enough money to get to Fairmount, Indiana (where Dean was born), every February to celebrate Dean's birthday at the town hall. And then in September, he'd go back to celebrate the death of James Dean at the Fairmount cemetery. When Larry didn't have any money to buy a souvenir, he just stole sacred token offerings left by other crazed fans at Dean's tombstone. He made these two pilgrimages every year from 1965 until he died 30 years later. In the early 90s, I decided to shoot film and video footage of Larry with his James Dean collection. By then I'd already read the books Hollywood Babylon I and II, and knew all of the juicy gossip about James Dean. You know, like his "thriving colony of crabs" and "anonymous sex binges with leather daddies at an East Hollywood S&M bar." And don't forget his reputed nickname, The Human Ashtray, given because he liked to get his pals to put out their smokes on him. Larry had already heard about this stuff from other fans he'd met in Fairmount, and he steadfastly refused to discuss it AT ALL. I think he was pissed I brought it up. Later during that trip, my grandma told me that in the early 60s, she had discovered Larry in bed with my mom's boyfriend. Now that I think of it, I wonder if Larry had orgies with other closeted James Dean fans during his Fairmount excursions, and I further wonder if that resulted in him dying of what I think might have been AIDS. I don't know, because I wasn't invited to the funeral, and when Uncle Larry was dying, he didn't want to see me anymore. He had decided that my interest in his obsession was not cool, mostly because he probably knew that I would have killed to hear him say, just once, how bad he wanted to fuck Jimmy Dean.