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James Dean birthday celebration begins today

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

James Dean fans will gather this weekend in celebration of the star’s birthday, with plans to take part in eating at local restaurants and catching up.

The festivities are set to begin Friday night at Payne’s Restaurant at 6:30 p.m. and will continue Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. at Bad Dad Brewery for brick oven pizza and drinks. The weekend will conclude with a Sunday 10 a.m. brunch at the James Dean Gallery.

Owner of the James Dean Gallery, David Loehr, said they’ve had dances and movies in years past, but due to the month of February always bringing a variety of weather patterns, it’s a little harder to plan those events in advance. This year, he decided they’d stick with simpler plans and focus on enjoying one another’s company.

The purpose of holding weekend festivities for Dean’s birthday every year since the 80s is to pay tribute to him and to reunite with fellow fans. Loehr said they often have the same people return year after year, creating an atmosphere similar to a family reunion.

“It’s to pay tribute to him, and fans like to get together and talk and visit with each other ... it's a good excuse to see old friends,” he said.

Dean would have celebrated his 88th birthday today, and though he’s been gone for 63 years, Loehr said Dean is still gaining new fans. Especially with Netflix making “East of Eden” available for viewers, Loehr said new fans are always discovering the King of Cool.

Lenny Prussak runs the gift shop in the gallery and has attended the birthday festivities for the past 30 years. Along with meeting new people, Prussak said he enjoys catching up with old friends.

“It’s a way to meet new people and then there’s a lot of the same people that come back every year. I belong to a James Dean fan club ... and a lot of those members come to the birthday weekend,” he said.

Attendance numbers are usually dependent on the weather, but Loehr said people travel in from New York, Chicago and all over the Midwest. They’ve had anywhere from five to 30 people in the past, with their bigger fan events taking place in the summer with at times 100 attendees.

The birthday events are open to the public. Loehr said while people can RSVP with the gallery, it’s not necessary.