Edna Ferber wrote the novel Giant in 1952. Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat wrote a screenplay adaptation of Ferber’s novel and in 1956 the American western film Giant starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean premiered.
In his new book GIANT: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film, author Don Graham gives an insightful look at the behind-the-scenes drama that went into making the classic epic western.
Giant is the story of well-to-do Texas rancher Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) who brings the new lady in his life, Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) who he met during a trip to the East Coast home to meet his family. Bick and Leslie end up marrying, but she doesn’t get along with his sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge). However, young ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean in his last feature film) takes a liking to Leslie. Bick and Jett also become rivals which last over the years.
I remember the first time I saw the movie Giant. My mom grew up during the time of the classic Hollywood movie era and often shared the movies she enjoyed with her children. Although I’m not a huge Western fan, I always had an interest in any film starring Elizabeth Taylor, who’s beauty, charm and talent was the basis for many to become enamored by her. The family dynamic and class and power struggles depicted in Giant is its appeal and the casting of Dean, Hudson and Taylor helped bring the characters’ passions to life. Director George Stevens expertly translated the majestic imagery of Ferber’s novel to the screen.
We learn in Graham’s book about the crew and actors behind the Giant characters. Before Rock Hudson was cast as Bick, many other Hollywood actors such as Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum and Charlton Heston were considered. While Stevens had wanted Audrey Hepburn to play Leslie, the role went to Taylor. James Dean won the part of Jett over actors Alan Ladd, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. Elizabeth Taylor was balancing this role with her real life marital problems. At the time she was making Giant, Taylor was married to her second husband Michael Wilding in addition to being a mother. However, filming Giant on location in Marfa, Texas kept her away from her family for several weeks. And by the movie premiere of Giant, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding had separated.
She developed a close relationship with her co-stars Dean and Hudson. Rock Hudson was having a promising career but in the back of his mind, he worried that would all change if it was discovered that he was gay. After filming of Giant ended, Hudson married his agent Henry Wilson’s secretary Phyllis Gates. And Giant helped to establish Rock Hudson as one of the top actors in Hollywood, earning him an Oscar nomination.
James Dean was a talented but difficult actor to have on set. Shooting was often delayed due to his lateness. He also had a belligerent nature, which included him rudely lashing out for no other reason other than the attention it earned him. However, the quality he shown in screen captivated directors like Stevens, who gave Dean a pass for his behavior. Like their Giant characters Bick and Jett, Hudson and Dean harbored a rivalry with Rock Hudson feeling that James Dean lacked the discipline and professionalism of a real star, while James Dean thought Hudson was an over-rated Hollywood actor.
Sadly while the production of Giant was still taking place on September 20, 1955, James Dean was killed in a fatal car accident and never lived to see the film completed or get to enjoy its success.
Don Graham is a professor of American and English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. In GIANT: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film, Graham talks about filming in the segregated town of Marfa, Texas. Giant itself as a movie is a study of class and gender with a strong opinionated female in Leslie thrust in the center. The behind the scene story of the making of Giant is as fascinating and compelling as the film itself.
Comments? Sound off below. Or tweet @thenerdygirlexp and @stacyamiller85 .