This article features the research of Dr. Don B. Graham.
It’s a blazing hot afternoon in the small town of Marfa in West Texas, 1955. Tensions are running high. Rock Hudson groans at James Dean’s bravado and juvenile rebellious attitude—Hudson hated Dean and said so explicitly on multiple occasions. Elizabeth Taylor became very close with both men, though this did nothing to make them get along. Director George Stevens tried to get his actors to play nice long enough to finish filming the epic 1956 box office hit Giant. Luckily he succeeded.
In Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film, University of Texas Professor of English Don B. Graham describes the drama that went on behind the scenes of the classic Texas film. This photograph that Dr. Graham features in his book shows Elizabeth Taylor playfully roping director George Stevens in front of actors Mercedes McCambridge, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. It captures a moment of harmony and happiness among members of the cast of Giant that never really existed. Much like Hudson, Stevens found Dean’s mannerisms and defiant nature grating. Though the playful scene of this picture may lead us to believe otherwise, Stevens also had trouble with Elizabeth Taylor. She was often angry with Stevens and found his style of directing too demanding.
Ever the rebel, Dean identified with the individualism of the archetypal cowboy and wanted to be as close to a real Texas cowboy as he could. He constantly practiced roping under the expert hand of Bob Hinkle, the “Texas Talk Man,” who was hired to teach Hudson and other members of the cast to talk like Texans. There are many photographs from that summer in Marfa that show Dean playing with lasso loops, and he roped the other cast members into practicing with him. Elizabeth Taylor takes over Dean’s mischievous role in this moment, perhaps to bring the cast together at what might have been a moment thick with tension or a rare flash of comradery and joy.
Purchase Don Graham’s book Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American
Read the New York Times interview with Don Graham about Giant