As I was doing research for my new book, Judy Garland Slept Here (to be published in September 2019 by Running Press), I read a most fascinating book which I dug into earlier: Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film (St. Martin’s Press; $27.99). Don Graham takes a larger-than-life narrative of the making of the classic film based on Edna Ferber’s controversial novel. Taking a wide-angle view of America—and Texas—in the Eisenhower era, Graham reveals how the film and its production mark the rise of America as a superpower, the ascent of Hollywood celebrity, and the flowering of Texas culture as mythology.
Featuring James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor, Giant dramatizes a family saga against the background of the oil industry and its impact upon ranching culture—think Spindletop Hill in Beaumont, Texas and the fabled King Ranch in South Texas.
Isolating his star cast in the wilds of West Texas in the summer of 1955, director George Stevens brought together a volatile mix of egos, anxieties, sexual tensions and talent. Stevens certainly had his hands full with Hudson’s latent insecurities, Taylor’s high diva-dom, and Dean’s rebellious antics. Yet he coaxed performances out of them that made cinematic history, winning Stevens the Academy Award for Best Director and garnering nine other nominations, including a nomination for Best Actor for James Dean, who died before the film was finished.
In this compelling and impeccably researched narrative history of the making of the film, Graham chronicles the stories of Stevens, whose trauma from witnessing the horrors of World War II intensified his ambition to make films that would tell the story of America; of Edna Ferber, a considerable literary celebrity who meets her match in the imposing Robert Kleberg, proprietor of the vast King Ranch; and of Glenn McCarthy, the Errol Flynn lookalike who became the most famous wildcatter in Texas history and the builder of Houston’s grand Shamrock Hotel.
Drawing on archival sources, Graham’s book is a comprehensive depiction of the film’s production, showing readers how reality became fiction and fiction became cinema.