GEORGIA O’KEEFFE & MARIA CHABOT | “WOMEN WHO RODE WAY”

“Georgia O’Keeffe hitching a ride to Abiquiu, Ghost Ranch, 1944″ AKA ”Women Who Rode Away.” –Image by Maria Chabot @Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The painter, Maurice Grosser, visited his friend O’Keeffe’s ranch in 1944. Maria Chabot photographed O’Keeffe and Grosser on his 1938 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. It’s an amazing image that celebrates denim, machine, and the joy of the open road. That look on O’Keeffe’s face says it all.   

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Initially I was interested solely in wanting to know more about the superficial circumstances around this incredible image. You know– the motorcycle, driver, etc. It soon became very clear that there was/is this unresolved, controversial account of the exact nature of Chabot and O’Keefe’s friendship that’s fascinating in itself, and added mystery and tension to this incredible shot and the close connection between the two women. There has been speculation for decades that they were involved in an intimate same-sex relationship. There are those convinced that Maria Chabot was obsessed with O’Keeffe to the point of being jealous, possessive, and an embellisher of their history together in order to paint the relationship as she wished it were. And then there are the close to 700 hauntingly personal letters written by the two women, back and forth to one another, that more than hint to something deeper than just friendship. Eventually O’Keeffe matter-of-factly requested that Chabot leave her Abiquiu house for good unless personally  invited back by O’Keeffe herself. So, what really happened?

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TEXAS’ OWN “GONE WITH THE WIND” | GEORGE STEVENS’ 1956 EPIC– “GIANT”

Icons James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson sharing the silver screen– ‘nuff said? Not quite. While I love the glamour, legend, and lore behind the making of “Giant” (and trust me, we’ll get to that), it rings the social bell– truly ahead of its time, during the largely superficial values of the 1950s.

George Stevens’ 1956 masterpiece “Giant” has been described as– Texas’ own “Gone with the Wind.” Star-studded, sweeping and epic– that bravely chronicles the evolution of the Mexican people from a subservient status to a people worthy of equal rights, respect and dignity through their hard-fought, slow-earned absorption and acceptance in America.  It’s a story about social change and ethnic growing pains that was told on the big screen– before the issue was thrust front-and-center in American living rooms during the civil rights movement.

America has a history of making the path to assimilation and acceptance (in this fine country of ours that I love) a downright bloody one.  Hatred comes from fear–and fear is born of ignorance.  I’ve been down that road myself– most of us have at some point.  Like it or not.  Maybe the melting pot analogy is fitting here– throw it all in, boil out the bones, cook under high heat until palatable, and serve up warm.

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“In the beginning of “Giant,” the rancher Bick Benedict is always correcting his Eastern-bred wife for treatingthe Mexican servants as deserving of respect. By the film’s end, however, Benedict, played by a young Rock Hudson, comes to blows with a cafe owner attempting to remove a Spanish-speaking patron from his restaurant. Above all its themes, “Giant” is about social change. Hollywood for the first time addressed anti-Hispanic racism.‘Giant’ broke ground in the way it celebrated the fusion of Anglo and Hispanic culture in Texas– and anticipated the social gains that Mexican-Americans would make over the next generation. The movie is as much about race as it is about Texas.”

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Benjamin Johnson (Author and Historian)

The Reata Ranch House (seen above in the background) in “Giant” is based on a actual Texas mansion– the Victorian era “Waggoner Mansion” that still stands today in Decatur, northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. George Stevens rejected the hacienda architecture of the traditional Texas ranch house (which is how the Benedict place is described in the Ferber novel). Stevens worried that a Spanish-looking house would be alien to non-Texan viewers. via The huge façade (of the Reata Ranch house) was built in Hollywood and shipped to Marfa on flatcars. It was erected in a corner of the Worth Evans ranch, one of the more imposing holdings of the region. And it was a strange sight, its towers visible for many miles, in the middle of the plains. As it was about a half enclosure rather well constructed, Stevens left it to serve the hospitable Mr. Evans as a hay barn. via

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1955– Elizabeth Taylor & James Dean in George Stevens’ “Giant.” –Image © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

“We were working on’Giant’, and we’re out in the middle of Texas. It was a scene that takes place just before Dean discovers oil on his land, where Elizabeth Taylor comes by and he makes tea for her. It’s the first time Dean has ever acted with her. But even though we’re out in the desert in Marfa, there are a thousand people watching us film behind a rope. It’s a scene where Dean has a rifle on his back. He brings her in and makes her tea, and then, suddenly, he stops. And he walks a couple hundred feet away to where these people are watching us, and in front of all of them, he pisses– facing them, with his back to the set. Then he comes back in and does the scene. So, later, we’re driving back to Marfa, and I said, ‘Jimmy, I’ve seen you do a lot of strange things, man, but you really did it today. What was that all about?’ He said, ‘It was Elizabeth Taylor. I can’t get over my farm-boy upbringing. I was so nervous that I couldn’t speak. I had to pee, and I was trying to use that, but it wasn’t working. So I thought that if I could go pee in front of all those people, I would be able to work with her.'”  –costar Dennis Hopper via

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THE LAST PICTURE SHOW | EPIC FEAST OF DUST, DENIM, DESIRE & DREAMS

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If this film doesn’t make you feel something– check your pulse.  You’re probably dead.  It’s a feast for the eyes, ears and soul.  Beautifully sad, haunting, yearning.  It pokes at that hole inside that we all have. The music weaves through the film magically– a part of the story.  Like when Sonny tunes in the radio…

And the cornerstone is a crusty old codger who dies halfway through the flick.  Sam the Lion is The Last Picture Show.

When I was a boy, all I wanted to be was James Dean.  The smoldering, misunderstood, angst-filled rebel badass– always on the outside lookin’ in.  Now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser– all I want to be is Sam the Lion. The strong, salty, cowboy sage.  Mellowed with age– but straight-out speaks his mind. See, he’s got no time for puttin’ up with trashy behavior, and won’t hesitate to call a spade a spade.

Maybe if you’re twenty and don’t want to be James Dean– you don’t have a heart. And maybe if you’re forty and don’t want to be Sam the Lion– you don’t have a brain. Maybe that’s all just a bunch of bullshit.

Find your true skin and learn to be comfortable in it– the rest ‘ll take care of itself.

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EVEN COWBOYS GET THE BLUES | VINTAGE PHOTOS OF DUDES IN DENIM

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Times sure have changed.  Playing “Cowboys & Indians” outside has been replaced with playing “Halo” or “Call of Duty” in a darkened room.  Heck, it’s probably so politically incorrect to even mention “Cowboys & Indians” that someone somewhere is having a tizzy.  The American cowboy is an icon of grit, honor, independence and masculinity.  Hard work, long days, and little pay except for the open sky, a horse to ride, a hot meal and a drink or two to wet your whistle.  Maybe even a dance with a pretty girl if yer’ lucky– and don’t stink to high heaven.

The 1910s – 1930s saw the Wild West American lifestyle move largely from a way of life, to ever-increasing faded memories and mythology.  Our country was getting smaller. Technology and transportation were ushering in a new era of industrialized cities and advanced accessibility.  The real jean-wearin’ cowboy lifestyle of days past were kept alive over the decades largely through the Western fashions worn by the stars of silver screen and music.

These images are some of my favorite captures of the American cowboy at the very end of his reign– many not surprisingly taken by LIFE photography giants like Loomis Dean, and Ralph Crane to name a few. Some, unfortunately, are uncredited.  If you know the pic, give me a shout  so I can give the photographer their due, please.

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circa 1934– “Rear view of a man wearing chaps and spurs”  –Photo McCormic Co., Amarillo, Texas.

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Lubbock, TX, 1940– Matador, A Texas Ranch: Seven cowboys sitting along corral fence draped w. their chaps (which they don’t wear while not working), as they wait for brand irons to heat up during cattle roundup at Matador Ranch, the second largest in the state.  –photo by Hansel Mieth

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LEVI’S PHOTO WORKSHOP | CELEBRATE NYC – THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S MUSE

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EMBRACING AND CELEBRATING THE MODERN-DAY PIONEER SPIRIT OF AMERICA, LEVI’S FOLLOWED-UP THEIR SAN FRANCISICO PRINT SHOP WITH THE NYC PHOTO WORKSHOP @ 18 WOOSTER STREET IN SOHO AS PART OF THEIR “READY TO WORK” GO FORTH™ CAMPAIGN.  LOCAL ARTISTS, COMMUNITY GROUPS & NON-PROFITS WILL HAVE ACCESS TO THE STAFFED, PROFESSIONAL GRADE PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO, COMPUTERS, AND PRINTING RESOURCES (PROVIDED BY ZAZZLE) TO CREATE WORKS THAT CAN BE EXHIBITED AND SOLD AT THE WORKSHOP THAT RUNS THROUGH DECEMBER 18TH, 2010.

IN SPEAKING WITH JOSH KATZ, HEAD OF COLLABORATIONS AT LEVI’S, IT’S CLEAR THAT THIS IS AN EARNEST AND ADMIRABLE EFFORT STEMMING FROM LEVI’S CORE BELIEF THAT BRANDS HAVE A CERTAIN OBLIGATION TO THE PEOPLE THAT WEAR THEM , TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS THROUGH PRODUCTS, AND TO BE RESPONSIBLE MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMUNITY.  CUDOS, AGREED.

DEFINITELY CHECK IT OUT.  LEVI’S HELD NOTHING BACK, DOING AN AMAZING JOB.

MORE INFO AND A FULL CALENDAR OF EVENTS IS POSTED HERE

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TSY STYLE HALL OF FAME | JAMES DEAN CULTURAL GIANT OF THE REBEL SET

The irony is that James Dean was considered anything but stylish by many of his Hollywood peers of the day. He turned heads and created a legend, not by dressing up– but by dressing down.  Established style icon Humphrey Bogart looked down his nose at Dean, considering him a punk and a slob.  On Jimmy’s passing, Bogart had this to say– “Dean died at just the right time. He left behind a legend. If he’d lived, he’d never have been able to live up to the publicity.” Bogart was right in that Dean was difficult, and definitely not a natty dresser– but his impact on style can never be diminished.

James Dean cemented the rebel uniform for his generation of youth, and for many to come, through his very personal portrayal of Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause. Immortalized onscreen in Technicolor wearing the now iconic red jacket, white tee, Lee 101 Jeans, and engineer boots, Dean seemed to hold the world breathless, and became the first actor to speak for the silent anguished teen– he gave them a voice they had been lacking. Before James Dean, onscreen you were either a boy or a man. Dean’s influence on countless great actors that followed him created some incredible performances, like Martin Sheen in Badlands, who owes Jimmy everything he knows about acting.

“Jimmy Dean and Elvis were the spokesmen for an entire generation. When I was in acting school in New York, years ago, there was a saying that if Marlon Brando changed the way people acted, then James Dean changed the way people lived. He was the greatest actor who ever lived. He was simply a genius.” – Martin Sheen

James Dean on the set of George Steven’s epic 1956 masterpiece, Giant. It was Jimmy’s last film, and was released after his tragic death behind the wheel of the infamous “Little Bastard'” Porsche Spyder. Jimmy was on his way with mechanic Rolf Wütherich to Salinas to pursue his other passion– racing cars. James Dean received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor posthumously, the only person to this day to ever do so– in 1955 for East of Eden, and again in 1956 for Giant.  — image via Hulton archive

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In 2006, the original Lee 101z Rider jeans worn by James Dean (pictured above) were auctioned off for $35,850. Lee Japan has introduced a replica of these same 101Z Rider jeans worn by James dean in Giant for the Lee Archives in 13,25oz narrow loom, Sanforized indigo cast denim with its characteristic one-side selvedge.

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James Dean as the surly and misunderstood Jett Rink in George Steven’s epic masterpiece, “Giant.”

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MARILYN MONROE & MONTY CLIFT | HOLLYWOODS DENIM-CLAD MISFITS

The Misfits Marilyn Monroe

1960, Reno, Nevada — The cast, writer, and director of The Misfits. Montgomery Clift as Perce Howland, Eli Wallach as Guido, screenwriter Arthur Miller, director John Huston, Clark Gable as Gay Langland, and Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn Taber (and who had recently divorced Miller) — Image by © Underwood & Underwood

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There are certain films of the 1950s-60s that capture what I love best– Hollywood icons clad in cool denim.  The Wild One… Rebel Without a Cause… and the list goes on.  Wild, rebellious, good-looking misfits wreaking havoc on the mainstream squares– and doing it wearing denim all the while.  Yes.

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Marilyn Monroe Montgomery Clift The Misfits

Marilyn Monroe (in her Lee Storm Rider jacket) & Monty Clift (who wore Lee Riders jeans) in John Huston’s 1961 film The Misfits.

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Marilyn Monroe wore her fair share of denim back in the day– both onscreen and off.  In The Misfits, alongside costar Montgomery Clift, you see great Lee icons of denim history well worn by Hollywood’s finest. It’s an added bonus for a film that’s a true classic, and full of real-life  irony, sadness and loss of epic proportion– which just serves to add to my sentimental yearnings for this bygone Hollywood era.

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YEAH, WELL — SOMETIMES NOTHIN’ CAN BE A REAL COOL HAND

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Cool Hand Luke

Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke

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Cool Hand Luke, brother. Enough quotable anti-establishment mantras to ink an entire tattoo sleeve. Enough chambray & denim workwear to choke the toughest clothes horse.  It’s Sunday night, men.  You have a few hours still left to rebel before you punch your ticket and report to the man on Monday morning.

Can’t find your spine?  What? you left it at Starbucks, bro?  Pick up your shovel and let Lucas Jackson show you how to find it at the bottom of Boss Keans’ ditch.  Sometimes a man enters a fight with nothin’ but his will, and where he came from — and that can be a real cool hand. Watch and learn.

Any man who passes up– spends a night in the box.

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Paul Newman in 1967's Cool Hand Luke

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HISTORY OF DENIM THROUGH THE AGES | WESTERN WEAR GOES HOLLYWOOD

I was in 5th or 6th grade, 10 years old, when I started making my own money. I’d go with my Mom on the weekends to the restaurant where she was working at the time out at little ol’ Litchfield Airport in Arizona. The place was called Barnstorm Charlies. I’d bus tables there, re-stock, clean-up, help out in the kitchen– whatever they needed. It made me feel independent, and like I had something to offer the world. I worked hard and didn’t complain– I was proud to have a job, and wanted to be the best employee I could be.

With my hard-earned little fistful of cash, the first thing I remember buying was a pair of Levi’s 501s. I still recall heading to the local Smitty’s, going through the stacks of shrink-to-fits looking for my size, doing the shrinkage calculations printed on the Levi’s tag in my head, holding that dark, rigid denim in my hands– and feeling a wonderful inner glow that’s hard to explain. It was the birth of an intense Levi’s ritual that is still a part of my life.

The preamble is meant only to let you know that denim, Levi’s in particular, probably means more to me than it does to most people.  It may sound strange, but denim represents all that I consider to be good and of value in the world. It’s  pure, honest, unpretentious, reliable, hard-working, American tradition that gets better with age. It doesn’t get any better than that in my book. The story of denim is forever entwined with the story of America. It’s part of our heritage, and a genuine American Icon.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby on drums, Shirley Ross.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby (in head-to-toe denim) on drums, Shirley Ross. Tommy Dorsey is just out of sight on the right on the trombone. Amateur swing contest, ca. 1939.

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AUTO UNDERDOG AMC | WALLY BOOTH’S GROWLIN’ GREMLIN STREET CRED

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Wally Booth Press

AMC Pro Stock press for Wally Booth & his Gremlin X

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That’s right, it’s a Gremlin– without a doubt one, of the ugliest, least respected, aerodynamically-challenged cars ever produced on American soil.  Wisconsin-based AMC had never been known for beautiful design or muscle, and so their entry into the muscle car market in the 1970s was seen as a classic tale of– a day late & a  dollar short.  When AMC signed Wally Booth to head the AMC Pro Stock effort, despite that there were virtually no aftermarket components for AMG engines, he and engine-building partner Dick Arons transformed the brand’s staid grocery-getter reputation from the ground up into that of a genuine performance powerhouse– all from scratch.  Needless to say, everyone on the racing scene quickly took notice, as the red-headed stepchild to America’s “Big Three” automakers worked tirelessly with the little they had, and started to kick some serious tail.

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Wally Booth's Gremlin X

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