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.
“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.”
—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
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
“Okay, so I’m in the theater in Santa Monica. My agent is there. The play hasn’t started yet when my agent gets up and leaves to take a call. I’m sitting there, and he comes back and he’s ashen. He says, ‘I have to tell you something, but promise me that you’ll stay here in the theater.’ I said, ‘Is it someone in my family?’ He said, ‘No, but are you going to stay here?’ ‘Yeah,’ I say. He says, ‘James Dean was just killed in a car accident.’ And at that moment, the lights went out on the stage, and the spotlight came up on this empty chair, and I flipped out. That was it. In fact, I think I hit my agent. I went crazy. It was a bad time. You know, I really believe in destiny, and that didn’t fit in… George Stevens wouldn’t let him race when we were making ‘Giant,’ which was obviously intelligent, but Dean only had two weeks to go, so Stevens said okay…” –Dennis Hopper via
“One day there was a knock on the door, and it was James Dean. He said, ‘You Bob Hinkle? I seen you over at the studio restaurant a couple of times.’ Well, I’d seen him, but I never had met him. He was kind of a loner, quiet. He ate by himself. He said, ‘I’d like to work with you in playing Jett Rink. I’d like you to help me create that character.’ He offered to pay me out of his own pocket but I said that’s not necessary. I asked him when he wanted to start. He told me, ‘I’d like to start today.’ So we went to dinner that night at Barney’s Beanery over on La Cienega. I told Jimmy, ‘If you are going to be a Texan, the best way is to be a Texan all day long. Get up in the morning, put on your hat, put on your boots. Dress like a Texan, eat the food Texans eat.’ Dean told me, ‘That’s what I want to do.'” –Bob Hinkle, “Giant” dialogue coach via
1955– Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson on the set of “Giant.” –Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis The two Hollywood stars became good friends while making “Giant”. After Rock Hudson’s passing due to complications from the AIDS virus in 1985, Elizabeth Taylor became very active in raising awareness and funding for AIDS research. In 1993, Taylor was awarded the prestigious Jean Hercholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“George Stevens had problems with Jimmy only a couple of times and that’s been blown way out of proportion. I was there when George shot that scene where Jimmy paces off the property that he inherited from Bick Benedict’s sister. We were shooting on a ranch, in Marfa, Texas, on location. There were just four of us there that day including the cameraman. It was like a second unit.”
“George told Dean what he wanted– ‘I just want you to walk right straight for that fence post,’ indicating that Jimmy should measure the land with his boot steps. Dean said okay, and Stevens told the cameraman to roll it. Jimmy hardly got a few feet when Stevens yelled, ‘Cut.’ We all kind of stood there for a minute. Nobody said anything. Then, George took a page from the back of the script and started tearing it up into little pieces. Without saying a word, Stevens threw a little piece of paper down and put a rock on it. Then he went about ten feet and did the same thing. ‘What the hell is he doing?’ Jimmy asked me. I said, ‘I don’t have any idea.’ Stevens made this trail out to the fence post, then walked back, and said to Jimmy, ‘Do you think you could follow that line?’ Dean replied, ‘Yeah, I think I can.’ The camera started to roll. Jimmy walked over to the first rock, picked it up and tossed it away. Stevens yelled cut but Jimmy ignored him– he kept walking, picking up every one of those pieces of paper. Then he came back and dropped them right in the director’s lap.” (cont.)
1955, Marfa, TX– James Dean staring up at windmill, on the set of “Giant.” –Image © Frank Worth
“Bill, the cameraman, and I were dumbfounded. Dean stared at Stevens and said, ‘Look, if I need marks, I’ll put down my own marks. All you need to do is to tell me what you want me to do, like a director is supposed to. Then I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’m going to get my ass on a plane and go back to California.’ Stevens reacted real calm. He said, ‘Well, okay, let’s just shoot it.'”
“The camera began rolling again. But this time Jimmy Dean was pissed off. He reared back, and began strutting over to this windmill instead of heading toward the fence. I realized Dean was improvising, but the director wasn’t angry. He told the cameraman, ‘Stay on him, Bill. Stay with him.’ George Stevens was excited by Dean’s reaction, even though none of this was in the script. Dean climbed up on the windmill, crossed his legs, and sat up there. All the time, Stevens kept telling the cameraman, ‘Hold on to him. Keep on him. You got him, haven’t you? That’s perfect, perfect. Oh, man.’ I think George set up the whole scene. He got the reaction from James Dean that he wanted. It was part of this reverse psychology that made him so good as a director.” –Bob Hinkle, “Giant” dialogue coach via
1955, Marfa Texas– James Dean as Jett Rink in a scene from the George Stevens’ epic film “Giant.” James Dean had the self-absorption of the young and ambitious actor. He must have been a trial to Stevens, who avoided him in town and actually announced wrong starting times for running of “rush” footage. Not that Stevens didn’t adore him. He rarely gave him a word of direction. Dean’s “takes” were almost always right. To others if not to Dean, Stevens was eloquently appreciative of his actor. via
1955, Marfa , TX– A “Giant” undertaking– Actors, technicians, and equipment assembled for a scene in front of the Reata ranch house set. Warner Bros. photographer Floyd McCarty took this picture on the set, shown courtesy of Frances Bearden (wife of the late Dallas artist and SMU art professor, Ed Bearden). via
1955, Marfa , TX–In this photo, Texas journalists, including the late Dallas Morning News art critic John Rosenfield (far right), conduct a press conference with George Stevens (far left) on the set. Warner Bros. photographer Floyd McCarty took this picture on the set, shown courtesy of Frances Bearden (wife of the late Dallas artist and SMU art professor, Ed Bearden). via
1955, Marfa , TX– James Dean with actors, crew, and onlookers between scenes. Director George Stevens opened up the set to thousands of bystanders who came from all over West Texas– a deliberate strategy to create early buzz about the film. Warner Bros. photographer Floyd McCarty took this picture on the set, shown courtesy of Frances Bearden (wife of the late Dallas artist and SMU art professor, Ed Bearden). via
James Dean as Jett Rink: three studies. Before shooting “Giant,” director George Stevens asked the late Dallas artist and SMU art professor Ed Bearden to draw the film’s storyboards. Stevens wanted a Texas native to conceive the characters visually in order to capture their authenticity. Bearden’s pen portraits were enlarged and displayed on the set as a guide to makeup and costume crews. The artist also went to Marfa during shooting to sketch on the “Giant” set. via
1955– James Dean as Jett Rink in the epic film “Giant” working on the oil well at his Little Reata. “‘Giant’ was finished at the Warner studio on September 30, 1955. There was a celebration on the set and then James Dean, who played the all-vital role of Jett Rink, an analogue of any lavish oil millionaire you know, jumped into his European racer and sped away to a stock car race. His predilection for fast driving had caused Stevens at Marfa to issue his only edict, no cars on location and positively none, owned or borrowed, to be driven by Dean. It is tragic that Stevens’ authority had ended. Dean, at twenty-four, was killed in a crash that night.” via
1955, Marfa, Texas– James Dean as Jett Rink on the set of the George Stevens’ epic film, “Giant.” After James Dean was tragically killed in that car crash on Sept. 30th, 1955 (before production on “Giant” was finished), actor Nick Adams, who had a bit part in “Rebel Without a Cause”, was tapped to finish Dean’s voiceovers.
1955, Marfa, Texas– James Dean as Jett Rink on the set of the George Stevens’ epic film, “Giant.”
1955, Marfa, Texas– James Dean as Jett Rink on the set of the George Stevens’ epic film, “Giant.”
1955– Rock Hudson and James Dean rehearsing a scene from “Giant” after Jett Rink strikes oil on Little Reata. “Rock and Jimmy were a bit jealous of each other. Jimmy was jealous of Rock because Rock had all the good dialogue, and Rock was jealous of Jimmy because East of Eden had just been released and Dean was getting all the attention from the media. They never had words, but you could feel the jealousy. It would come out when Rock would say, “How is Jimmy to work with?” or Dean would say, “How do you like working with old Rock. You know, has he ever come on to you?” We all knew about Rock, but on the set he was as straight as could be. There never was any inkling. He was a very nice guy, very easy going, always prepared.” –Bob Hinkle, “Giant” dialogue coach via
George Stevens with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson on the set of the 1956 masterpiece, “Giant”. –Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis. It’s hard to imagine Audrey Hepburn and John Wayne playing opposite in the leading roles, but they were early casting frontrunners. Hudson’s performance in Giant scored him his only Oscar nomination (both he and James Dean lost Best Actor to “The King and I” star Yul Brynner) during his acting career that spanned over 30 years.
Director George Stevens and James Dean reviewing set models for “Giant” prior to the start of filming. “Production began in June, 1955, at Charlottesville, Virginia, where scenes were quickly made for the early, genteel, F.F.V. life of Leslie before she married a most Texanish Texan and moved to Reata. This is a mythical town on the cattle plains, near enough to the border to be inhabited largely by Mexicans. Otherwise Reata was in the environs of Marfa, which location Stevens settled on after scouting likely spots in several southwestern states.” via
1955– Dennis Hopper and Rock Hudson on the set of “Giant” –Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis. Dennis Hopper (then 19), in his first major film role, played Hudson’s son, Jordan, whose contentious marriage to a Mexican woman made “Giant” one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to address issues of racial prejudice. via
1955– Dennis Hopper (just 19 yrs old at the time) and Rock Hudson on the set of the film “Giant.”
1955, Marfa, TX– Mercedes McCambridge and James Dean on the set of “Giant”. Her hat was a gift from Gary Cooper– Jimmy so loved the hat, that he often joked that he was going to steal it off her.
1955– James Dean & Mercedes McCambridge in a scene from “Giant” –Image by © Bettmann/Corbis. Mercedes McCambridge earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination her role as Luz.
1955, Marfa, Texas– (Lt.) James Dean hamming it up with “Giant” dialogue coach Robert Hinkle. via (Rt.) “Giant” author Edna Ferber, then 70, spins lassos on set with James Dean, with whom she became friends (he was reportedly working on a sculpture of Ferber at the time of his death). In a rare show of authorial force, she became a one-third production partner and received a cut of the movie’s profits. She was later said to have been underwhelmed by Stevens’ big-screen adaptation. –Image © Warner Bros./Courtesy TCM via
“Giant was, to start with, Edna Ferber’s lampoon of Texas published in 1952. Nobody has claimed that Miss Ferber is a major literary figure. Her language is an odd, awkward blend of ‘slicks’ and ‘pulp.’ Her strokes are so broad as to look like caricatures to her many detractors. Miss Ferber, however, can afford to let the critical esteem go. In fact she can afford almost anything. She has grown rich from a succession of best sellers, one of which was Giant.”
“In Giant she spans thirty years in the story of Cattle Baron Bick Benedict, his gentle wife from Virginia, Leslie, and the rise of the flamboyant oil millionaire, Jett Rink. The caste problem of Mexican peons and the emergence of showy parvenus and their abrasive, bovine, mink-drenched wives are the other elements.”
“Actually Miss Ferber so juggled her people and locales as to create little more than a fanciful novel. But Texans, reading it in 1952, insisted it was a roman à clef involving the Klebergs of the King Ranch, Glenn McCarthy of Houston’s Shamrock Hotel with its incredibly bacchanalian opening, and other recognizable figures. The press reviewers spouted indignantly and the conversation on country estates fairly sizzled.”
“The sale of the book was enormous. The gaudy set, who either were subjects or hoped they were, could not help buying it. The blue-jean Texan also bought it and secretly cheered.”
–John Rosenfield, “Resident Arts” column, Autumn 1956 issue, Southwest Review.
1955– Bob Hinkle (dialogue coach on the set of “Giant”) taught an eager James Dean some amazing Western rope tricks. “He could do anything he set his mind to. He learned to ride and rope until he could twirl a lariat as well as Will Rogers.” –Hedda Hopper
1955– James Dean hanging out with a couple Texas kids on the set of George Stevens epic “Giant.”
1955, Marfa, Texas– James Dean as Jett Rink on the set of the George Stevens’ epic film, “Giant.”
1955, Marfa, TX– Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in a scene from George Stevens’ film, “Giant.” George Stevens had such luck with Elizabeth Taylor in 1951’s “A Place in The Sun” that he cast her once more in the epic, “Giant” years later. It was Taylor’s first epic film and she was playing opposite Rock Hudson and James Dean. She formed separate, intense relationships with both of the famous actors– who were quite different in regard to talent and personality. James Dean was deep and she was the first woman that he could open up to. Sometimes he revealed too much. His death after filming devastated her. With Rock Hudson, their relationship was filled with jokes, pranks and laughter. As with Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson was gay and this seemed to strengthen their friendship. via
1955, Marfa, TX– James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor on horseback during the filming of the epic “Giant.” –Image © Allan Grant/TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images. “He was very afraid of being hurt. He was afraid of opening up, in case it was turned around and used against him.” –Elizabeth Taylor
1955, Marfa, TX– Elizabeth Taylor flips for James Dean, on the set of “Giant.” –Image © Frank Worth
1955, Marfa, TX– James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor on horseback during the filming of the epic “Giant.” –Image © Allan Grant/TIME & LIFE Pictures/Getty Images. “At Marfa we first thought Dean rude, ill-mannered, and uncommunicative. Later we found him an easy interview subject — if one asked the questions and sustained the conversation. Sometimes he roughed things up, boy fashion, with the two “technical” men assigned to keep his accent Texan. Usually, though, he was alone. He mounted a horse and rode endlessly on the fringe of the location compound. Once he galloped up to a vintage automobile in the yard and tossed his hat into it. He recovered his hat and repeated the stunt. He did it again and again. It was obvious that he was rehearsing the visual movement of his next take.” via
1955– A young and nubile Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Giant”– shortly after having her 2nd child.
1955, Marfa, Texas– On the set of “Giant”, James Dean leans against his dressing-room trailer. Wary of being typecast, he took a supporting role as a bitter, oil-rich Texan in the movie, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. –Image © Hulton Archives/Getty Images
1955– Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean (that same pose Jimmy is in with arms slung over his rifle would be seen in “Badlands” as Martin Sheen did his best James Dean impersonation throughout the entire film) in a scene from George Stevens’ “Giant.” –Image © Floyd McCarty
1955– James Dean in a Warner Bros. studio wardrobe test for the George Stevens’ film “Giant.”
This iconic image (above) of James Dean as Jett Rink coolly stretched out in front of the Reata Ranch house in George Stevens’ 1956 masterpiece “Giant” was the inspiration behind Levi Strauss’ legendary 1981 “Travis” ad campaign and television commercial that launched the 501 jean for women. –Image © Floyd McCarty via
Button fly. Shrink-to-fit. Cut for women. Levi’s Womenswear. 1981– Levi’s “Giant” inspired ad campaign launching the iconic 501 jean for women. The irony? James dean wore Lee Riders throughout the film. Did anyone know, or even care? Nah. via
They where so beautiful ,charismatic and great actors ,actresses .Looking now ,after many years ,at these images ,you can see clear the giant gap between those days and todays icons.
More anti-White-Christian/ European Marxism; the hatred out of Hollywood against Western Civilization, its constititution, is the ultimate hate crime in America.
once again a huge treat 2 experience the RENDER this dude PULLS everyTIME…
Elizabeth Taylor was fucking hot back then..
Dean is so stirring and saddening and intense that it more than makes up for what an awful choice Rock Hudson was for that role. Those first couple of moments with Jett in the film were almost disturbingly compelling to me, that guy has my number! Great pics of Liz.
Superb photos and anecdotes.
Amazing post! I feel like I attended a Film History class! Fantastic photos and evocative commentary.
That is one hell of a good post. Excellent in every way. Great job.
I don’t comment often enough on your posts; they are consistently fascinating, and thanks for the effort.
This movie came out when I was 10 years old, though I don’t remember when I first saw it. Having lived in Texas in the ’60s, I was struck years later on reading the novel by the same things that locals saw when it first came out. I doubt any Texan failed to make the identification with the Klebergs’ King Ranch and Glen McCarthy. Pretty powerful stuff.
I agree with Brittany, btw, about the poor choice of Rock Hudson – but then I was always pretty mystified at his popularity. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but there was always something….off, somehow. Elizabeth Taylor was always kinda weird to me too, although of course gorgeous. James Dean was intensely believable to me in this role.
Thanks again for all the enjoyable stuff on TSY. It’s a daily read.
Finally, I understand ET’s magnetism…Great post as per usual.
great film . a stone cold american classic . james dean was bad ass. but i cannot get over at how gorgeous elizabeth taylor was and still is god bless that woman . and rock hudson ? who cares he was a fag . lol im kidding he was great too.
They just don’t make em’ like that any more. What class….. great post JP!
“it rings the social bell– truly ahead of its time, during the largely superficial values of the 1950s”
It’s funny how this patronizing attitude has become the standard take on the 50’s. A decade of unenlightened materialism in which blockheaded Americans only cared about keeping up with the Joneses. Never mind that the adults of the time had grown up in the Depression and World War II, and might have actually learned a thing or two along the way. We shouldn’t let that stop us from smugly writing off the “values of the 1950’s ” as if people of the era were incapable of individual thought.
No, you can’t paint an entire decade with such broad strokes. There were a lot of WWII veterans returning home (my Grandfather included) who were working hard, buying their 1st home in Levittowns everywhere, and starting families. Suburbia and mass-marketed materialism were born.
However, you cannot deny that things were different back then. The ’50s code of conduct dictated by those in charge was oppressive, narrow-minded, racist, elitist, insensitive, and superficial.
You were to fall in line, not challenge the system, keep your mouth shut. Go to your 9 to 5 job, have 2.5 kids, get that shiny new car, and buy the products that they sold you on TV. If you were gay and anyone knew – you were done. If you were non-white, you really better mind yourself and do what the man says.
People of the ’50s were not incapable of individual thought, but they were largely prevented from expressing it- let alone acting on it if it dared to fail outside the norm.
No disrespect, but your characterization of the ’50s sounds like a capsule summary of every ’70s movie and TV show. “Oppressive, narrow-minded, racist, elitist, insensitive, and superficial” sounds like pretty much the received wisdom of latter generations.
Which, of course, was the point made by JWK .
I was 15 in 1960; I definitely do not consider myself to be a Baby Boomer, by virtue of the fact that I was born while WWII was still going on both in Europe and Japan, and my Dad didn’t come back from the war – which meant that I never knew him, and that I most certainly didn’t grow up in the middle class suburbs. I felt the ’50s to be a time of almost endless freedom to take big chances; if you wanted to flout convention and go out on your own, that was your own business, at least for people in my age group and economic stratum.
The sense of possibility seemed boundless in a time that still had every kind of music available, and before kids had to choose between being a Jock Or A Nerd, or a Sosh Or A Stoner. Be who you are, and give it a shot. If you failed, that was your business too, but there wasn’t any expectation of a safety net from your parents or anybody else. For sure there was no looking to the Government for salvation.
It’s worth considering, too, that the people who made things start to happen in the ’60s mostly came out of my generation or earlier, and they weren’t followers in any sense. The Boomers were the followers, for sure. By ’67 or ’68, it was unavoidable that many, many of the younger people I met loudly proclaimed their “individualism” by going to mass concerts, and demonstrations, and dressing alike, and joining movements excoriating the blandness of their parents. Those concerts and demonstrations were invariably organized and led by folks who had taken enormous risks to define themselves and find out what was possible – and they did it in the ’50s.
I mean, Hell, look at the style icons you revere. Steve McQueen and James Dean and Hunter Thompson didn’t just suddenly become who they were on the day somebody invented acid; they came out of, and through, a society and culture far more convoluted and diverse than anything that’s come along since. And, again no disrespect, but I bet they, and I, knew and know more black people than you do, and more people of various backgrounds in every sense.
The ’60s and ’70s generations (and sadly their progeny,) I think, have always proven to be less imaginative and more repressive than the generations that came before them could ever be. If you don’t think there was a lot of pressure to conform to “hipness” in the late ’60s, well…..all I can say is you probably weren’t there. I’ve had crew cuts, ponytails, beards, you name it. I dressed like a hippie because second-hand clothes were affordable, not because I was expressing some mythical “solidarity” with people I’d never met (plus girls dug it, of course.) I was poor, that’s all – and I’ve also been treated like a pariah because I got a haircut for a job – “He’s turned narc, man.” Hardly the open-minded and tolerant reaction the hipsters have always prided themselves on. And just imagine for a few moments the attitude many people had about any musician that didn’t want to play rocknroll or the blues. Not pretty.
Anyhow, I’ll say one more time that I don’t intend to attack you here, and as I’ve often said, I really admire the work you’ve done on this site. It’s a daily pleasure, and I’d miss it if it were ever to disappear. But I truly would urge you to revisit the thought process that leads to statements like “You were to fall in line, not challenge the system, keep your mouth shut. Go to your 9 to 5 job, have 2.5 kids, get that shiny new car, and buy the products that they sold you on TV.”
That sounds like something you were sold on TV – and I think you’re too much of a critical thinker to leave it at that. Free advice from an older guy, and no doubt worth what you paid for it.
And FWIW, I think Edna Ferber was a Leftie with an agenda, too; certainly she hated Texans and felt herself superior to them. It must have been severely disillusioning when Texans embraced the book, but I bet she cashed the checks.
No need for the “I mean no disrespect” talk, though I appreciate it. You’re free to say it, I’ll print it, and hopefully we’ll both understand where the other guy’s coming from without getting sideways.
I appreciate your point of view, I’m not here to take anything away from your experience, but no one person’s experience sums up a decade. Not mine, not yours. Obviously we see a lot of things differently.
Here are a few highlights as to where we differ in opinion:
Your comment about being 15 yrs old in 1960: “kids had to choose between being a Jock Or A Nerd, or a Sosh Or A Stoner” affirms that there where choices available, like that’s a bad thing. There many other kids who didn’t fall neatly into one of those peer groups, and still found their own way by choice.
Telling me you “know more black people” as some kind of qualifier is, weeellll…. a little odd. Would you like a list? I think I could stand to-to-toe on that one. And let’s be real honest, man- Did those “black people” you knew back in the ’50s have the same rights as you, let alone the same economic opportunities? I mean, come on.
The Boomers were the followers? Really? Not enough time to get into that… that would take you, me, a case of beer, all night, and a pool table wouldn’t hurt.
“Steve McQueen and James Dean and Hunter Thompson didn’t just suddenly become who they were on the day somebody invented acid; they came out of, and through, a society and culture far more convoluted and diverse than anything that’s come along since.” No, man. Wrong. They came out of that society and culture like a bat out of hell is more like it, because they were rebelling against it.
Anyway, I don’t want to pile on, so I’ll stop here.
Thanks for feeling free to speak your mind here, and maybe someday we’ll get a chance to grab those beers and have a friendly and fruitful debate.
Happy New Year!
Oh boy….2 drinks down, late. And I don’t hardly drink much.
Where to start? Well, first of all, that little cherry pick of “kids had to choose between being a Jock Or A Nerd, or a Sosh Or A Stoner” conveniently elides that word “BEFORE” that precedes it – which makes it pretty clear that there was a time that kids didn’t have to choose a group in order to have an identity. Unimaginable to someone who grew up with TV, I know, but still true. Read it again in the morning. And the answer to “no one person’s experience sums up a decade. Not mine, not yours. Obviously we see a lot of things differently” is simple:
I was there. You weren’t.
If you sense the need to feel guilty about your cushy life as a white kid, I don’t. Mine wasn’t. “Economic opportunity” don’t mean shit when you’re both diggin a ditch, and nobody’s daddy is gonna bail ’em out. I’ll stand right here and challenge you to produce anybody you know personally who was denied a job, to his/her face, because of color or gender. I was – the ’70s was fulla that shit for poor white men. Bein white never did me a goddam bit of good, whatsoever – and yet I’ve been expected to feel guilty for it for the last 40 years, mostly by people a lot better off than I’ve ever been.
Everybody didn’t grow up in the suburbs. Everybody didn’t have parents, either, and I’m easy to say that the life of a black kid back when they had parents was a whole lot better than that of a white kid who didn’t have any. And they mostly knew it too, which is probably what saved my ass, on accounta the older folks felt sorry for me.
Your conception of the ’50s, if you’re the 2nd generation after WWII, is via the Pop Culture filter that was installed in the ’60s and ’70s. Consider my argument in the following light: You were born, I assume by your writing, in the ’60s or thereabouts. I’ll give you late ’50s as the benefit of the doubt, but that’s stretching things a little bit. The point is that the ’50s were long gone before you woke up and started looking around, right? Ergo all your pictures of it are at least second-hand – and I guarangoddamtee you that the picture of anything prior to the Sainted Sixties that’s been delivered via the Media Monster is a grotesque distortion. Why? Because I saw it, and it wasn’t like that. The ’60s weren’t either.
Your heroes weren’t “Rebels,” they were just men who figured it out the best way they knew how. “Rebel” is the creation of a buncha ad men in the ’60s (shown the way by Colonel Tom Parker) to sell records and bellbottom pants to suburban wannabes; Baby Boomers, in a word. “You listen to Rock. You’re a Rebel. Get the rebel’s cologne, buy…” And they bought it, too. Marketing is a shuck, and you of all people oughta recognize that.
Anyway, we all lived in a vibrant and frustrating and rich and American culture that was real, and hard, and hurt and smelled bad. And worth it. America is something that happens far outside Manhattan and Los Angeles. How the hell is anybody gonna be a “Rebel” when his whole frame of reference is the suburbs? And believe me, the suburban thing got a helluva lot more traction in this country in the ’60s and ’70s than it ever did in the ’50s.
Try this. You’re in your 40s, right? How ’bout if some 15-year-old came along and started telling you how the ’80s were, based on what he saw in movies and on the tube? Think you might have a few, uh, areas of disagreement? Would you be able to treat him with the respect I offer you? We grew up in profoundly different worlds, and I gotta tell you your characterization of a time before you were born sounds like the product of brainwashing, no kidding.
We won’t agree, because you’re convinced you know more about something you never saw. And that’ll be OK, I guess, because it’s inevitable given the “culture” you’ve grown up in. But hear me well: There really was a time when people didn’t assume they knew everything because of the movies they’d seen. Honest to God.
We agree to disagree, fine with you? Some people would’ve just skewered the livin’ shit outta you, or deleted your rant, ‘cept I mainly took the high road and let you have the floor. Tryin’ to be decent here, and you’re makin’ it hard.
I don’t claim to know more than you, I just claim to see things differently, coming from a different perspective. The accounts through people close to me, and what history has proven about the ’50s is a solid as you in diggin’ your ditch somewher in BFE.
I didn’t grow up with a Daddy either, or some silver spoon in my mouth, so let’s just drop that shit as well. It ain’t some badge of honor that gives a person carte blanche to paint the world as they see it. It can make you strong, or it can be a crutch. Pick one, and move on. You act like you’re the only one that ever struggled, and that you had to be born in your decade to know shit about shit. You seriously are running the risk of soundin’ like them hard-headed rednecks that Edna Ferber lampooned.
As a kid we lived everywhere from a old rusted-out van that we drove cross-country in, a tiny tent out in the desert where I skinned and ate my first rattlesnake, to a roach-infested trailer in the barrio, and finally a modest home in West Phoenix to call our own. My mom waited tables at greasy spoons, and whatever other shitty job she could get, to put food on the table and shoes on our feet. I had my first official job when I was 9 or ten, working at a restaurant for tips, when other kids where ridin’ their fancy new bikes around the neighborhood in their fancy clean clothes. It wasn’t fun, we weren’t happy. I felt the stigma of being poor white trash, we were judged and looked down on, dare to even say discriminated against, and we clearly weren’t perched in some ivory tower in NYC or LA looking down on middle America.
I believe I’m better for it, but not better than anyone else. And my experience doesn’t limit my perception of the world, rather it allows me to recognize that my reality isn’t the ultimate reality. just one of many. That was my history, but it wasn’t everyone’s, try adopting that perspective yourself.
“I was there. You weren’t” is your blanket justification. Well, you weren’t and aren’t black, but you feel very comfortable speaking for them too.
And furthermore in regard to that: You’re experience of the past is through your own filter, it’s what you think it was. It certainly wasn’t the same for everyone who was there. Especially that black man you knew digging ditches next to you.
And hear me well: I could give two shits what some kid who came after me has to say about the ’80s. I’m secure enough to hear it and to accept that there is room for other points of view out there, and that I didn’t write history, I just lived out my own.
Adi(fuckin’)os, partner. God bless you and our freedom of speech in America.
Don’t get your feelings hurt if I don’t approve any more replies to this here topic.
This horse is officially beat to death.
Oh, and Happy New Year!
Right on about Ferber being leftie. She had an axe to grind when Mr. Bob tole her he was committed to Holland McCombs & Tom Lea for their book . This was related to me in 1977 by a Kingsville native who knew Mr. Bob quite well. This is also sourced in Helen Kleberg Groves’s book. I know nothing of Hollywood, but yall better be damn careful of wadin into Texas History.Remember the Alamo. Enuff said!
Who the hell said I’m some kind of Edna Ferber support group?