James Dean the last days on volatile ‘Giant’ set with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor examined in new book

From left to right: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean in 1956’s “Giant.”


When George Stevens persuaded three of Hollywood’s hottest stars head over to West Texas to make a movie, he could not have predicted that it would result in an epic drama that ended in a tragedy.

Don Graham, a professor of English at the University of Texas, recently published a book with the title “Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film.” The diving in the making of the 1956 film “Giant” which examines the life of a Texas cattle farmer and his family.

Graham was given access to all of Stevens’ materials in connection with “the Giant,” and he discovered surprising stories about the film the origin of the famous director.

Those possessions are currently archived at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, which serves as the official library for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Graham told Fox News, Stevens was eager to ditch Hollywood and instead, shoot in the small town of Marfa, Texas, to West story to life.

“He wanted to be as far away from the studio control as possible,” said Graham. “Marfa, Texas was about the extent. It was a long way from Hollywood… Stevens went out to win Texans over, because he felt that he had to do that, considering it was a Texas film… it may be that He was recorded in Hollywood, Hollywood would never resemble Texas.”

But Stevens didn’t have to look far for a meeting with his own story about jealousy and rivalry. Graham claimed Hudson, then 29, and dean, 24, clashed on the set.

“Rock Hudson absolutely hated, James Dean, and vice-versa,” he claimed. “They fought all the way through the film. Elizabeth Taylor had to mediate between the two. They were very good friends for life with Rock. And she was good friends with James Dean. A way to get the two of them fought for her feelings, just like in the movie.”

Elizabeth Taylor ropes George Stevens while Mercedes McCambridge, Rock Hudson and James Dean look on approvingly.

(With thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

Rumors have long persisted that Hudson, who was gay, beat on Dean, who rejected his advances. However, Graham said that the Dean’s unconventional way of acting, which irritated everyone on set — including Taylor, 23.

“Both Rock and Elizabeth hated James’ methods or antics really,” said Graham. “He wouldn’t really hit the mark where he would… He would mumble or tricks to do with this little rope, which he would wear or pulling his hat down.

“He was always trying to do something to capture the reality of his character. But these two were more formally trained to stand up, read their lines, hit the mark and direction.

“James plays it all out. And that made them really mad. And Stevens had real difficulties with James… He would fight with him and James would be too late. George said at one point that he would never work with James Dean again. It turned out to be true.”

James Dean

(With thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

And it wasn’t just Dean’s attitude you got on the Hudson’s nerves. Graham claimed Hudson would be afraid that the actor would steal his leading lady away.

“Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor spent many evenings drinking vodka and eating chocolate,” chuckled Graham. “She stayed up 3 hours only to be at work by 6 a.m Rock really valued her friendship.

“And then James Dean began to intervene. He would also be competitive to steal Elizabeth’s affection away from Rock… Rock would have than the fear that James was stealing Elizabeth Taylor in the film away from him.”

Graham revealed Taylor also developed a close bond with Dean, who trusted her.

Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean.

(With thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

In 2011, Daily Beast writer Kevin Sessums released several off-the-record statements from Taylor from a 1997 interview. They claimed that Dean says that he was molested by his minister at the age of 11 years, which haunted him for the rest of his life.

Graham said that he would not be surprised if that was true.

“There are other biographers, who was of the opinion that it would have happened,” he said. “However, there is no real evidence there is to support that… But I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor would have made.”

Still, he said, there was no denying Dean opened up to Taylor when the cameras stopped rolling.

“She always listened to his stories,” said Graham. “Dean always sought that the mother figure, because he lost his own mother at the age of 9. And Dean’s father was a distant, cold, unfeeling person, by all accounts, including his son. So Dean always sought the motherly figure… He did that for every woman who was friends with him.”

However, Dean’s life came to a screeching halt when he was killed in 1955 in a car accident. He was but 24.

Taylor was an emotional wreck.

George Stevens (left) with James Dean.

(With thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

“He died on a Friday and then on Saturday, they kept shooting,” said Graham. “But Elizabeth Taylor was distraught. That they eventually got sick and was admitted to the hospital. It takes them more days. She took it the hardest of everyone… Rock Hudson broke down in tears… But Elizabeth Taylor was the most devastated.”

When Taylor asked Stevens if he could believe that such a tragic accident could happen, his response was reportedly, “Yes I can. He had it coming.”

Dean, who loved racing cars, riding with his brand new Porsche Spyder converted in the California race. He had filming his role for “Giant” and re-read lines for the scene where he mumbled.

Stevens, who was concerned about Dean’s need for speed, had allegedly suspected an accident might have occurred during the filming.

(With thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

“George Stevens was so afraid that he is in the contract that James could not do a race, when he began work on the film,” claimed Graham. “… In Marfa, celebrities were given cars to use, while they are in the city. But James had his taken away because he would drive too fast for the roads that there are.

“When James got that new car, they told him,” You can’t drive around in that thing, because you’re going to kill somebody.’ But he has never had the attention when someone told him that.”

“Giant” was released shortly after the Dean’s death — and it was a box-office sensation. It also forever changed the life of Hudson Taylor, who would go on to government to lead from Hollywood stars.

Stevens, recognized as one of the most important directors in cinematic history, died in 1975 at age 70 of a heart attack. Hudson died in 1985 at age 59 of AIDS-related complications. Taylor followed in 2011 at age 79 of congestive heart failure.

(With thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

“This movie really closed,” said Graham. “It was definitely Rock Hudson. Confirms Elizabeth Taylor’s status as a serious actress. And of course, James Dean already had a huge reputation based on his two previous movies, and then he was dead for about two and a half weeks for the ‘Giant’ was about.

“Then he became a legend. But they were all very young. And there was a sense of excitement to the hand. Everyone felt this movie is really a big deal.”

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