DATELINE: Unavoidable James Dean Strikes Again
Children of Giant!
If you know anything about our Hollywood history books on the story behind making movies, you know that we would be hot on the trail of George Stevens’ 1955 classic epic Giant.
Made On location in Marfa, Texas, with Elizabeth Taylor as an early feminist in 1920s Texas, and Rock Hudson as the laconic cowpoke who owned Reata, a cattle ranch, you are overwhelmed with James Dean who stood out on the landscape,
However much the director wants to make this a movie about the Mexican discrimination in Texas, James Dean is there to steal the movie. He dominates everything in the fascinating film called Children of Giant.
Actor Earl Holliman is still around to give his perspective, and Jane Withers appears to have declined to participate.
Director Stevens’s son, notable Hollywood producer George Stevens, Jr., offers many insights. They say little about Dean.
It was the film James Dean died making. It was a Western that showed the yellow rose of Texas was a yellow streak of Jim Crow laws against Mexicans. The children loved him, and they saw him as someone special and caring.
Today Marfa’s racism almost seems quaint, next to the horrors being inflicted on Mexicans under Trump.
New York historical novelist Edna Ferber was spot on depicting wild cat billionaire Glenn McCarthy (aka Jett Rink in the movie and book). James Dean’s makeup and style mimics McCarthy in his late middle-age.
Dean is remembered fondly by the Mexican children and adults whom he befriended in Marfa, Texas. Indeed, if you are looking for stories about Dean’s public urination in front of town onlookers, or even the tale of Dean going after director Stevens in a fight over his performance, you will find only slight nods in that direction.
Yet, as a social history document about a social history movie, you could not find a more spot-on documentary. It features townsfolk giving their insights and sharing their unusual photos.
It is nirvana for a movie maven who delights in the behind-the-scenes activity. This little PBS documentary packs a wallop and a message from the children of Marfa in 1955. Unfortunately, James Dean is still the big draw. George Stevens and Edna Ferber could not avoid him then or now.
Dr. William Russo wrote The Next James Dean, which is available as an ebook and print work on Amazon.