The making of Giant and the death of James Dean


Giant was one of the most talked-about projects in Hollywood in 1955: the epic adaptation of Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel about a girl from Virginia who marries into cattle money in Texas, and a dynasty is born. MGM agreed to “loan out” Elizabeth Taylor to Warner Bros for the part of Leslie Benedict, but, because of the recent birth of her second son, Christopher, she was struggling to be ready to film in April – Taylor was on a crash diet to regain her figure, subsisting on juice and ice water at one point. Grace Kelly was considered for the role, as was Audrey Hepburn. Marlene Dietrich was rejected for being “too Teutonic” by director and producer George Stevens.

Warners paid $175,000 for the hire of Taylor (after co-star Rock Hudson’s nod) and filming began on location in the one-horse town of Marfa, Texas. The cast practically lived on top of one another, and a romantic liaison between Taylor and Hudson was soon being talked about. They certainly became bosom buddies, even inventing their own tipple: the “chocolate martini” (vodka and chocolate liqueur).

The press also managed to manufacture a story about Taylor having an affair with her other co-star, James Dean. There was certainly a feeling of rivalry between Dean and Hudson, but not necessarily over Taylor. “He was sulky and had no manners,” said Hudson, who was known by many on the set to be homosexual. The same was rumoured of Dean, and there was talk of Hudson’s advances being rebuffed.

The rest of the cast “carried on like absolute fools”, according to co-star Carroll Baker, “laughing and crying and partying and drinking and hardly ever sleeping”. But not Dean, who was very much the outsider. He arrived on set two weeks later than the others after finishing Rebel without a Cause, which did not endear him to Stevens. Much of this conflict and drama spilt brilliantly on to the screen.

On 30 September 1955, Dean was killed in a car crash, just a few days after completing his part in Giant.