Giant (1956): 60th Anniversary Screening at Film Forum

September 30, 2016: QA with George Stevens Jr. – the son of the director – and Carroll Baker before the film, moderated by historian and writer Foster Hirsch

Foster Hirsch: We are very lucky to have with us the son of the director, George Stevens, who was on the set in Texas, and he tells us a wonderful story that not only was George Stevens was one of the great Hollywood directors, but a wonderful father. George Stevens, Jr.

[Applause, as George Stevens Jr. went up to the stage.]

As time goes on, and these are 60-year-old films, there are fewer and fewer stars of the film who are around to speak to us about the film, but we’re lucky tonight because one of the principal stars – the only principal player who is still with us – is here to remember her work in Giant. She’s one of the Hollywood Greats. Baby Doll herself. Please welcome Carroll Baker.

[Thunderous ovation for her. I was in tears. You might as well start strong, you know what I mean? Her work has been important to me since I first discovered it in middle school.]

Carroll Baker in “Giant”

Foster Hirsch: Now this film is 3 hours and 21 minutes. No intermission. And you won’t want one. Every minute of it is riveting. Why did your father decide to present the film without an intermission? That was his choice, wasn’t it?

George Stevens, Jr.: Yes. The film was actually designed with an intermission. By coincidence, in that year, 1956, there had really been no major film since Gone With the Wind that ran 3 hours or more. In the late summer of 1956, there were 3 pictures ready for release. Giant, running 3 hours and just about 20 minutes. The Ten Commandments.

FH: That was four hours.

GS: And Around the World in 80 Days. And they were all planned with intermissions, with the idea that it would be more like a theatre experience. Giant opened with an intermission, and quickly – with all three films – it was decided they were better running without intermissions. Audiences didn’t seem to like it.

George Stevens Jr. and Carroll Baker, Friday night at the Film Forum

FH: Nowadays, people don’t sit still. But these guys are going to sit still for 3 hours and 20 minutes. They’re not going to move because they’re going to be riveted! We’re here to talk about the film but also about James Dean. Carroll, I know you’ve been asked a lot about what it was like working with James Dean. You have one or two glorious scenes with him, one of them, frankly, you steal from him. What was it like in that table scene working with James Dean?

Carroll Baker: First I have to tell you, whenever I think of James Dean, it always reminds me of George Stevens, Jr. We were in the projection room. It was just about the end of the film. It was Elizabeth and Rock, and several other actors, and of course our director George Stevens. And I was so fond of George Jr. We became very very good friends. He was in the Air Force then, and he was flying around, and he was so cute because he would always fly back to Hollywood to come on the set to say Hello to everybody. At any rate, the lights were off, while we’re watching the day’s daily rushes – the lights suddenly go up. George Stevens stands up and all the blood had drained from his face. I knew it was something tragic. And the first thing I thought of was my dear friend George Jr., who was flying, and that something happened to him. And George said, “Jimmy Dean has just died in a car accident.” That’s how we found out.

FH: When you were working with him – you were both Method-trained. The other actors, most of them weren’t. Did you feel you and James Dean were speaking a common language?


CB: Yes, in a way. He was very inventive, like on the porch scene which you will see. He had learned to use the rope, and he was able to twirl the rope, which was a bit of an accomplishment. So he added things like that to the film. One day Rock and Elizabeth came to me and they said, “Listen. You’re the only one who can handle James Dean. You give it to him!”

FH: There was some competition between the Hollywood actors and the New York Method actors?

CB: There was. Yeah, there was. [Long contemplative pause, she appeared to be either lost in thought, or NOT saying a library-full of observations, and everyone started laughing.]

FH: I love the subtext. George, I know over the years, your father was frank about having problems with James Dean in the making of the film, always aware that he was a brilliant actor and giving an extraordinary performance, but he was difficult, is it fair to say? Or troubled?

James Dean

GS: Jimmy marched to his own drum. My father took a lot of time making a film. He liked a lot of camera angles. They got a little behind schedule because Jimmy didn’t like waiting around on the set. They had a little difficulty from time to time. For the scene at the end, Jimmy came to my father and said, “I can’t figure this out.” And Dad and Jimmy went on a sound stage for two nights, and Dad being about the age of the older man, and having been around the theatre a lot as a boy, he was able to work with Jimmy, and Jimmy got comfortable with it, or much more comfortable. Jimmy was enormously talented. The tragedy of his death – which became sensationalized, but if you just take it in human terms – he was a wonderful actor but I think he had his eye on being a director. He was watching and learning. That was the beginning of the time when more actors were thinking about getting the camera. We lost a lot when we lost him. He was 24 years old.

FH: Did he resist direction from your father?

GS: Not really, but he was very inventive, as Carroll said. He’d bring a lot to the scene. Sometimes – having sat in the editing room – you’d see that he’d come and he’d have this piece of business, and he’d have that piece of business – and it was so interesting, but in the editing, you were able to weed it out and keep the story moving. But he was gifted, I think.

Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean

FH: Were you doing any improvisations in your scenes with him?

CB: George wasn’t encouraging of improvisation.

FH: He wanted you to deliver the dialogue as written.

CB: I think Jimmy was a great actor and I think he would have gone on to be a great actor, and he was a friend of mine, and despite all of his difficulties, I did like him very much and I was sad when he passed away, but I have to tell you that he had just become a star, and he was a little brat. [Huge laugh from audience.] And George was wonderful with him. He was very patient. But really, Jimmy would try anybody’s patience. He just didn’t show up on the set! You didn’t do that! You didn’t do that! You didn’t say, “You kept me waiting! Me! The new star! You kept me waiting! And now I’m not going to show up when YOU want me to be there!” You don’t do that.

James Dean and George Stevens

FH: What’s fascinating about the film, which takes place over many years, is that the actors age. There’s some controversy about the makeup, but what’s really interesting is that Carroll Baker plays Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter. Carroll Baker was one year older than Elizabeth Taylor.

GS: [to Carroll] He ratted you out.

CB: Oh, thank you, Foster! Thank you! I needed that!

GS: [to the audience] How many people are seeing Giant for the first time?

FH: And how many returnees do we have? It’s about half and half. A lot of young people here seeing it for the first time, which is great.

GS: There’s a wonderful article about Giant in last month Harper’s magazine, and I think it might be an interesting read for people – both who’ve seen it before and those who haven’t. The writer [Rebecca Solnit] calls it a revolutionary film. She had seen it on its 30th, 40th, 50th, and 60th anniversaries. To look at this film and realize that in 1956 – I don’t think the word ‘feminism’ was yet used – and Elizabeth Taylor plays a uniquely feminist role in an interesting and humane way. Giant was one of the first major films about race, in this case Mexican-Americans in Texas. As this writer pointed out, Giant was made when Martin Luther King was in graduate school. And, rounding that out, it was not some arch-serious polemic. It was the most successful picture that Warner Brothers had ever made, and it was very popular. But my father cared about the human condition.

Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor

FH: It’s a 1956 film that is politically correct in today’s terms. There are very few 60-year-old films that can claim that. Carroll, you worked with I think three of the greatest actor’s directors in film history. Carroll worked with Elia Kazan in Baby Doll, William Wyler in The Big Country, and with George Stevens in Giant.

CB: [chiming in] John Ford! John Ford!

FH: I wouldn’t put him in the same category. [Audience reaction. Foster hastened to add a clarification: ]Not in terms of acting! What did those three – and John Ford – what did they have in common? They’re all great directors. You worked with four of the best. Three of the four were known as great actor’s directors. [There was much laughter during this small speech.] What did they have in common?

CB: Nobody who writes about films is going to like this answer. They never told an actor how to act. They cast you because they thought that you were right for the part, that you could do it. Only the bad directors tell you how to read a line, how to define your character. The good ones let you do your job.

Elia Kazan directing Carroll Baker and Karl Malden”Baby Doll”

[People started clapping and cheering, myself included. Many people who write about film write with such CONFIDENCE about how such-and-such a director brought OUT this or that performance from an actor, or “gave” the performance to the actor. It’s such bullshit, sorry. But the myth persists, from people who have never acted or participated in an artistic collaboration. Clearly there were many others there who felt the same way.]

GS: Very well said, Carroll. I was around my father on a number of pictures, Shane and Giant and a little bit on Place in the Sun and Diary of Anne Frank. What he thought his job was was to create an atmosphere where the actor was comfortable and do her best work.

CB: I think that’s one of the reasons why he did so many takes. He wanted the actor to just relax into it, and after doing it a number of times, come up with something a little more original.

FH: But he wouldn’t tell you what he was looking for in the scene?

CB: Absolutely not.

FH: But you did take after take after take. Did you like that approach?

CB: I did.

FH: It didn’t work for everyone.

GS: A slight distinction between Dad and his dear friend and fellow officer in WWII William Wyler is that Wyler would do as many as 70 takes. My father was more about multiple camera angles because he always felt he could fix a scene if it wasn’t working if he had these different angles. He’d do fewer takes, but many more set-ups.

George Stevens

FH: This film took one year in the editing process. He shot an enormous amount of film and then edited it down. Carroll, what was your impression when you first saw the film? You were at the famous Roxy opening when people thought James Dean was going to be there in person?

CB: It was the first opening that I went to! It was a great big event at the Roxy Theater in New York. They used to think New York was as important as Hollywood. They don’t today, but they did then. Jimmy had hit a note in young people. They identified with his character, they identified with this rebel character, they needed him. The rumor went out that he was still alive, that his death was just a publicity stunt, and that he was going to be there at the opening. It’s not what I expected for my first opening. I expected it to be glamorous, you walked down a red carpet, people took your photograph. Instead of that, the police couldn’t handle the crowd. All these kids were rushing in. They pushed everybody. Elizabeth was just starting with Mike Todd. And he was the first one, by the way, who bought her diamonds. She had a present from him, $10,000 diamond earrings – It would be much more expensive today, but in those days it was very expensive! And she was pushed by the crowd, and one of the earrings fell on the ground. You can’t imagine the pandemonium.

FH: That was your first opening.

CB: That was my first opening.

FH: I want to talk about Rock Hudson, who came from a different tradition than Carroll Baker or James Dean. I know there are some differences of opinion about his work as a film actor. I think he became a terrific film actor and I think he’s fabulous in this film.

CB: Yeah, I think he was just perfect. Perfect.

FH: He was perfect for film. He never overstates. I think it’s wonderful that your father cast him? Do you know the circumstances? A lot of people wanted to play that part.

Rock Hudson

GS: My father had an awful lot of confidence in himself in terms of working with actors. He said that he had talked about William Holden and Grace Kelly and others for the lead roles – but he felt that it was better to have young people, so that you believe the romance of the young people, rather than having older people playing young. So he chose that. Rock gave himself over to it. I really admire what he did. I think it’s a wonderfully strong part and he’s strong in it.

FH: Never pushing. Jimmy Dean does a lot of acting. It’s glorious but it’s a lot of acting. You never catch Rock Hudson doing any acting.

GS: You remind me what Rock told me about what my father said to him. They’d be doing a scene and this was early in the shooting. And my father would say to Rock, “We’ve got a long way to go with this story.” It kept Rock from trying to do too much.

Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor

CB: When we were in Marfa, Texas, it was a little bit glum in the evenings. First of all, it was a one-street town then. I understand it’s grown up a lot now. Everybody had to eat in the hotel dining room. There weren’t enough accommodations for people. And of course, Rock and Elizabeth and Jimmy all had their own houses. But for the rest of us, after they took all the rooms in the hotel, they had to find places for the rest of us. I lived in an apartment with Jane Withers, Mercedes McCambridge, and Fran Bennett … and there was one bathroom. And we had to be up very early in the morning. The living was a little bit glum. However, Rock was one of the most fun people I have ever met, and he had a party every single night. There was nothing else to do in Marfa! He invited everybody. He didn’t mind what kind of a small part you were playing. He was so funny. He was such a great guy. He threw those parties every night and it was wonderful.

FH: And that humanity comes through–

CB: Oh, and Jimmy never went!

Uproarious laughter.

FH: The rumors were that they were not good friends, their acting styles were so different, their temperaments were different.

GS: I spent a weekend with Rock and Jimmy and they got along fine.

CB: [sounding surprised] Did they?

Uproarious laughter.

FH: I admire your father to no end, but I always question his avoidance of Cinemascope for Giant. He wanted it to be tall but not wide, when the other epics were all in Cinemascope. I love Cinemascope, and I think Giant should have been Cinemascope, but what was his rationale for having it tall?


GS: He thought that that wide Cinemascope screen was good for taking graduation pictures and not much else. He felt that the story was in the faces of the actors and in the landscape, and if you have that wide Cinemascope screen, it’s harder to get the closeups. He later did a masterful job in The Diary of Anne Frank, but he liked the aspiration of height. I know we want to start the film, but I just thought I would share three insights.

Robert Towne recently talked about this: there’s a wedding scene in Giant about a third of the way through. I’m not giving much away that Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor get married, but you don’t see their wedding in the film. You don’t see the wedding of the principals but you see the two of them at another wedding later in the film. And Robert Towne – the great screenwriter – thinks that the wedding scene in this picture is a masterpiece. The power of visualization.


There are two other masterful scenes: when James Dean paces off his land. Just to see how the music and visuals and an idea can make a scene powerful.


And then also the return of the Mexican boy when he comes home from the war: pure cinema.

FH: Famously, James Dean was very nervous about playing an older man in the drunk scene at the end, which he never felt he “got.” And he said, “I’m not getting this scene. But Carroll Baker’s reaction is so perfect – use the scene of her reaction.”

CB: That was a great compliment. He said, “I’m having some difficulty getting through the message of this scene. But keep it on her face because it says everything.” It’s so touching.

FH: It’s very touching. It’s very true. 3 hours and 20 minutes of glorious cinema. There are some naysayers who say this film doesn’t deserve its reputation. They’re wrong.


Giant is playing through the week at Film Forum.

This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Giant (1956): 60th Anniversary Screening at Film Forum

  1. Jessie says:

    Thank you so much for reporting back on this — fascinating, all of it! What a PERFECT screencap you chose for the discussion of Cinemascope vs something with more height. Overdue for a rewatch.

    • sheila says:

      Jessie – Thank you – it was such a fun night! And what an audience. None of that superior smirking-snickers that so often happens when modern audiences see an “old” film. I mean, seriously, though – they do not make films like Giant anymore – and I had forgotten how funny much of it was! The dialogue! Taylor’s performance, especially! She’s so damn good. And people are all like, “The old-age makeup is so bad” – who the hell cares – watch how she ACTS “old.” Her movements get a bit slower, and also more confident – her voice gets a tiny bit deeper – she has settled into her own skin in the way that only comes with maturity. It’s an extremely good performance, spray-on-grey-hair or no!!

      and yeah – I found the Cinemascope thing fascinating as well. Those Cinemascope films tend to date very badly – mostly because when they play on television you just can’t get the scope, and the image shows up as this long thin band – crowded with people and chariot races.

      I can’t remember who said it but it’s similar to George Stevens’ comment that that technology was only good for pictures of a graduating class – long and horizontal – some director said that there’s a reason so few famous paintings are in a long horizontal shape. The Last Supper being the most famous one. It’s good for a long thin portrait of many people – but not good for close-ups or detail. I found all of that very interesting – and there is so much intimate acting work done in Giant, closeups and all the rest – it’s not just the stunning Texas scenery – that I’m glad Stevens didn’t go the Cinemascope route.

      I was so happy to see Carroll Baker! Still beautiful, funny, feisty!

  2. I’m so glad you were our fly on the wall, Sheila. One of those occasions where I REALLY wish I lived in NY.

    The John Ford bit was fascinating. Carol Baker jumps in to make sure you know she worked with John Ford!…And then the little bit about “actor’s director.” And then she basically says all the supposed “actor’s” directors just hired the right people and let them do their jobs. Which is EXACTLY what John Ford did. (I also find it odd that director’s who took forty and fifty takes were considered “actor-friendly,” but one-taker’s like Ford weren’t….I’m hoping your acting background can help me understand this!)

    Me, I would say that an “actor’s” director is one who consistently gets good and great performances. I’m wondering how far removed from reality you would have to be to think Ford didn’t quality on that grounds.

    Just BTW: No criticism of the other directors implied. They’re all huge favorites of mine. But I really wish Baker had been able to discuss her experience/association with Ford a little further. She was clearly proud of it.

    • sheila says:

      Nope – John Ford is not known as an “actor’s director” – and that’s not a dis on him, so there’s no need to get defensive on his behalf. Alfred Hitchcock isn’t known as an actor’s director either. Howard Hawks isn’t. They also stayed out of actor’s way and cast really well and let the actors do their job. Great performances!

      Doing 70 takes to delve into the intricacies of a performance – able to work with an actor on an actor’s terms to help an actor if an actor gets stuck – these are rare birds. Most directors know jack-SQUAT about acting. and sometimes that’s a good thing. A director who THINKS he knows about acting but really doesn’t can be one of the most intrusive and annoying people on the planet – and he can actually trip an actor up, make an actor lose confidence in himself by his simple suggestions. Some directors give line readings, something most actors hate. Although some actors don’t give a shit. I myself have said to an annoying director who is getting in my way, who clearly wants a result that I’m not getting: “Just tell me how to say it.” Let’s move the fuck ON. That’s a director who doesn’t understand actors and it’s very frustrating. That’s a director who doesn’t understand how acting works.

      Someone like Kazan also cast really well (he had a genius for casting – I mean some of his casting choices make no sense at all on the face of it, but he SENSED something in a given actor – Billy Wilder was the same way. Fred MacMurray played goody-goody parts. Until along came Double Indemnity. Kazan had the same brilliant eye for POTENTIAL in an actor, potential to do something different than what they were normally asked to do.)

      In Giant, for the scene at the table between James Dean and Carroll Baker: they shot that short scene for 2 days, I think. Because Stevens wanted to explore every possibility, every emotion – create an environment of such freedom where the actors could stop thinking and just CREATE – and Baker’s description of that process in her memoir is exhilarating. Both actors were playing off each other – every take was entirely different – and Stevens wanted to see where it would go. He was looking for something original, what you wouldn’t expect. (It’s one of the best scenes in the movie.) He was also just thrilled to watch these two actors play this out – again and again and again.

      It is inconceivable to think of John Ford doing such a thing. He just wasn’t all that fascinated with an actor’s process.

      It’s not required that a director be fascinated with an actor’s process. But it’s sure nice when they are. Usually it is those directors who know 1. how to get to out of an actor’s way and 2. how to step in and help if an actor got stuck.

      Jimmy Dean was SO FREAKED OUT about the final scene in Giant, where he’s falling down drunk in the huge ballroom. And he went to George Stevens for help and Stevens worked with Dean for two nights on it, giving suggestions, gently coaching him, guiding into something truthful – he understood Dean’s mercurial process, he respected it (he didn’t say “Figure it out, I cast you for a reason, figure it out”) – and he helped give Dean confidence in himself and what the scene was about.

      That’s someone who understands acting and is CAPABLE of walking an actor through a difficult moment, should it be necessary.

      Again, it is impossible to imagine John Ford doing such a thing. He would have fired Dean and gotten an actor who didn’t make such a fuss – but then he would have deprived himself of an actor who is that brilliant and unpredictable.

      What George Stevens did with Dean – THAT’S an “actor’s director.”

      And no, John Ford does not qualify on those grounds.

      Nothing against him as a director. He’s clearly one of the greats. But he is not at all known as an “actor’s director.” That phrase is not at all about the RESULTS. It’s about the process.

      John Ford was a great director for many reasons but also because he just let the actors do their job. Good directors have confidence in their casting choices, that they have cast the right person. Someone like Stanley Kubrick often wanted to “break an actor down”, doing a bazillion takes until the actors nearly went insane. Jack Nicholson practically had a breakdown in The Shining. Warren Beatty was the same way. Diane Keaton has spoken about how maddening Beatty was because why is it necessary to do 80, 90 takes? WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? Beatty had a method to his madness but it doesn’t mean the actors have to like it. Regardless, the results Beatty got (and gets) are often extraordinary because he knows what he is doing.

      and if you want to hear about Baker’s working with Ford, her memoir has a lot on that topic.

      • sheila says:

        To clarify: John Ford is one of my favorites! So is Howard Hawks! In their own way, they were geniuses about acting (mainly by setting up environments where actors could do their best work.)

        Actors loved working with them because – for the most part – they left them alone.

        Hepburn’s stories, though, about how Hawks worked with her in Bringing Up Baby – how she was NOT “getting it” (as hard as that is to believe) – and how Hawks was getting frustrated – and finally had the actor who played the sheriff (his name escapes me for a second) work with Hepburn. The actor had come out of vaudeville, a broad comedic tradition – and he helped Hepburn to stop “acting funny” and just BE funny. Hawks knew that HE couldn’t help Hepburn get it – but he was smart enough to know that she did indeed need help and so called in just the guy who could do it.

        I love, too, that Hepburn – a huge star at that point – submitted to that coaching. She was a perpetual student – one of the reasons WHY she was such a great star!! Sidney Lumet tells a great story about how she finally realized she needed help during Long Day’s Journey – she finally admitted she was intimidated by that role – and needed her director to help her, guide her, encourage her.

        Amazing openness for a legend of her stature.

        • See I knew you’d be able to help me understand! I’ll definitely put Baker’s book on my short list. (I do know that Ford isn’t considered an actor’s director…boy do I know (lol)….but this helps a lot with understanding the fine points of the actor’s own perspective(s).)

          • sheila says:

            I think Baker’s book may be out of print but you can get a second-hand copy on Amazon for, like, 2 cents. :)

            I, for one, am actually not crazy about the term “actor’s director” – although I’ve worked with directors who understand actors, really LOVE actors, and I’ve worked with directors who are mainly irritated that they have to deal with pesky actor issues and think acting just magically happens and have no idea how to express what they WANT. So it’s obvious which one is more PLEASANT to work with – but hopefully an actor’s technique/confidence is strong enough that they can work with anyone. I think that’s the goal, anyway!

  3. I think like most people I imagine myself in a given situation and think about how I would feel….I’d definitely be a one-taker! But then I’m the furthest thing from an actor (the very idea terrifies me, which makes me really appreciate those who have the courage to do it), so being able to pick the brain of someone who knows this stuff from the inside broadens my perspective a lot. And thanks so much for taking the time to answer at length (and to post this interview in the first place).

    • sheila says:

      // .I’d definitely be a one-taker! //

      Ha! Yeah, let’s get this over with. When he was a kid, Dean Stockwell was known as “One Take Stockwell” because he hated the repetition.

      Warren Beatty feels (and he is right, as infuriating as it must be for actors who work with him) that after a certain number of takes, the actor’s defenses – his need/ability to ACT – are stripped away – and that’s when you get the REALLY good stuff.

      The huge fight scene in the bedroom between Keaton and Beatty in Reds is an example. Or, there are a couple of fight scenes in bedrooms but one in particular, this one where she is packing up a suitcase to leave him. The scene is INCREDIBLE. Keaton has said she was so angry at Beatty for the number of takes he was putting her through – and she was finally so exhausted, so stripped down – that that’s when shit started getting real. That scene is still almost terrifying to watch.

      Now there are some who would say it was arrogant of Beatty to think he knew better than Keaton, etc. That he was being an emotional bully.

      Shrug. Acting – despite the fact that it’s make-believe – is a grown-up business and actors need to be TOUGH. And willing to ‘go there.’ The really good ones don’t complain about stuff like that. It’s a collaboration.

      Now some directors can be out and out abusive. But doing 100 takes isn’t necessarily that. If the director is SHAMING the actor for “not getting it” – then 1. he probably shouldn’t be a director and 2. he’ll never get the result he wants and 3. he should take a good hard look in the mirror and admit that the fault is his own, in terms of casting the wrong person for the part. That’s on HIM.

      But Beatty actually did know what he wanted. It’s not that Keaton wasn’t “doing it right” in the first 60 takes – ugh!!! – it’s that he wanted everyone to just stop acting altogether, and the way he prefers to do that is by an insane number of takes. That’s his process so you know what you’re getting into.

      It’s a fascinating discussion!!

      • Fascinating is the word! And now that I think about it, I can certainly understand why an actor (especially a star) who feels like he/she didn’t give their best on the first take would want to do another. Somebody has to be the final arbiter and in the end, that’s the director’s job. And you’re right that all the directors we’re discussing here had approaches that were well known after a time. You sign on with somebody of that quality and you probably felt it was worth whatever you went through (or naybe you had to keep reminding yourself it was).

        And I’ m put in mind of another complication for film acting because all this makes me recall Jack Lemmon’s famous quote about working with Marilyn Monroe which was something to the effect that you had to be up for every take, because whenever she “got it” that was a wrap! (I also remember that he was fine with that, because everybody knew she was the one people were paying to see…worked out pretty well for all concerned I think!)

        • sheila says:

          Yes, and every actor is different. Steve McQueen was a first-take man. He was that spontaneous, and that comfortable with his spontaneity. Marlon Brando preferred the third take. That’s when he felt it clicked for him. Of course these actors were also flexible – sometimes – and could work with all kinds of different directors. Some directors don’t do multiple takes. Or, they just can’t afford to do multiple takes. In that low-budget situation, you need actors who can nail it quickly.

          Supernatural – which I mention all the time – is a low-budget show, and not only that – it’s television. There is no time for 70 takes. You’d never get an episode done. And everyone – directors, writers, the entire crew – talks about how extraordinary it is to watch the two lead actors – Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki – work so deeply and so QUICKLY.

          That kind of immediacy in reaction takes talent, first of all, but preparation. They do their homework before coming to the set, and have an idea of how they want to play something. That is not the director’s job – a totally misunderstanding on the part of the critics who write about film (that’s what Carroll Baker complained about.) There is so much mystery around the actors’ process that it is just easier for critics to give “credit” to the director. They don’t get it at all.

          Now Marilyn Monroe was notorious for screwing up takes repeatedly. She drover Billy Wilder, in particular, insane with this. How could she mess up a line like “Where’s the bourbon?” 20 times?? She had stage fright and I have a theory that she was undiagnosed dyslexic as well. Wilder (and other directors) put up with it because … you know. She was Marilyn Monroe.

          And of course when she “got it” nobody was more perfect!! But the process of getting there made everyone pull their hair out!

          • It sounds like if Steve and Marlon had made a movie together in about 1965, that would have been one very interesting set! I’m starting to understand all those old saws about great movies being either miracles or accidents. It’s not really true (maybe some aspect is, but not the whole thing), but it must seem that way to the people who work on them–controlled chaos!

            I can relate to the actor’s dilemma in one small way because I write a lot about singing (something I understand at least second-hand because my mother was one–even though it was only for the local scene she approached it professionally and taught lots of others to do the same). There’s been a whole narrative about producers like George Goldner and Phil Spector and Shadow Morton, “Svengali-ing” mostly young female singers and there’s now a pretty good body of literature (which I think started with Ronnie Spector’s autobiography in the late 80s) that amounts to those singers pushing back and saying no, that wasn’t how it was at all. The really good ones were all deeply engaged in how their records sounded (much the way you are talking about how actors engage here). I liked a quote Mary Weiss gave a few years ago when she made a comeback forty years after the Shangri-Las disbanded. Somebody asked her why she didn’t sing more of her old songs in concert and she said: “Well, those songs were written for specific voices. And those voices don’t exist anymore.” Imagine that.

            Too much criticism starts from the assumption that singers just breathe in tune and actors just memorize…we need more folks like you who have actual experience to keep getting bigger platforms for some attitude adjustments darn it!

  4. marc murdock says:

    I saw Michael Beschloss and George Stevens Jr. last night in DC. Stevens could have gone on for hours with delicious stories from Hollywood and DC. I can’t wait to read his book and, at the risk of man-recommending, I think you just might like it too:

    • sheila says:

      “man-recommending” – ha! Never fear: I take recommendations from everyone and I am happy to have them! I have been so excited to read his book! I have the two volumes of the AFI movie-director lecture series – and Stevens writes all the introductory words for each director, very detailed, as well as the introduction to each volume – and he is a graceful and very generous writer. So I’ve been excited to read his story! It’s fabulous that not only has he stuck around this long but that he has been SO active in keeping the artform alive and vibrant – keeping the connections with the past. I SO appreciate that.

      Was the event you attended a book reading/signing? It sounds wonderful!!

  5. Lady Bug says:

    Thank you so much for the transcript! It sounds like such a fun experience to be there! I also can’t wait to get my hands on ‘My Place in the Sun’ I’ve read some snippets of it through google books and I can’t wait to read more. I completely agree with you–I haven’t read the AFI lecture series yet (it sounds like an incredible resource!) but I’ve read his introductions/prologues to other books such as Peter Winkler’s “The Real James Dean” and I’m also so moved with his generosity, fairness, compassion and insights as a writer and observer. It’s a really beautiful quality.
    This is just a great insight into Giant, I read Carroll’s autobiography so I really enjoyed hearing her observations here too. I also so appreciate looking at George Stevens, Jr. as a director and him vis a vis other directors like John Ford (I’ll also forever lament that we don’t have–as far as I know–the additional footage/takes that was cut when Stevens was editing) can’t imagine what an incredible gift and insight that would be both into Stevens as a director/editor but also into the acting craft.
    This article and rewatching clips of Giant gives me such a greater appreciation for what everyone bought to the table; I know I read some insights that Dean’s method acting ‘clashes’ against the more established style of Hudson and Taylor–and I defer to just about anyone else on the technicalities of acting! But for me it works because it shows Jett Rink as very much an outsider, the cowboy id who never fits in no matter how much wealth he gains to Bick and Leslie’s sublime ‘normalcy.’ I have such a respect for what all of these actors brought and how much richer I feel for having such a variety-from classical acting to method acting to a mixture bought on screen.
    And as a rejoinder to my own point, with the method/classical clash; I’d say that for me the scene between James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor while they’re drinking tea it feels so natural and I don’t know how to articulate this better-but so smooth and nuanced and just a lovely moment between James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. They’re both, IMO pitch perfect in this scene together.

    • Lady Bug says:

      (Sorry meant looking at George Stevens SR as a director!)

    • sheila says:

      // But for me it works because it shows Jett Rink as very much an outsider, the cowboy id who never fits in no matter how much wealth he gains to Bick and Leslie’s sublime ‘normalcy.’ //


      It was the meeting of the old and the new – there’s a John Wayne movie called The Cowboys – with Wayne starring opposite all these new young actors – David Carradine, Bruce Dern – and the younger actors play the heavies and Wayne has to combat them. He definitely had OPINIONS about the new brand of actor – but watching him deal with the new generation is fascinating. (And I think he’s a fantastic actor in the best old-school sense.)

      Elizabeth Taylor was such a good actress. Any time I re-watch National Velvet I think “this has got to be one of the best most natural performance by a child actor in cinema.” And talk about wanting to stretch her talent – taking on Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – or Suddenly Last Summer – one of her boldest and riskiest performance – and also how much she was willing to reveal about herself in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. She was so glamorous and gorgeous and there were the jewels and all the marriages (she joked though “I only slept with people I was married to” – lol) – and the emergency tracheotomy and Cleopatra – her life was insane – but the proof of why she was a star is always in the work.

      She’s so good in Giant – I find her to be totally natural. she’s so beautiful you wouldn’t expect someone like her to be so natural. and she really gives Dean something to play off of. Which I am sure he enjoyed! He had a much more tempestuous hostile relationship with Raymond Massey – who found his acting irritating and embarrassing (which of course was perfect for the movie) – but Taylor … she can totally keep up.

      The screening was so amazing because it’s such a long movie but it FLIES by. No drags.

      • Ladybug says:

        You’re making me want to spend the weekend watching a marathon of Elizabeth Taylor films. :) I would have loved to have seen what Taylor and Dean would have done together in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

  6. Lady Bug says:

    I’m sorry for keep on editing/adding things to this thread, but I also want to give a shout out to the scene in the lawyer’s office where the men try to buy out Jett’s land inheritance. Dean’s performance in that scene-just blew me away-there are so much nuance in his performance in that scene–the way he LISTENS to the other characters as if this is the first time Jett’s hearing this, his timing, gestures, it’s effortless and authentic IMO.
    –I sometimes feel that nowadays Dean doesn’t get ANY credit for his skills as an actor, but with a nuanced and honest assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses as an actor–all actors have them and with an understanding that he was still developing-this scene for me goes down as to the WHY his work still captivates and why he should be remembered for being an actor and not ‘just’ a pop culture icon.

    • sheila says:

      // Dean’s performance in that scene-just blew me away-there are so much nuance in his performance in that scene–the way he LISTENS to the other characters as if this is the first time Jett’s hearing this //


      another incredible example of the power of his listening is the scene with the cop in REBEL – the man to man chat – I love Dean’s behavior in that scene.

      // why he should be remembered for being an actor and not ‘just’ a pop culture icon. //

      I so agree with you – including his compatriots in early-death-so-called-pop-culture icons – Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland. In all of these cases, the image – the face – has obliterated the cultural conversation. These were incredibly talented humans – GIFTED – there’s a REASON why they are icons, besides their faces being on mugs and calendars. and the REASON is their TALENT.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.