So Bick Benedict says: “You all think that the glory happened here in the East, don’t you, with Valley Forge and Bunker Hill? Do you know about San Jacinto? Have you heard about the Alamo?” Well, the East is hearing about the Alamo along with oil, cattle, that white trash Jett Rink and Bick Benedict, one of those rich Texans who hates Tejanos. Mind your memories, Cats. There is no tomorrow, tomorrow, Annie. Be afraid, Virginia Wolfe, because “Giant” has arrived in New Yawk City. YEE-haw!
Yes, “Giant,” that clear-eyed documentary of the average Texas family is singing and dancing its way across the stage of the off-Broadway Public’s Newman Theater in the Big Apple. Do we really need this? Didn’t “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” seal our reputation as sophisticated intellectuals? No. Remember, an intellectual in Texas is someone who can hear the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger.
The stage version is the work of some of the hottest talents on Broadway. I never heard of any of them but am assured they are all Tony toters. But getting near the Great White Way was a rocky trip, and I’ll make it short. The play began as an incredibly long four-hour, three-act production. It was first staged three years ago at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., then again last winter at the Dallas Theater Center. The current version still runs three hours and 17 minutes. I hope they kept in the catchy dialogue:
You no doubt want to dig to the back of your closet to find your boots and 10-gallon and head for NYC, but before you spend $85 per seat (the cheap seats), let us discuss how that mighty 447-page novel by Edna Ferber, a Pulitzer Prize winner but not for that, went from paper to the silver screen to the stage. When the novel first came out in 1952 it was met with scorn and ridicule by most Texans. I remember my mother telling the joke that Ferber, while flying over Texas, asked the pilot to go lower so Ferber could pick up some atmosphere about Texas for her book.
When this stage production opened in November, (it was delayed by Storm Sandy) the critics generally liked it. The Wall Street Journal: ‘‘’Giant’ is the most important new musical to come along since ‘The Light in the Piazza.’ It’s a show of immense and fully realized promise — and it deserves to move uptown.’’ From Entertainment Weekly: “Michael John LaChiusa’s ambition is as big as Texas, which seems appropriate for his sprawling and terrific new musical…the composer has crafted one of the finest new American musicals in recent memory.’’ However, the very influential New York Times sighs, “But the countervailing weight of condensing a multitude of themes and plot points keeps pulling this show down to earth, and even threatened to bury it.” What can we expect from an effect corps of impudent snobs? (Thank you, Spiro Agnew.)
Some facts you may not know about “Giant” and its various versions: The movie was made for $5.4 million and brought in $35 million. The American Film Institute listed it as one of the 100 best American movies ever made, number 82 between Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and Oliver Stone’s “Platoon.” Grace Kelly was considered for the role of Leslie Benedict. Rumor was that once her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco was announced, however, M-G-M decided not to loan her out for the movie.
Clark Gable was considered for the role of Bick Benedict, but was rejected as too old by producer Jack L. Warner. Another version is that Rock Hudson was given a choice between Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly to play Leslie. Hudson chose Taylor. At the time, few people outside of Hollywood knew that Hudson, that great big macho heart throb, was gay. He died of AIDS.
Actually, most of the participants have expired. Chill Wills, the only real Texan in the movie, died of cancer in 1978. Sal Mineo, who played Angel Obregón, was murdered. Elizabeth Taylor, who was hospitalized more than 70 times[and had at least 20 major operations, died at age 79, having outlived most of the cast. This was the last of James Dean‘s three films as a leading actor. He was killed in a car accident before the film was released. The actor Nick Adams was called in to do some voice-over dubbing for Dean’s role. That was an easy job because Dean mumbled throughout the entire film.
The music was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, and the theme should be played as a march by the Longhorn Band at every UT football game. It would sure intimidate the opposition. “Giant” won the Academy Award for Best Director, George Stevens, and was nominated in nine other categories. Edna Ferber met Glenn McCarthy (aka Jett Rink) when she booked a room at his Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955) in Houston which the fictional Emperador Hotel was based in the book and the film. The movie, partially filmed in Marfa, was released 56 years ago and remains to this day the most important thing that ever happened in Marfa.
The next time you visit New York and someone asks, as a Texan, if you ride a horse and live on a ranch, tolerate them. Explain that your horse is named Ford Mustang and your ranch is the Double Bar Star Sliding J Rocking W. No, you don’t have many cattle because they can’t survive the branding. Your wife is named Billie Jean or your husband is Carl Roy. The kids are Travis, Austin, Houston and Billie Jean Junior. You are armed and dangerous, believe global warming is a communist plot, will vote for Rick Perry till you die and hate minorities. Do them that favor, because it’s what they want to believe. YEE-haw!
Ashby is gigantic at firstname.lastname@example.org