Originally, I was hired by director George Stevens to work with Rock Hudson on his accent in Giant. I was born and raised in Brownfield, in West Texas. They wanted Rock to sound like I did. When George Stevens called me into his office, I thought, They are going to let me do that part of Jett Rink. I was the right age and from Texas. But George and Henry Ginsberg, the co-producer, pulled their chairs up next to me and said, "You think you could teach Rock Hudson to talk like you do?" I told them, "I've been going to a dialogue coach in Hollywood trying to lose this accent." George said, "No don't do that. It sounds great."
They sent me over to meet Rock who was doing a movie
at Universal. He handed me the Giant
script and asked me to read a
couple of his lines. Rock wanted to know, "How do you say this or
that." Then he called George and told him it was perfect. George put me on
salary and said, "I've got a couple of young kids I want to put in the
movie. I want you to work with them for a few days before I test them." One
was Dennis Hopper, the other was Carroll Baker. So I started to work with them.
Then, one day there was a knock on the door, and it was James Dean. He said, "You Bob Hinkle? I seen you over at the studio restaurant a couple of times." Well, I'd seen him, but I never had met him. He was kind of a loner, quiet. He ate by himself. He said, "I'd like to work with you in playing Jett Rink. I’d like you to help me create that character." He offered to pay me out of his own pocket but I said that's not necessary. I asked him when he wanted to start. He told me, "I'd like to start today." So we went to dinner that night at Barney's Beanery over on La Cienega.
I told Jimmy, "If you are going to be a Texan, the best way is to be a Texan all day long. Get up in the morning, put on your hat, put on your boots. Dress like a Texan, eat the food Texans eat." Dean told me, "That's what I want to do.".
really something. I was on the
picture seven or eight months. It
was a wonderful experience. Everybody
bonded, except maybe Rock and Jimmy were a bit jealous of each other.
Jimmy was jealous of Rock because Rock had all the good dialogue, and
Rock was jealous of Jimmy because East of
Eden had just been released and Dean was getting all the attention from the
media. They never had words, but you could feel the jealousy. It would come out
when Rock would say, "How is Jimmy to work with?" or Dean would say,
"How do you like working with old Rock. You know, has he ever come on to
you?" We all knew about Rock, but on the set he was as straight as could
be. There never was any inkling. He was a very nice guy, very
easy going, always prepared.
George Stevens had problems with Jimmy only a couple of times and that's been blown way out of proportion. I was there when George shot that scene where Jimmy paces off the property that he inherited from Bick Benedict's sister. We were shooting on a ranch, in Marfa, Texas, on location. There were just four of us there that day including the cameraman. It was like a second unit. George told Dean what he wanted: "I just want you to walk right straight for that fence post," indicating that Jimmy should measure the land with his boot steps. Dean said okay, and Stevens told the cameraman to roll it.
Jimmy hardly got a few feet when Stevens yelled, "Cut." We all kind of stood there for a minute. Nobody said anything. Then, George took a page from the back of the script and started tearing it up into little pieces. Without saying a word, Stevens threw a little piece of paper down and put a rock on it. Then he went about ten feet and did the same thing. "What the hell is he doing?" Jimmy asked me. I said, "I don't have any idea."
Stevens made this trail out to the
fence post, then walked back, and said to Jimmy, "Do you think you could
follow that line?" Dean replied, "Yeah, I think I can."
The camera started to roll. Jimmy walked over to the first rock, picked
it up and tossed it away. Stevens yelled cut but Jimmy ignored him--he kept
walking, picking up every one of those pieces of paper. Then he came back and
dropped them right in the director's lap.
Bill, the cameraman, and I were dumbfounded. Dean stared at Stevens and said, "Look, if I need marks, I'll put down my own marks. All you need to do is to tell me what you want me to do, like a director is supposed to. Then I'll do it. Otherwise, I’m going to get my ass on a plane and go back to California."
Stevens reacted real calm. He said, "Well, okay, let's just shoot
it." The camera began rolling again. But this time Jimmy Dean was pissed
off. He reared back, and began strutting over to this windmill instead of
heading toward the fence. I
realized Dean was improvising, but the director wasn't angry. He told the
cameraman, "Stay on him, Bill. Stay with him."
George Stevens was excited by Dean's reaction, even though none of this
was in the script.
Dean climbed up on the windmill, crossed his legs, and sat up there. All the time, Stevens kept telling the cameraman, "Hold on to him. Keep on him. You got him, haven't you? That's perfect, perfect. Oh, man."
I think George set up the whole scene. He got the reaction from James Dean that he wanted. It was part of this reverse psychology that made him so good as a director.
After Jimmy died, they came out with all these stories about him burning himself with cigarettes and things like that. It's horseshit. People didn't know him that well. He wouldn't hardly talk to the press. He didn't trust them.
One day we were coming out of the commissary, and a
writer for the trade papers asked for an interview. Jimmy said, "Ah, no.
F--k it. You're going to write whatever you want to anyway, so go ahead and
The whole legend thing came about because of the way he died, in that car crash. Dean had just finished Rebel, and the studio rushed it out to take advantage of all the press he was getting.
The kids who saw the movie associated themselves with Jimmy Dean, and he became
big overnight. The same thing had
happened with Hank Williams. No one paid any attention to him until he died.
Then everybody wanted to record his songs. That's when he became a legend.
(Bob Hinkle was the dialogue coach on Giant and Hud. He also served as a script doctor and second unit director on the latter film. In 1972 Bob produced and directed Guns of a Stranger starring Marty Robbins and the great Chill Wills. Bob's autobiography will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )