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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Guldner

Is it 1956 all over again? Giant's Elizabeth Taylor is the heroine who will not be silenced.

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

(Our heroine Elizabeth Taylor as Leslie Lynnton)

Our heroine Leslie

Edna Ferber's novel Giant was adapted to the big screen in 1956. Directed by George Stevens it was a critical success. After watching this epic western about a rich Texan family I was completely floored. Texans were not looked upon this film favorably. Racial tensions between Mexican's and Latin American's was the underlining theme. White Texans held on to their belief,  that people of color the "others" should stick with their own kind. Jordan Benedict( played by Rock Hudson) a third generation Texan cattle rancher who lives in a sprawling mansion is the king of his castle until he meets the women who would soon become his wife.

Enter Leslie Lynnton played by Elizabeth Taylor. The two fall in love instantly. In the early part of the 20th century, when you have as much beauty, charm, and charisma as Leslie Lynnton it would not take any man of the Benedict social hierarchy long to ask for her hand in marriage. But Leslie as we soon find out is no average socialite. She speaks her mind for what she believes in no matter what anyone thinks. She will not be silenced.

Escorted by hired-hand Jett (James Dean), Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor)  shows nonconformist compassion for Hispanic help, visiting Mrs. Obregon (Pilar Del Rey) at "Little Reata" in the pueblos. She hears the cries of a little baby with a fever of 105. With complete empathy, she sends the family doctor to help the sick child and his mother.  When her husband finds out she has helped those "others" he strictly scolds her to not help or associate with people who are not their "kind". Leslie just states factually, that a baby needs attention and she isn't asking for his permission she is just stating a fact. To help another human being, a child is non-negotiable.

My all-time favorite scene is when Leslie and her guests of well to do Texan cattlemen discuss the all-encompassing problems facing them. The wives are to go into their own area and retire for "girl talk" mind-numbing chatter like the cattle these men wrangle outside. Leslie will have none of it. She tells the men she would like to listen in.  They assure her that she would do better to rest that "pretty little head of hers". The wives take their cue and walk up the stairs to leave the men to their business meeting. Leslie shouts that's right "let the children go to bed while the grown-ups get to talk".  She will not back down. She stands up for women by stating she is not the vapid, pretty little lady they set her up to be. She tells them that their caveman attitudes need an adjustment. Furious at his wife's lack of ability to play the role of wife and mother Jordan Benedict tries to change his wife but deep down inside it is her inability to back down from the core of her moral values of prejudice and sexism that makes him a better man in the end. He loves that about her and it changes his heart in time.

James, Liz, and Rock just a bunch of Hollywood icons hanging out

(James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson)

In 1956 American Jim Crow laws against African Americans were also in effect for Mexican Americans in the south such as Texas. Giant was a box office success which baffles me at a time when America was selling the ideology of the stay at home wife and mother, and the segregation of anyone who was not white. Giant so clearly illustrates the use of "otherness" by the way Jordan Benedict at the beginning of the film speaks of Mexicans. He was raised to believe they are different and should be left alone. That way of thinking separates people the less you know them on a human level the more you can say they are different. Leslie is the driving force that breaks down those ideologies for Jordan Benedict.

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