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Edna Ferber's novel Giant was said to have been based on the life of Texas oil mogul Glen McCarthy. The film was shot on location in Marfa and Valentine, TX, and Charlottesville, VA. The large Benedict home was built at the Warner Bros. prop department and shipped to the Worth Evans Ranch, twenty-one miles from Marfa, where the facade remains. The oil derricks seen in the film were also built in Hollywood and transported to the Texas film site. Valentine was the location of the film's Mexican village, and Charlottesville, the site of "Leslie Lynnton Benedict's" Maryland family home. The Maryland sequences were shot on a seventeenth-century estate. According to an August 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, portions of the film were shot in the lobby of the Statler Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. Production notes claim that of the hundreds of Texans hired to play extras in the film, ten were millionaires. Most of the extras appear in the film's barbeque scene. Other efforts to realistically render Texas included dialogue director Robert Hinkle's recording all the dialogue for the actors who played Texans and then having them listen to the tapes to learn the proper accents.
Contemporary reviews for the film praised its direct and unflinching portrayal of racism. Reviews singled out the scene in which patriarch "Bick Benedict," accompanied by his Mexican daughter-in-law and her son, brawls with a diner owner while trying to defend a group of Mexicans who have been refused service. During the fight, the song "Yellow Rose of Texas" played on the diner's jukebox. After the film's release, that version of the song became a hit record. Rock Hudson, in a later interview, claimed that when he viewed the film for the first time with an audience, he was booed throughout, but when the audience cheered him in the diner scene he realized the reaction was to his character and not to his abilities as an actor. The October 10, 1956 Hollywood Reporter review stated that, due to its portrayal of race, the film "has the drumbeat of contemporary history," and the Daily Variety review noted that Giant demonstrates how racism against Mexicans in the Southwest is "as bad, and as wrong, as the Negro's situation in the Deep South and elsewhere."
According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, careful representation of ethnicity seemed to be the Code office's only concern. Geoffrey Shurlock requested that the producers of the film receive "adequate technical advice" in filming the Mexican wedding ceremony and burial ritual. The film received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Actor (James Dean, Rock Hudson), Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge), Art Direction, Color (Boris Leven and Ralph S. Hurst), Costume Design, Color, (Moss Mabry and Marjorie Best), Film Editing (William Hornbeck, Philip W. Anderson and Fred Bohanan), Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Dmitri Tiomkin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat) and Best Picture. George Stevens won the award for Best Direction. Giant marked Carrol Baker's first major film role, the American film debut of Elsa Cardenas and James Dean's final screen performance. On September 30, 1955, four days after filming his final scenes, Dean was killed in a car crash near Salinas, CA. Many reviews singled Dean out for praise, and the Variety review called Dean's performance "outstanding," and stated that "the film only proves what a promising talent has been lost." Many modern sources have stated that, following Dean's death, actor Nick Adams dubbed his voice in the banquet scene.
According to modern and contemporary sources, Grace Kelly was sought for the role of Leslie Benedict. Modern sources claim that once her engagement to Prince Rainier of Monaco was announced, however, M-G-M decided not to loan her out for Giant. Elizabeth Taylor, who ultimately received the highly desirable role, was also under to M-G-M, which loaned her out to Warner Bros. Modern sources also claim that Hudson, when given the choice of his leading lady by Stevens, chose Taylor. Taylor, who had recently given birth to her second child, was apparently plagued with health problems during the shooting, a fact that did not help the troubled relationship between Taylor and director Stevens. Modern interviews with Hudson and Taylor reported that the day after Dean's death was announced, Stevens required a distraught and inconsolable Taylor to complete reaction shots for a scene she had played with Dean, and that the actress never forgave him. A March 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Gloria Rhoads was considered for the role of "Juana," which was played by Elsa Cardenas in the film. Hollywood Reporter news items add Rocky Ybarra and Dale Van Sickle to the cast, but their appearance in the film has not been confirmed. An October 1996 American Cinematographer article includes Jack Trent (Guest) in the cast and adds the following names to the crew credits: Spec visual eff Jack Cosgrove; Makeup Bill Woods; Hairdresser Ruby Felkner; Dance Director Bob Osgood; and Script Supervisor Howard Hohler.