Historic on-set photographs taken during the production of the epic drama "Giant" (1956), show the beautiful cast passing the time inbetween takes. Some are of Elizabeth Taylor lounging next to Rock Hudson and others are of her and James Dean goofing around. Some of the most famous photographs are of Hudson and Dean rehearsing the fistfight sequence. Much like their characters in the film, Hudson and Dean did not get along while Taylor was the link between them, who became good friends with both of the actors.
"They were as different as night and day." Taylor was once quoted saying about the difference between Hudson and Dean. She later elaborated and confirmed that James Dean was a 'Method' actor and Hudson had a hard time being taken seriously in Hollywood because of his good looks. After bonding with Dean, Taylor realized, "He had suffered so much in his life – a horrendous childhood,” she said. “You just wanted to put your arms around his wounds, and kiss all the harm away."
Their rift was not only witnessed by Elizabeth Taylor, but also by the on set coach, Bob Hinkle. Originally hired to help Rock Hudson develope a Texan accent for his role of "Bick", Hinkle also helped James Dean with his accent too. The coach recalled that he was given the sense that their tension was caused by some kind of jealousy. Oftentimes, he would be approached by either Dean or Hudson and asked what it was like working with the other.
The production came to a startling halt when James Dean lost his life in a car accident. Elizabeth Taylor was so emotionally distraught over his death, that she was permitted a day off of working on the film. Hudson also grieved the 24-year old's death. Later, Hudson's ex-wife Phyllis Gate wrote in her memoir "My Husband, Rock Hudson", that Hudson "...Couldn't be reached. He was overcome by guilt and shame, almost as though he himself had killed James Dean." The remaining dialogue that was not recorded by Dean, was recorded by a "sound alike", actor Nick Adams.
Taylor was changed forever by Dean's death. In her later interviews, when asked, she would lovingly talk about their short but devoted friendship. It was not until after she passed away that one of Dean's dark secrets made it to the press. In an interview with Kevin Sessums, Taylor revealed that while on the set of "Giant" (1956), that Dean told her about an event that plagued his short life - that he was molested by a priest in his teens. Taylor revealed that it was one of the subjects they talked largely about on the set of "Giant."
After "Giant" debuted, Dean received a posthumous Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Jett Fink. Meanwhile, Taylor and Hudson's friendship grew and eventually ended with Hudson's death in 1985. It was due to Hudson's loss of life to AIDS, that Taylor became passionate for finding a cure and helping awareness of the disease.
Regardless of what happened between the two actors, the art that imitated life in "Giant" made the tension between their characters that much more believable.