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VICTORIAN MANSION ON A BARREN PATCH OF THE BIG BEND DESTINED TO BE A COWSHED Rococo, Gingerbread, Utterly Inelegant “”7’7″”‘”!r . 1101. . .. .. . :,?….’ ‘ .0.410tfAtiO*.0 ,: A Circus Breaks Down on the Prairie A COUPLE OF PARBOILED CALIFORNIANS LABOR IN TEXAS SUN James Dean, George Stevens MARFA Some miles out from town, south on Highway 67, there looms large on the horizon a macabre structure which should remain for years a curiosity for West Texas cattle and cowpokes. Sticking starkly out of the prairies is a three-storied Victorian mansion, all gingerbread and lightning rods, rococo and utterly inelegant. It’s here that the crowds foregather, here and down the road a piece, to. watch George Stevens and several hundred slightly parboiled Californians labor in the Texas sun. It’s as if a vast, traveling circus has broken down in the midst of this desolation and set up shop for some kind of performance. There are tents and trucks and trailers and tractors, buses and vintage cars and a great, milling mob of carpenters, technicians, cosmetologists, and even an occasional moom-pitchure star. The crowds come from all over, pulling up on the roadside in pickup trucks a n d air conditioned Cadillacs, directed by highway patrolmen and special “security police” retained by Warner Brothers Studios. They’re. from Pecos and Midland and Marfa and Alpine, from throughout the Big Bend region. Producer Director Stevens has even hired some of themranchwives and cowboys and levi-ed bobby-soxers, who for $10 a day stand around in the sun and hope to get a closeup view of Rock Hudson or Elizabeth Taylor or one of the half-dozen other cinema celebrities out here on location for the fi ing of Giant, Edna Ferber’s b st-seller of three years ago. A Lonely Stretch Before the picture people came, before the buses started carting ’em out to this barren patch of Texas from nearby Marfa or Pecos or Alpine, there really wasn’t much to see on this stretch of Highway 67. There’s a ghost town, if you like ghost towns, midway between Marfa and Presidio, and there’s Presidio, if you’re the type who enjoys the distinction of visiting the hottest spot in the United States. Look it up in the weather reports some time, they’ll tell you there. Across the river from Presidio is an authentic Mexican village, Ojinaga, untouched so far by the curio hunters, completely unlike any of the other tourist happy border towns. The ghost town is Shafter, where silver and gold were once mined. I remembered passing \\ through there once in the 1930’s, with my father spinning some pretty good yarns about it. It was a ghost town then, and things haven’t progressed in Shafter in the interim. On either side of US 67 are the Davis Mountains, far off in the distance and affording the only visible diversion from the monotonous powdery prairies except for the “Giant” locations. There are several of themone called “Little Reata,” where Jett Rink in , Miss Ferber’s book poor-boyed his way to an oil fortune; another on Highway 90 toward El Paso which has been fashioned into a Mexican settlement by the moviemakers. But the site picked for big “Reata” gets most of the attention. That’s where the Victorian mansion, home of Bick and Leslie Benedict, is situated. Benedict was portrayed as a real Texas-type tycoon, owner of two and a half million acres of ranchland. The home is actually on the Worth Evans Ranch, and Mr, Evans wouldn’t even have made it as a bit player in the Ferber novel. He only has 35,000 acres. Hollywood’s Hulls The mansion towers 64 feet over the sagebrush and cactus plants. There’s a screened front gallery, chairs on the porch, big windows and hitching posts outside. In all its decadent splendor, though, it’s a sham. It wAs built in California, in prefabricated units, the simulated stone facade being plaster on wood and metal, and shipped to Texas by flatcar. It’s really a shell, and all the interior shots will be made on the Warner Brothers lot in California. Most of the sets, including the Mexican village, will be torn down after the work is completed, but the mansion will remain. Evans plans to use it for a hay barn and stable. These cattle so sumptuously housed will probably be gawked out by passersby on the highway for years to come. Coming hard upon it, after mile on mile of endless desert land, you feel it’s something of a mirage. Miss Taylor Obperved It’s not too difficult to spot the stars of “Giant,” either in town or out on location. There is Miss Taylor, every bit as pretty as she seems in the movies and bearing up well in the Texas sun, although she seems a bit slim in the shanks, a trifle weak in the pasterns. There is Hudson, possibly bigger and handsomer than I thought, Chill W i 11 s, Mercedes McCambridge \(now back home after her death two Texas girls, Fran Bennett and Mary Ann Edwards. Stevens, producer of some truly great motion pictures \(“Shane” and another case. , You wouldn’t recognize him if he walked up and sat in your lap. He blends into the scenery real good, Stevens does, wearing boots and a Stetson and khaki trousers. Dean, a young man much in demand in Hollywood nowa kind of fuzzy cheeked Marlon Brandoblends into the scenery good, too. He looks like he’s been rolliiit in it, in fact. He’s what you’d call a dusty-colored fellow. Neither the stars nor the story dominate the location shooting of “Giant,” however. It’s the sheer magnitude of the operation that does it. It seems they came equipped for anything. landscape, site star t s planting things. This, of course, was in the days when it rained in Texas. To show the changes that come about outside the. mansion after Miss Taylor arrives, the studio imported live trees from ‘El Paso and \(Continued from could, for example, recite Tam O’Shanter in full. He grew up in a home where there was always a copy of the Bible ‘ and Robert Burns. He was born March 10, 1882, on a 160-acre claim farm in Butler County, Kansas, near the town of Douglass. His father, a Union soldier in the Civil War, had moved from Indiana to Kansas to take up the land claim. A sickly ‘child, and the last of ten, Holcomb helped around the farm, entered the Kansas public schools in Douglass. He finished most of hii high school work but never formally graduated. Then he went over to Wichita and enrolled in a business college there, waiting on tables to work his way through. On Nov. 16, 1905, he married Alice, May Barnes of Douglass. He bought his father’s home and land and tried farming and stock farming from 1906 through 1910. It was at sometime around 1910 that he decided he ought to be preaching. He studied at Western Bible and Literary College in Odessa, Missouri, for two or three years. He preached at meetings in Kentucky and Tennessee during the summers. His earliest newspaper writing was for a religious journal in the Southwest. Then, because of financial pressures, he returned to farming in Butler County. Always a Democrat He was a great admirer of William Jennings Bryan. He and his family were always Democrats and always a minority in Kansas. They used’ to sing together at political rallies all over the state. In 1916, he and his family came to Texas under an agreement by which he was to be !manager-operator with half interest in several hundred acres of bottomland in Wharton County. He prospered in 1917 and 1918, preaching on the side these years in Hungerford at the Church of Christ, of which he was a member. In the early twenties he felt the effects of the depression which hit American farming then, long before the 1929 crash, and by 1925 he was in debt. He went into dairy farming for a few years. He looked around in Wharton County and saw industry moving in put up a sprinkler system to green up the grass. It didn’t work. The range grass failed to respond, so the moviemen simply sprayed on a green vegetable dye. It looks real pretty. BILL BRAMMER MEM and changes, taking place. He felt that the county needed improvements and adjustments in tax valuations, and in the belief that information about certain abuses should be made public, he decided to start a newspaper. The first edition of the Wharton County Commoner was published in 1928. It was a short-lived enterprise, as Holcomb almost immediately entered into a partnership with another man in the Wharton County Enterprise. This then became the Wharton Journal. He had an early brush with Texas Gulf Sulphur during this period, the details of which may never be published because of, their nature. In 1930, .Holcomb bought the ElCampo News, the weekly newspaper he was to edit continuously Until 1940. . His Sulphur Fight + He never was much for business matters. He didn’t seem to care about money. Mrs. Holcomb managed the business side of the paper until 1937, at which time one of ‘their sons, Eldon, ‘stopped teaching school arid took it over. At that time, Texas Gulf Sulphur had its principal mine at Newgulf, in Wharton County. Holcomb criticized what he regarded as low tax valuations and the practice of the company of employing what were, in effect, local lobbyists. In 1936 he won his campaign on both counts. Business difficulties dropping to a minimum, the paper prospered in the late thirties, and Holcomb sold it in 1940 and settled the debts ‘he had contracted in 1925. To celebrate he visited Civil War battlefields all over the United States and Canada. He bought the State Observer and assumed the editorship in January, 1944. He sold it in 1954 to a group of liberals and Democrats who wanted to continue an independent liberal weekly newspaper, and he retired on December 6, 1954.. He is survived by his widow, the former Alice M. Barnes of Douglass; four sons, Murray L. Holcomb of Denver; Paul Eldon Holcomb of Austin, Wendall M. Holcomb of Pierce, and C. W. Holcomb of Corpus Christi; two daughters, Mrs. R. B. Barge of Phoenix, Ariz.,. and Mrs. T. T. Duncan, Jr., of El Campo, and nine grandchildren. When it gets too dusty for shooting out on the prairie, for instance, the workmen merely spray hundreds of gallons of water on it. Off to one side of “Little Reata” there’s a frame structure which resembles an oil derrick. It is. Arderican Ingenuity There will be about two minutes of , film used when Jett Rink of land. For this, the derrick has been constructed. When it’s set up and ready, hundreds of gallons of water will be piped to the bottom of the derrick. The water will be dyed black and an emulsion will be added to give it “body.” With the help of a couple of gigantic compressor units shipped from California, a vast black geyser of oil will woosh forth, spraying Rink and the countryside. Once, I noticed trucks piled high with \\ what looked to be plain old ordinary b r u s h. ‘Tumbleweed,” said one of the crew. “There’s. no tumbleweed around herethere’s nothing around here, in factso we brought the tumbleweed with us from California.” Stevens will probably drop the stuff around the location at some time or another: If there’s no wind to make it tumble, he’ll probably import a blower. Miss Taylor plays a Virgini. belle come ‘to Texas, the bride of Benedict in the picture. It seems she’s so disturbed by the bleak Paul Holcomb