The above is a publicity still from Giant, a motion picture directed by George Stevens. The photo was never used in the original press package. Giant won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1956 .
Obviously, the symbolism of the photograph of Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean is not lost on us this Good Friday. Witness the way James Dean plants his boots.
Ten years after Giant, George Stevens , part of the handful of Hollywood directors who was Christian, directed a picture that would be his folly, The Greatest Story Ever Told about the life of Jesus.
Stevens was a well-regarded artist within the industry. He truly made commercial art with socially charged message films of his era including, A Place In The Sun, Shane, Woman Of the Year and Diary of Anne Frank.
Giant, as well, carried a message of its time about inter-racial marriage, long before the Loving Vs. Virginia Supreme Court Hearing.
This publicity photograph appears in the “Hall of Fame” corridors of Warners Brothers, according to Producer, Edward P Pederson, who posted the photograph in his Facebook page this morning, wishing everyone a “Good Friday“. When I remarked on the photo, he responded that, “many folks who walked by it miss the significance not to mention it was also never included in the publicity stills.”
Those of us who are part of the entertainment business or aspire to it, might take a lesson or two from George Stevens. All his life, George fought for profound, embedded meaning in his films . It is so apparent in reading his immense collection of letters beautifully housed at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles.
George Stevens was so clear in his point of view that even his actors seemed to animate it. Such in the case with actors Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean on his Giant set with the re-enacted Pieta.
It was interesting to study the letters between George and Noble Laureate, Carl Sandburg, a consultant on The Greatest Story Ever Told. The challenge for George was that he could never make the true point about Jesus. Stevens struggled between making Jesus “Holy” and making him a man. He could not find the balance in making Jesus , God incarnate, especially in the performance of the talented Max Von Sydow who was woefully miscast.
Yet the power of sacrifice and the significant lesson of finding the joy of life amidst life’s suffering, while not apparent in The Greatest Story Ever Told electrifies the stories that George Stevens directed as in A Place In the Sun and Diary of Anne Frank.