Liz, James and Rock in the Texas Desert
(This is one of four stories about the unique sites to be seen along the 37-mile stretch of Highway 90 through the Chihuahuan Desert from Marfa, Texas, to Prada Marfa.)
Driving a handful of miles outside Marfa, Texas, on the highway headed out to Prada Marfa, I came over a slight rise and, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. Oh, and behind them is Rock Hudson driving a yellow convertible.
They’re all part of an art installation dedicated to the 1956 movie “Giant,” filmed in the area. Liz, James and Rock are all cutouts replicating how they appeared in the movie. Another cutout, I think is of Marfa’s Hotel Paisano featured in the movie, is in the background.
These are massive pieces. Taylor’s and Dean’s images are maybe 15 feet tall.
The whole thing is situated just a few yards off the highway with a narrow dirt path alongside allowing you to get out of your car and take a longer look. Do that. That’s when you discover there’s a solar powered sound system, with speakers hidden behind fake boulders playing music.
I assumed the music was from the movie’s soundtrack but learned later that no, it was recorded by Michael Nesmith. Yes, the former Monkees band member who died just this past December.
If YouTube doesn't block the music for copyright issues, you can take a listen here:
The pieces were created by John Cerney in his California studios and installed on the property of Wyatt Ranches in October, 2018. The installation is a donation to the community of Marfa by Cerney and Lynn Wyatt, the matriarch of the Wyatt family.
Cerney is well known for these types of installations with many similar ones scattered across the country. One of those I drove by countless times along Interstate 80 just east of Iowa City. It was simply the faces of three random people. Erected in 2009/2010, it stood for many years before finally giving way to the elements.
Looking at Cerney’s website, he has constructed several of his murals in Iowa. Unfortunately, the most recent was installed nearly 10 years ago so I have my doubts any still exist.
A bit of trivia, “Giant” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning Best Director for George Stevens. Both Dean and Hudson were nominated for Best Actor. The film lost the Best Motion Picture award to “Around the World in 80 Days.” “The King and I” and “The Ten Commandments” were among other nominees.
The Hotel Paisano is still alive and well in the heart of Marfa. It’s a beautiful space open to visitors with an historic southwest feel and includes a restaurant, art gallery, and a fairly large shopping space with touristy kinds of items
By the way, if you do find yourself standing near James and Liz some day, take a look to the right and you’ll see the ranch sign and original windmill Dean climbed in the movie.
P.S. In a strange coincidence, I was just back home to my parents' for the holidays. Looking through their bookshelves I discovered my mother has an original copy of the book, "Giant", written by Edna Ferber and upon which the movie was based. I think I have some reading ahead of me.
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