The film, directed by George Stevens and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean, was filmed in part in Keswick, VA, just east of Charlottesville. The Keswick Depot served as the train depot of the fictitious town of Ardmore, Maryland where Taylor’s character’s family lived. They owned a prized horse, “Warwinds”, that the Rock Hudson character came to purchase. He then falls in love with Taylor and they move back to Texas where the saga continues.
In June, 1955, Charlottesville was buzzing with excitement as the cast and crew for this epic motion picture arrived to shoot the first part of the film. They used the historic Belmont Farm (just off Route 22 in Keswick) as the home of the cherished horse and its owners.
Ed Roseberry was 29 years old at the time and, with years of photography experience, easily managed to get on the set to shoot some still images during production.
Roseberry took this photograph while the crew was filming horses and riders and dogs in a hunt while the train runs along the tracks. It later turned out that this was the scene that would be used for the opening shot of the film.
The train arrives at the depot (first image at top) and Rock Hudson gets off the train and is picked up by Dr. Lynnton, the man who owns the horse, played by Paul Fix. The film’s story begins in the early 1920s and the car, a Cadillac Phaeton, is from that period.
This photo shows the cast and crew behind the scenes going over details just outside the depot. The name of the fictitious town can be seen on the building. Local citizens, curious about the filmmaking, stand in the background, some snapping photos as souvenirs.
Roseberry also worked it out to be at the Jefferson Inn, one of Charlottesville’s few hotels at the time, on Emmet Street in Charlottesville, where the cast and crew stayed during the filming. He got this shot during one of the meals.
He also got this photo of the 23 year-old Taylor in the Jefferson Inn’s dining room. While the actress was gracious, other cast members were not and cursed Roseberry as he fired the flash of his camera.
Elizabeth Taylor at 5’3″ and Rock Hudson, more than a foot taller, stand together on location near the train depot in Keswick.
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Roseberry wasn’t the only one who had access and was able to get photographs. Bob Bencoach, who ran the Ridge Drive-in Theater which in the mid-twentieth century was located near Hydraulic Road and Route 29 (about where the Kroger is today), was also on the set. He was hired as an assistant to Fred Guiol. Bob took the photos below while on location at Belmont, the house that was used as the estate for the Lynnton Family (Paul Fix as the father and Liz Taylor as his daughter, Leslie).
A local, skilled rider was hired to stand in for Elizabeth Taylor on her horseback riding scenes. Taylor herself was an accomplished rider, taking up riding at age 3 and landing the lead in the film “National Velvet” at 14 in large part due to her riding skills. However, by 23, Taylor was deemed too valuable to be risked in most of the riding scenes and this young lady (whose name we’ve been unable to discover) rode in her place.
The epic motion picture has become a classic since it was released in 1956. Here in Charlottesville, it has been shown multiple times at the Paramount theater on East Main Street. This photo from the early 1970s (also by Roseberry) shows a group gathered to hear live music downtown. The marquee of the Paramount announces “Giant”, reminding film-goers of its local connections.
The Paramount showed it again, just this past year. The Paramount’s Sandy DeKay, who is passionate about both movies and local history, introduced last year’s showing to an enthusiastic audience.
Sandy DeKay explained the lasting appeal of the film: “Visually it was big, bold and colorful, a true epic. The movie also faced head-on – cautiously, it may seem to us now –social topics that continue to frustrate us today: racial tension; sexual inequality (Elizabeth Taylor defiantly making her opinions known regarding “men’s business”); and class/social mobility (the poor uneducated James Dean suddenly made rich by the discovery of oil).”
She added that the Paramount in particular has been the ideal place to see the film: “The Paramount continues to return “Giant” to the screen as a celebration of the theater’s history as a grand movie palace and gathering place for the community, and as a tribute to the film that had a significant local presence.”
This last photograph from Roseberry’s shoot 60 years ago is back at the train depot. Hudson and Fix stand below the steps to the passenger car that Hudson’s character, Bick Benedict, arrived on. The hunt group can be seen in the distance. You can also see Montalto (aka Patterson’s Mountain, later called Brown’s Mountain) on the horizon.
The depot still stands today, completely enveloped in vegetation, and the excitement of Hollywood coming to town to film “Giant” is only a distant memory for those who can remember it at all. And for Ed Roseberry, turning 90 in July, that is a good memory indeed.
All work © C’ville Images. Photographs on this website should not be reproduced or used for any purpose without permission. Roseberry photos are part of C’ville Images’ Roseberry Collection. High-quality prints may be purchase of any of Ed Roseberry’s photos by contacting us.
Bob Bencoach photos are used here with permission from Rosanna Bencoach.