Don Graham

Listen to the interview

Don Graham joins us this week, talking about his new book, Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film (St. Martin’s Press, April 10, 2018)

Writing On the Air is broadcast each Wednesday from 6-7 pm Central from the KOOP Radio studios in Austin, Texas.  We are heard on 91.7FM KOOP, and online at, and Radio Free America.  Recent episodes are immediately available after the broadcast on Radio Free America. 

Listen to our past episodes below – simply scroll through the guests, or try the search bar. You can download the interviews from each page, and our podcast is also available on iTunes.  For show updates, be sure and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

We’re glad you’re here, and thanks for listening to our show. 

Photo by Bridgett Woody Scott

Don Graham is the author of Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film, released April 10, 2018 by St. Martin’s Press.

The Dallas Morning News has called Don Graham “Our premier scholar and critic on Texas literature, films and pop culture.” He is J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also a writer-at-large with Texas Monthly magazine.

Don Graham’s publications include No Name on the Bullet:  A Biography of Audie Murphy (1989), Cowboys and Cadillacs:  How Hollywood Looks at Texas (1983); and Kings of Texas:  The 150-Year Saga of an American Ranching Empire (2003), which won the T.I.L. Carr P. Collins Prize for Best Nonfiction Book awarded by the Texas Institute of Letters. He has served as that organization’s president.

His awards include the Best General Criticism Award from the City/Regional Magazine Association, for his literary columns in Texas Monthly. He received the University of Texas Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2013, an Alcalde Top Ten Professors Ever Award in 2014, as well as the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching at UT in 2006.

Don Graham’s research interests include Southwestern American Literature/ Film, Nineteenth & Twentieth Century American Literature/Culture, and Australian Literature.  

Don Graham holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Texas, and an MA and a BA in English from North Texas State University. He lives in Austin with his wife, Dr. Betsy Berry.

Praise for Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film (St. Martin’s Press, April 10, 2018)

 “A noted authority on all things Texas, Graham turns his attention to film with this authoritative tale of ‘Big Texas Oil’ and the epic movie Giant . . . A delightful work of film/cultural history for movie fans.” Kirkus Reviews

“Lively . . . deeply researched and efficiently paced.” Publishers Weekly

“Don Graham is a masterful storyteller . . . Just as Giant the movie was the talk of the town back in 1956, I know Don’s lively narrative will be the talk of the town today. He captures West Texas and the big screen stars perfectly.” ―Laura Bush

“Don Graham, long a keen student of Texas literature, has given us a brilliant study of a classic American film.” ―Larry McMurtry, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Last Kind Words Saloon

“Don Graham goes far behind the scenes to deftly capture the fragile egos and sexual misadventures of the legendary cast, the extraordinary determination of Stevens, and the reaction of Texans who warily embraced a cinematic self-portrait they found both troubling and irresistible.” ―Glenn Frankel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Searchers and High Noon

“Graham breathes new life into the gripping story behind one of mid-century America’s great epics, retold with invaluable insight drawn from the wells of cultural history, Hollywood dish and Texan lore.” ―Noah Isenberg, Los Angeles Times bestselling author of We’ll Always Have Casablanca

“Some films are so vital they become part of American history. Giant is one of them. Don Graham shows us how a volatile mix of some of Hollywood’s biggest, most troubled, personalities Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, the doomed James Dean came together under the brilliant direction of George Stevens to create an epic that rivals Texas in size, scope,and sheer impact. With insight and wit, Graham gives us a highly entertaining saga of how movies are made and why they become iconic.” ―Nancy Schoenberger, author of Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood

Giant is a page-turning tale of giant talents and egos toiling in a remote Texas location with the legendary director George Stevens to create a classic in American film. Especially Dean is poignantly portrayed as a tortured young man whose career and life flamed out much too soon. Essential reading for every fan of the silver screen.” ―Tom Clavin, New York Times bestselling author of Dodge City

“You’ve seen the movie, of course? If not, you’ll rush to get the Blu-ray when you’re a few pages into Don Graham’s riveting book that tells the story of ‘Giant’ from start to finish. That story involves half of Hollywood, and not only the stars — Elizabeth Taylor, RockHudson, James Dean — but those other superstars considered for the roles: Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, and many others. This brilliant chronicle will grab you like a thriller.” —Sam Staggs, author of All About All About Eve

ABOUT Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film

A larger-than-life narrative of the making of the classic film, marking the rise of America as a superpower, the ascent of Hollywood celebrity, and the flowering of Texas culture as mythology.

Featuring James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor, Giant is an epic film of fame and materialism, based around the discovery of oil at Spindletop and the establishment of the King Ranch of south Texas. Isolating his star cast in the wilds of West Texas, director George Stevens brought together a volatile mix of egos, insecurities, sexual proclivities, and talent. Stevens knew he was overwhelmed with Hudson’s promiscuity, Taylor’s high diva-dom, and Dean’s egotistical eccentricity. Yet he coaxed performances out of them that made cinematic history, winning Stevens the Academy Award for Best Director and garnering nine other nominations, including a nomination for Best Actor for James Dean, who died before the film was finished.

In this compelling and impeccably researched narrative history of the making of the film, Don Graham chronicles the stories of Stevens, whose trauma in World War II intensified his ambition to make films that would tell the story of America; Edna Ferber, a considerable literary celebrity, who meets her match in the imposing Robert Kleberg, proprietor of the vast King Ranch; and Glenn McCarthy, an American oil tycoon; and Errol Flynn lookalike with a taste for Hollywood. Drawing on archival sources Graham’s Giant is a comprehensive depiction of the film’s production showing readers how reality became fiction and fiction became cinema.—St.Martin’s Press