Carroll Baker will never forget sharing meals with James Dean on the set of 1956’s Giant.
“We’d gone to The Actors Studio in New York together, and when we got to Marfa, Texas, to shoot the film, everybody had to eat in one place — it was a very small town,” she exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now, after a recent screening at NYC’s Film Forum. “He used to make fun of Elizabeth Taylor when she came all dressed up, because we’d wear blue jeans. He would always sit with me — but then Elizabeth made friends with him, and he never ate with me again!”
Carroll, now 88 and still a pistol, grew close with James as students. “Nearly everyone at the Studio thought he was strange but phenomenally talented,” she recalls. “He fascinated me, and I used to stare at him to see if I could read this thoughts. When he caught me staring, he would break into a crooked grin.”
Their chemistry never blossomed into romance, however. “It became my well-considered opinion that Jimmy was, in fact, asexual,” Carroll says. “Girls I knew who had been close to Jimmy only spoke about how he held their hands, and how innocent and boyish he had been — never touching them.”
That didn’t stop the Hollywood gossip columnists from spreading rumors of a tryst between James and Carroll, who was married to legendary Actors Studio teacher Jack Garfein during the filming of Giant. “Hedda Hopper wanted me to say I was having a love affair with Jimmy!” Carroll complains. “It was so distasteful and unfair. Why should I be put in the position of having to deny such a blatant falsehood?”
You couldn’t blame people for wondering, given some of the exciting experiences Carroll had with James. During her first trip to Hollywood in 1955, he whisked her onto his big silver motorcycle for a joyride she’ll never forget.
“We flew over a bump and did a dip, which took my breath away,” she gushes. “My thighs gripped cold metal, my arms tightened around his waist, and I buried my chest into his back. I could feel the heat of his body, the contractions of his muscles and the wind tearing at every inch of me that wasn’t pressed into either him or the machine. The combined sensations stunned me.”
Sadly, James’ need for speed proved fatal. He died at 24 in a car crash on a day off from filming Giant. Director George Stevens was in a screening room with Liz, Carroll and Rock Hudson when he got a call with the news. “I went numb,” Carroll says. “No one else seemed to move. If they spoke, I didn’t hear them. I sat silently for a long time. Then I left, silently, and drove to the beach. I sat alone all night long watching the surf and feeling absolutely nothing, experiencing nothing.”
But James lived on in Carroll’s memory. “I’ll never get over him,” she told her husband shortly after the star’s death. “He was my age. He was my friend. I’m going to miss him.” As she says, “There have been few talents to match that of James Dean’s.”
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