Susie Duncan Sexton's Blog - Posts Tagged "rock-hudson"

Sometime during the summers of 1955 or '56, my big sister Sarah and I engaged in our happy walk of a couple of blocks to attend a block-buster which our mother recommended. Edna, an avid reader, boasted often, "Hmmmm, this movie...not nearly as good as the book," and the transplanted southerner usually wasn't "just whistlin' Dixie "!

However, George Stevens' adaptation of Edna Ferber's sprawling, atmospheric novel, chronicling that mighty "country" of Texas, decidedly approached a perfect blend of magnificent story delivered with superlative filmic skill. Giant—Technicolored, panoramic, epic and positively "cine-magical"—boomed onto the screen with a roar and a wallop. Elizabeth Taylor as Leslie Benedict rivaled Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara of Gone with the Wind fame. Rock Hudson swaggered and suffered as Bick Benedict. No Tara Plantation; instead, Reata Ranch! Both of these beautiful people stood possibly 10 feet tall, projected upon that screen one newly air-conditioned day. Yes, the Columbia Theater only recently had installed a curious system, which encouraged a noticeable bump in attendance—new-fangled enhancement for your viewing pleasure and comfort. Myriad fountains of cool, cool water shot skyward from the roof as we approached the building. Such an exciting afternoon for us all, almost as fine as attending the Clyde Theater or the Embassy or Rialto, all fronted by elaborate marquees, in near-by Ft. Wayne. Our daddies would have had to transport us for half an hour and a distance of some 20 miles away for those family-type experiences. We were big kids embarking upon a local adventure,
an event in our own neighborhood—three hours, split by an intermission, which we would remember for years thereafter.

Thus, all by our lonesome, little independent selves, Sarah and I hoofed it down Line Street, navigating a quick left onto West Jefferson, looking both ways as we crossed red-bricked Chauncey, finally arriving at busy, traffic-laden Main Street, the prettiest residential, tree-lined roadway in town, ranked immediately after our own North Line. We sensed the sprinkles of the shooting sprays of air-borne, then cascading, roof water lightly splashing onto our up-turned faces as we rounded the corner to enter the front lobby or "foyer". Coin purses in hand, we shelled out a whopping total of 50 cents' worth of change into the waiting, open palm of Mr. Hancock whose blondish, movie-starrish head poked through an arched, interior, ticket window; next, we scooted toward the popcorn vendor kid and watched him funnel scoops of aromatic delicacy into paper sacks. Luckily, we carried enough jingling coins for Milk Duds, Mallo Cups, or M & M's as well, confections to be found exclusively at this dream-like location in Columbia City we believed. We sisters didn't get out much though. The muffled sounds of the "previews" (followed by a Looney Tunes cartoon) commenced—so down the aisle we rushed to participate in one of the most thrilling cinematic experiences I can recall. Mitch Miller's "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and the incomparable Dimitri Tiomkin's soundtrack would reverberate inside my heart for the rest of my life.

Still lamenting to this very moment that I knew not what magic I witnessed through my 9 year old "wide" eyes that lazy Sunday afternoon. Legendary, iconic 24-year-old James Dean, native of the Hoosier town of Fairmount, which is now only an hour's drive from Columbia City, portrayed Jett Rink, the young scalawag who spends half the film's duration digging the toe of his cowboy boot into the Texan clay soil until the film's remaining half where he reigns as the wealthiest oil baron in the Lone Star State. Quite a character study, as young Dean convincingly ages into his fifties. Not until 1957, when my graduating sister and her high school friends allowed me to tag along and endure their weeping and sobbing through-out the running-time of director Robert Altman's The James Dean Story, did I begin to register even a glimmer of the star-power of this mythical creature. I thought those much older "girls" were silly, and I ventured back and forth between the treasure-filled lobby which over-flowed with mouth-watering treats to the cushy, velvety theater seat where I was supposed to sit still under the watchful tutelage of my flock of "baby" sitters. I hadn't a clue how important a classic Altman's documentary might be one day, as we witnessed the re-enactment of the fatal, California crash involving the young star's Porsche 550 Spyder, dubbed "Little Bastard". Dean's visiting aunt and uncle, who had raised him from the age of nine, were in the midst of returning to Indiana, having that same fate-filled day exchanged good-byes with their movie-star nephew. State troopers tracked the couple motoring toward home in their family automobile which Dean had driven to his Fairmount High School prom a few years before, stopped them and delivered the tragic news. Jimmy's funeral service, conducted just down the road in a small chapel next door to the farmhouse where he grew up, brought monumental crowds of fans and VIPs to Hoosierland.

I write that the Duncan sisters' excursion to our community's movie house occurred in 1955 or 1956 as small towns often featured Hollywood films a bit after the fact. If, indeed, our summer adventure occurred in 1955, we unknowingly participated in an eerily noteworthy slice of cinematic history. Giant, Rebel Without a Cause, and Dean's best film according to most sources—East of Eden; incredibly all three of his movies were released or distributed within that same year, 1955, in which he died. This young sensation's magnetic pull on the public, international in scope, continues to the present. We re-watch Giant and particularly John Steinbeck's East of Eden directed by Elia Kazan, several times per year—slip those DVDS into place and ease into our recliners, eyes and ears intent upon the television set which is positioned in the same corner of the living room where our first 1953 Zenith model nestled. "Cal", Dean's East of Eden character, uncannily close to his actual persona, never fails to inspire tears. His performance jumps off the screen, and this "boy next door" I have, as an old lady, finally begun to appreciate and love. James Dean stirs my Hoosier pride and always will.

Post Script to The James Dean Story: Whenever we youngsters were allowed to take in an "after-dark" movie, at which time we traveled in giddy groups of 5 or more in this rugged city, most of us C.C. kids would stoop down to attempt to pluck up shiny particles which sparkled like diamond chips embedded within the new state-of-the-art cement concrete, freshly applied to the side-walk area surrounding the movie-house. Our town's fluorescent lighting issuing from evenly positioned lampposts created this visual mirage. Post-movie, we lingered a little while at Karl & Clara Miller's lengthy, narrow, tiny sandwich nook abutted to the theater building so that we might prolong the evening prior to trekking back home similarly to Jem and Scout after their Halloween pageant in To Kill a Mockingbird. "Those were the days, my friends; we thought they'd never end" and haven't for many of us!


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"You are who you are meant to be. Dance as if no one's watching. Love as if it's all you know. Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today." ~ James Dean

[View scanned copy of column and photos here...]

Quirky dame that I am, I admit to never swooning over Elvis Presley…with one exception. His rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" ranks as powerfully stunning! Instead, I wore out my sister Sarah's 1958 double LP, "Belafonte at Carnegie Hall", which she purchased at the Indiana University Bookstore prior to her spring break. "Oh, come, Mister tally man, tally me banana! Daylight come and me wan' go home…" Calypso style. I giddily sat three rows away from the handsomest gentleman in creation when Harry staged his concert at a Detroit Opera House 10 years ago. A smoothly exquisite performer! Fast forward to the recent present with me and my own particularly idolized spirits of Cal Trask/Jett Rink/Jim Stark all of us seated in folding chairs around a rickety card table nestling in the front yard of the James Dean Gallery in Jimmy's hometown of Fairmount, Indiana!

Picture a stack of soft-bound issues of "Secrets of an Old Typewriter -- Stories of a Smart and Sassy Small-town Girl" somewhat blocking our view of an impressive flock of passers-by anxious to enjoy the downtown mid-way rides, parade, craft booths, dance contest, Jimmy Dean Look-a-Like competition, and lemonade and cotton candy and elephant ear confections. Representative of the dreamscape of mankind, -- ranging from townsfolk as well as school chums of the legendary native son to toddlers in strollers or perched on their mamas' hips, miniature doggies peeking from shoulder-bags and pocketbooks, baby boomers, Generation X-ers, teenagers, infants OR white poodles in baby carriages, celebrities, authors, and musicians of every ethnicity imaginable and from around the globe--, humanity eagerly, reverently congregates annually to celebrate the amazing life of an iconic resident who died in 1955 at the age of 24.

The James Dean Festival…commemorates yet another anniversary since the boy wonder abandoned all of us star-struck fans still earthbound on that sad date of September 30th with our hearts broken and our eyes cast heavenward, wishing he would return and star in further films rivaling his three cinematic classics -- "East of Eden", "Giant", and "Rebel Without a Cause" -- released within one magic year. These movies offer mesmerizing, truthful, impacting, instructive stories sharing themes of forgiveness, coming of age, redemption, and the human need for inclusion. In our 21st century, this Hoosier figure continues to magnetize crowds with his amazing talent, devotion to craft, and poignant portrayals of credible characters with whom we can both empathize and identify.

Tooling down Highway 9 South, I quickly find myself only two counties from my Whitley County house. While lingering on the lawns and side-walks of Grant County, I have delighted in chatting with Texan/stunt man Bob Hinkle who served as Jimmy's dialect and lasso trick coach on the set of "Giant", Dean's high school speech and drama instructor Adeline Mart Nall, famous Hollywood sculptor/painter Kenneth Kendall, and I probably brushed right by George Stevens, Jr. and maybe Martin Sheen who often frequented Fairmount the final week of each September. I count as forever friends, from this year of 2012: novelist-poet Ted B. Guevara from the Philippines; Fan Club originators Sandra Weinhardt and her sis from Livonia, Michigan; Linda Levine and Kirk Shield from South Bend, Indiana; Professor Del Rae and his Hungarian wife from Akron, Ohio; author/Rock 'n Roll expert gorgeous Pamela Des Barres; a history buff/electrical engineer who drove from Alabama -- and a passel of Dean's "8th" cousins once and twice removed also from Akron --the Hausknecht family who share a common ancestry with Jesse James as well. Jesse and Jimmy and the Hausknechts! Who knew?

Supportive friend Lucy Langohr Grant, currently a resident of North Carolina, recently wrote to me, "Have fun with your writing projects -- turning 'pillars' into real, accessible people!" Speaking of that genre of gracious folks, I wish to thank Columbia City Library's Ray Ranier, South Whitley-Cleveland Township Library's staff of Renae and LeAnn and Darci and Virginia (whose mother-in-law once owned the house where my family rented an upstairs apartment when the Duncans first landed in town and which later Jim and Connie Rohrbach inhabited for many years --small world!), Whitley County Historical Museum's Dani Tippman and assistants, and the Churubusco Library for facilitating my appearances and book signings during October and November. A special bonus involved Deb Lowrance interviewing me, of all people, as a contributor to her astounding 42 part Whitley County Oral History series --we filled two tapes! South Whitley's (windy) Souper Stompin' Saturday I shall never forget not only because several readers added my memoirs of local history to their personal libraries -- but also, two "intellectual" llamas, a half dozen ponies, and a couple of sheep expressed an animated interest in digesting my bound recollections as well.

Dean's genius reached an entire generation which included my two sisters…and spoke to me a tad when I viewed "Giant" as a nine year old, squirming in my Columbia Theater seat about fifth row back. I genuinely discovered the psyche and depth of this young man when I reached middle-age, via my favorite of his films, "East of Eden". Simultaneously, I also became fast friends with David Loehr, originally from Massachusetts, who established the James Dean Gallery with his photographer pal Lenny Prussack. Fairmount boasts two museums, the other being the Fairmount Historical Museum -- many of Dean's high school friends hang out there--to this very day! Marcus Winslow --who resides in the perfectly preserved farmhouse where the freshly, tragically motherless Jimmy arrived at age nine to be raised by his (paternal) Aunt Hortense and Uncle Marcus Winslow (the parents of Marcus) -- speaks so lovingly and proudly of his older cousin's global influence and his impact upon a continual stream of America's youth since the early 50s: "When 'Giant' premiered in 1955, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor received top billing, but today my cousin's name, even though he is featured in just 35 minutes of a three and one half hour movie with intermission, appears above theirs on marquees and posters. Jimmy genuinely wished to leave his mark, and he certainly did just that."

"Jimmy gave expression to the discontent, the unhappy, the suppressed, the latchkey kids, the spiritually starved. Jimmy up on the screen and hundreds of like-minded in the darkness, sprawled in their seats chewing gum and eating popcorn. The identification worked for both boys and girls. For the girls he was an ideal figure of the courageous yet sensitive friend. And the boys felt the way (novelist/artist) John Dos Passos had described : '…they still lined up… before the mirrors in the restroom… to look at themselves and see James Dean…' " ~ Axel Arens, writer and journalist


thanks for these comments on the above column...

Tara Hullinger: "Thanks for sharing it with me, Roy!"

Neil J. Simon: "'Jimmy genuinely wished to leave his mark, and he certainly did just that.' He did on Susie and many others. She is great with words and images!"

Tressa Marie: "One of my favorite quotes! A quote everyone should strive to live by. Love the article! Great work! Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Much respect, love and appreciation to you!"

Drex Morton: "My son, Joe, aspiring actor is reading a bio. of James Dean right now. I'll invite him to read your reflections...Susie is a treasure!"

Barb Nicholson: "Roy, I just love getting these from you. Great way to start the weekend! I enjoy reading your mom’s columns. They always give me a warm feeling. Photos are terrific! Easy to see your mom loves animals! Have a great weekend!"

Myrna Bailey: "Good job, Susie!"

Christopher Jordan: "What a wonderful story!!!"

Mary Shaull: "I just reread the amazing James Dean column. Great work. Great alliterative use. Impressive! The Belafonte part intrigued me too. I Adored Harry! I have an old 78 record that I cannot play, as I have no turntable, but I will keep it always. My favorites were Try to Remember and Scarlet Ribbons. I saw him in Birmingham, MI many years ago. When he sang Try to Remember, there was a huge fellow just off to the side of the stage, in the shadows. When the word, 'Follow' was sung by Harry, the other man echoed the word in a pure high tenor/falsetto, that to this day causes chills of emotion to travel through my body. I couldn't hold back the tears. Pure, pure beauty. I feel nearly the same thing with Scarlet Ribbons. We were lucky to have known him when. East of Eden hit me with a powerful agony. It was almost more than I could bear. I think I identified with James...Thank you, Roy, for sharing Mom's essay. She's a remarkable writer. Loved the pictures too. Now I feel I know you, having seen the photos. Lovely woman, awesome hair!!!"

Paul Clifford Schrade: "Susie is a true historian of the America we loved so dearly and took for granted. It never occurred to us then that someday that America we loved so much might start slipping away from us..but Susie held on grimly and rode out the storm and now we can thank her for it! We can be kids again and live it all over again and America is not dead. America may never return to the gallant lady she was...but if Susie has her way about it,she will!!"


Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in my book Secrets of an Old Typewriter - print and ebook versions available (click the title to order from publisher Open Books' website). Also available in both formats at, or download from iTunes

Meet other like-minded souls at my facebook fan page

Visit my author website at

Join a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or won't
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(Talk of the Town photo provided/Susie Duncan Sexton Collection) Above, Susie's parents, Roy and Edna Duncan, are shown here shortly after their elopement in 1930. The original photo is faded, dog-eared and much loved -- carried in a wallet for years and years.

By Susie Duncan Sexton

Dutifully responding to my shameless suggestion, my son Roy bought me another book! David Denby impressed me terrifically as a guest on the Charlie Rose show, defending movies "the way they were" when author Denby and I both fell loyally, tenaciously in love with the cinematic industry -- without reservation. At the height of the awards season, everybody and his brother pay closer attention to all of the creativity, talent, hype, and multi-faceted Herculean tasks underscoring favorite "final products" emanating from Hollywood prior to any one of us easing into a comfy chair while clasping a tub of popcorn and a jumbo Coca-Cola. The New Yorker reviewer notes in his Introduction of "Do the Movies Have a Future?": "At its best, the new Internet cinephilia generates an unstoppable, exfoliating mass of knowledge and opinion, a thickening density of inquiries, claims, reference points, agreements, outraged and dulcet tweets, rebuttals, summations, dismissals." This author claims that all of our premier critics (Pauline Kael among them) --whose "household word-ish" bylines once mesmerized an adoring spellbound public -- presently would be bloggers rather than formerly "sought after" celebrity experts.


Well, Roy blogs fabulously via his "Reel Reviews" (, and his Facebook audience and at least two Detroit newspapers (and one UK blog!) urge him at every turn to PUBLISH his rapidly expanding collection of fair and honest and loving critiques; each one shines, as gems always do! Reel Roy's brilliant, witty, reverent love letters -- laced with gentle candor -- entice me to leave the house, the sole purpose being to either confirm his evaluations or argue with his appraisals the very next time he visits. He, still the epitome of youth, open-mindedly appreciates special effects, unlimited sequels, Claymation, and comic book characters replacing Gable and Cooper as super-heroes! We once engaged in a blistering argument, aching to settle whether his Madonna or my Marlene Dietrich more honestly deserved the title of "legendary icon for the ages" status.


Not particularly a fan of "romance movies", I do know one when I see one…and "date night chick flicks", which plagued the conclusion of the 20th and the start of the 21st centuries, pale miserably by comparison to perhaps my all-time single favorite of that genre! PENNY SERENADE (1941)! Believe me when I say that not even Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Sandra Dee and Troy Donohue qualify as romantic in my book. (Perhaps the magnetic coupling of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in the fifties' "Place in the Sun", based on Hoosier author Theodore Dreiser's perfect novel "An American Tragedy", moves my heart-ometer. Maybe…) Neither any screwball comedy starring Ft. Wayne native Carole Lombard nor an "unending rapid-fire fun and quips at the newspaper office" piece of pizzazz featuring some wise-cracking Roz Russell type dame nor a sob-story chronicling "Camille" as portrayed by Greta Garbo who coughs to death in the arms of Robert Taylor -- although all entries being vintage which is my preference -- earns a spot as THE most romantic cinematic endeavor of all time!


Denby writes of that magic era of film classics dating from 1934 to 1941: "Many of the heroines were heiresses, who, in those days, were prized for their burbling eccentricities -- Carole Lombard's howl, Irene Dunne's giggle, Katharine Hepburn's Bryn Mawr drawl. Pampered and dizzy, they were nevertheless smart enough, when choosing a man, to favor spontaneity over security, spirit over solidity." Wait, David! NOT IRENE DUNNE (seldom ditzy but certainly always "smart enough")… as the down-to-earth, (yes, sometimes giggling), independent-thinking, peppy, mildly ambitious, record store clerk who falls instantly yet believably-deeply in like-respect with a regular fellow (Cary Grant portraying THE most credible, somewhat spontaneous, spirited and SOLID regular fellow ever --trust me!) at first glance, through a store window. They marry. They struggle with finances. They work together to earn barely a decent living. They adopt an infant. Circumstances push the two of them to face facts that they no longer care for one another. They remember that indeed they do. Their time together evokes much genuine laughter and demands a handy, well-stocked carton of Kleen-exes. Just like life. The most perfect story captured within approximately two hours, I can honestly report, that I have ever watched… Now, please "follow the bouncing ball", and let us segue into exquisitely appropriate song lyrics for this time of the year:


My funny Valentine
Sweet comic Valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet you're my favourite work of art

Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine stay
Each day is Valentine's day

(from the musical "Pal Joey" written in 1940 by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart)


neat feedback on the above!

Neil J. Simon: "Thanks for sending it. She is so enjoyable!"

Mary Shaull: "Loved the column, Susie. AND I took the song personally, as my birthday is on Valentine's Day. I married an engineer, so Valentine's Day and my birthday are analyzed, not romanticized. Your song lifted my spirits. (Reminds me of another song I adore: Bill. .... His charm and grace, his manly face are not the kind that you would find on a statue......I love him because he's - I don't know - because he's just my Bill.)"

David Rat: "Susie rocks!"

Barbara Nicholson: "You know I love reading your mom’s columns. They take me back in time even though some of the time is before my time! ;) I totally agree with her on Penny Serenade! What’s not to like about Irene Dunne and Cary Grant!!!!!"

Drex Morton: "Well deserved! You come from and continue talented expression, Roy! Well deserved. And the acorn reflects the hue and vitality of the oak!"


i forgot to add that my mom and dad met in a 5 and 10 cent store and that he nicknamed her "snooks"! <3! they were something else! probably why i adore PENNY the other reason is that don and i only got married to combine our...record collections! they line the walls now..."old-fashioned" LPS! ;) i am needing to watch the movie again now for the umpteenth time!

yep, i always remember what i forgot as soon as something gets published...not a moment earlier! must be a term for that?


Authors for Animals! From wonderful David Rat: "The fierce animal rights warrior Susie Duncan Sexton has joined the ranks! how exciting!! purchase Susie´s 'Secrets of an old Typewriter' during Feb. and $1 per sale goes to"

Please take a moment to check out this great event and help if you can. Thanks! Click here for more event info!


Secrets of an Old Typewriter Stories from a Smart and Sassy Small Town Girl by Susie Duncan Sexton

Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in my book Secrets of an Old Typewriter - print and ebook versions available (click the title to order from publisher Open Books' website). Also available in both formats at, or download from iTunes

Meet other like-minded souls at my facebook fan page

Visit my author website at

Join a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or won't

Secrets of an Old Typewriter: Stories from a Smart and Sassy Small Town Girl
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