Edna Ferber and James Dean, 2006 Oil on linen 28 × 24 inches
Edna Ferber and James Dean, 2006
Oil on linen 28 × 24 inches

Edna Ferber was an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and great matriarch of the Algonquin Round Table. Importantly for this painting, she was the wrote the 1952 novel Giant, which was the basis for the great movie of the same title of 1958, directed by George Stevens, and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Dennis Hopper, and James Dean, pictured here talking with the Grande Dame. Most of Ferber’s output starred Strong Female Protagonists speaking out for the marginalized and oppressed, and Giant was no exception, with Liz Taylor in one of her great roles, defending the Latino community of Hudson’s Ranch (one with whom their son played by Hopper marries), and holding off the advances of Dean’s character Jett Rink, a local handyman whom works for the patriarch Hudson plays, Jordan "Bick" Benedict. It strikes me that this great film, based on this amazing book, was so ahead of its time for feminisms and gender/identity politics (especially when you consider that both Hudson and Dean were gay in real life), and they were written by this sharp wit Ferber, who never married.

When they met on the set of Giant, Ferber mentioned that "James Dean was a genius, I don’t think there’s another actor in the world who could have portrayed Jett as well as he did. But like most geniuses, Dean suffered from success poisoning." When they met she supposedly said to Dean just this—"you remind me of myself, Jimmy, You’re a genius, but you suffer from success poisoning." Unfortunately, she was right—soon after his last day of shooting, Dead took off in his new Porsche to go to a race, and was driving fast when a truck, who didn’t see his small silver car racing in the California desert, broadsided him sending him hurtling to his death.

I loved my grandmother on my father’s side, Carolyn Mayerson, who was a bit of a dragon lady, who drank too much and chain smoked, and was a cantankerous mean lady when she wanted to be, which unfortunately was often. But she loved me, and loved art, too, and took my sister and I to museums, and encouraged us to draw new pictures for her and my grandpa which they would hang in their kitchen to eat their cereal by—her encouragement, and great knowledge of art, writing (she taught English at one time, too), and music was one of the reasons I became an artist, beyond my own parents loving encouragement and environment they created for me. Although she was edgy, I did respect her, and remember fondly our conversations, although she died when I was still young. It is partly this that I’m thinking about when I’m painting this picture, speaking through their avatars, although of course I love Dean, too, and this is about the friendship of these two great characters that strove to be heard and have great careers despite their normally marginalized status, and succeeded to great degrees to have massive impacts on the world.