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The Ruins of Reata,

Theatrical Archaeology

Part One

by Magdalin Leonardo

Road to Reata

All text and images © 1998 Magdalin Leonardo,

Home, Home on the Ranch

distant view

Driving onto the flat, hot plains of Ryan Ranch, I felt much like Leslie Benedict (Liz Taylor’s character in “Giant”) on her first trip to Reata. There's absolutely nothing to see, nothing but desert that is. Sand and cactus and more sand and cactus, stretching for what seems like miles. In fact, I wasn't even sure I was in the right place at first...You can't see the Ryan Ranch from the road, and you have to drive nearly ten minutes before it actually appears on the horizon. When it does, it's rather un-extraordinary really, just a tiny speck in the distance. Except for that towering mass of wood to the right of it--the ruins of Reata.

Ruins     Reata rises up from the desert floor like some ancient Greek acropolis, torn and faded from years in the hot Texas sun. It's just a skeleton, really...not much remains of its former glory. But after 43 years, Reata still stands. And that's got to account for something.

Reata timbers     In fact, Reata has remained virtually untouched since 1955; bits of wood and plaster, held together with rusty nails,still surround the base of its towering frame. Like precious jewels, the tiny pieces of scattered debris have been carried away by countless Dean fans. I was lucky enough to be among them. I brought home four "Giant" treasures -- 3 tiny pieces of timber and a chunk of fake white cement -- and I have Clay Evans to thank for it.

Ranch sign    Clay is the current owner of Ryan Ranch. The homestead has been in his family for generations; his father, Worth Evans, was the Marfa resident who agreed to let director George Stevens shoot parts of "Giant" here back in 1955. It's a piece of film history that Clay is most proud of, but the Reata ruins are only part of the picture.

Clay Evans    Clay -- a true cowboy in every sense of the word, although a more accurate term is "rancher" -- is a sweet, soft-spoken man with a smooth Texas drawl that I'm sure had women swooning back in '55. He was just 19 at the time of "Giant" and was cast as an extra in the film. As a result, Clay had the privilege of meeting James Dean, Dennis Hopper, and the rest of "Giant's" legendary cast.

Clay told me that Stevens gave Jimmy an old, beat-up Chevy to use during his stay in Marfa. (As diehard Dean fans know, Jimmy was under contract not to race cars during "Giant's" filming). Clay also told me that his brother, Bub, was used as Mercedes McCambridge's double in the film. (Bub dressed in drag to ride the bucking horse that killed Luz, McCambridge's ill-fated character.)

All text and images © 1998 Magdalin Leonardo.

NEXT: Page Two of the Reata Ruins

Continue Your Voyage:

  1. Overview: Where the heck is Marfa?
  2. Getting There
  3. The Arcón Inn
  4. Page one, Reata Ruins
  5. Page two, The Ruins of Reata
  6. Little Reata
  7. El Paisano Hotel
  8. Borunda’s Bar and Grill
  9. Part One, Faces and Places
  10. Faces and Places Part Two
  11. “Jimmy Beans”
  12. Part One, Reata Restaurant, Alpine
  13. Reata Restaurant, Alpine, Part Two
  14. About the Author

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