Robert Hinkle in field

One Texan’s adventures in Hollywood

When director George Stevens called Bob Hinkle into his office for a meeting, Bob thought that this was going to be his big break. He had met with Stevens only the day before and was told that it would be another month before the director began to cast the smaller roles in his new film, Giant.

For two years Bob had worked as a stuntman and extra in the movie business, but he just knew his luck was changing. Bob thought he had been called back to Stevens’ office to be offered the role of Jett Rink in Giant. He was even more certain when Stevens’ secretary, who had been merely cordial the day before, addressed him as “Mr. Hinkle” when he came through the door.

Robert Hinkle doing rope trick

Bob had read the papers and heard the discussions in Hollywood. Other directors were advising George Stevens not to take a chance on James Dean. At that time, Dean was still filming Rebel Without a Cause. East of Eden had recently opened in theaters and, while James Dean’s acting had been praised, “he was so new and he was different.” Bob says, “They wanted a pro they could depend on. They didn’t know what he might do.” As Bob took a seat in Stevens’ office, his heart was thumping so loudly that he wasn’t quite sure he’d heard the director right.

“What?”

“Do you think you could teach Rock Hudson to talk like you do?”

Elizabeth Taylor, Bob, and Rock Hudson

Elizabeth Taylor, Bob, and Rock Hudson

It may not have been the question he was expecting, but it didn’t take Bob long to agree that he was up for the challenge. Ironically, he had been working with a speech coach to rid himself of his deep west Texas accent. Bob wasn’t disappointed about the loss of a movie role. “I decided I would be better behind the camera than in front. . . . I wanted to be another John Wayne, but they already had a John Wayne that was doing pretty good, and I was smart enough to know that.”

Hollywood had never been a lifelong dream for Bob. He had been working construction during the week and riding the rodeo circuit on weekends for extra money when he met the woman who would become his wife. She was a rodeo queen. Bob said Sandy wasn’t very interested in him, but he persevered and finally talked her into going to a dance with him, which is where he believes he won her over.

Robert Hinkle

Hollywood came into the picture a few months after Bob and Sandy were married. Director Budd Boetticher was shooting a movie about rodeo life in Pendelton, Oregon, at a rodeo where Bob was riding. Bob worked a stunt double, earning much more money for the same work he always did. Afterwards, Budd told Bob, “If you ever get down to Hollywood, drop by and see me. I might have a picture going and could put you in it.”

Bob didn’t act on the offer immediately, but it stuck in his mind. “When you’re working in the movies,” he says, “you’re getting paid every day whether you win or you don’t win. You don’t have to pay any entry fees, you’re just getting paid, and you’re getting paid good.” He and Sandy decided to take a chance and, like many others, they loaded up their belongings for “Hollywood or Bust.” By the time Bob was hired as dialogue coach for Giant, he had been making a satisfactory salary, but his little family was growing. Sandy had just given birth to their second son.

Dennis Hopper, Monte Hale, Fran Bennett, and Bob on the set of Giant

Dennis Hopper, Monte Hale, Fran Bennett, and Bob on the set of Giant

Giant was the pivotal shift in his career. Though the film didn’t make him a big-name movie star, it opened doors and brought him friendships he could never have foreseen. Bob was an honest, hard worker who also got along well with everyone. He wanted to be friends. Bob was friends with the stunt workers, cameramen, screenwriters, directors, and actors.

About ten years after Giant, Bob worked with Paul Newman on the movie Hud, and they became fast friends in more ways than one. During shooting breaks, Bob and Paul Newman would go to a local go-cart track and race. “I don’t know if that’s what gave him the idea of racing cars or not,” Bob says. Bob and Sandy’s friendship with Paul Newman and his wife and fellow actor Joanne Woodward spanned generations. Bob and Sandy went out to dinner with them, and Bob’s children were invited to swim in their pool. “We got a recipe over there that we call the ‘Paul Newman cake,’ and we still cook it. It’s one of my favorite cakes.”

Marcia Fuller, James Dean, Monte Hale, and Bob after work in hotel on Giant

Marcia Fuller, James Dean, Monte Hale, and Bob after work in hotel on Giant

During the filming of Giant, Bob became friends with James Dean. Bob addresses their tragically short-lived friendship in touching detail in his book Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood.

Bob didn’t get to play the character of Jett Rink on screen. Still, “I’m going to brag a little bit on that,” he says. “We created that character, Jett Rink. If you’d read that script, that wasn’t nowhere near the character that Jimmy played. It really wasn’t. We built that character up, and George Stevens liked everything, the little stuff we put in there that was extra. And [Dean] excelled at everything he did.”

Bob and James Dean in Hollywood on the set of Giant

Bob and James Dean in Hollywood on the set of Giant

Bob not only coached Dean on his dialogue, he also taught him the rope tricks Dean employed during a confrontational scene in Giant. In that same scene, unrehearsed, Dean also copied one of Bob’s characteristic hand motions. It wasn’t just George Stevens who liked “that little stuff.” James Dean was the first actor ever to be awarded a posthumous Oscar.

Bob went on to have a career that traversed generations and genres. He acted, and he worked as a producer, writer, and director in Hollywood. Later, he managed the careers of country singers Marty Robbins and Glenn Campbell and a young Evel Knievel, who has become a household name with Bob’s help. Bob has met six of our country’s presidents. (Check his book for a funny story about an adventure he had with President Lyndon B. Johnson.) Upon his retirement, a term that applies only loosely to Bob’s life, he worked for FEMA and many times worked directly with then-President Bill Clinton.

Evel Knievel and Bob at the Los Angeles Coliseum for a big jump - 1978

Evel Knievel and Bob at the Los Angeles Coliseum for a big jump – 1978

Many people don’t picture a tall, lanky cowboy from west Texas when they think of a renaissance man, but if anyone deserves the title, it’s certainly Bob Hinkle.

“It’s just been phenomenal, and I’d love to do it again. I’d be willing to do it exactly the same, the bad along with the good. I’ve just been so lucky all my life.”


Bob’s book Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood can be purchased at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. A signed copy is also available for loan at the Georgetown Public Library.

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