From a pilot in the Air Force to the rodeo circuit and on to work both in front of and behind the camera Bob Hinkle has seen and done it all. He most notably taught James Dean, Rock Hudson, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, and others in the cast of Giant to speak like true Texans. He appeared in such films as Hud and the last film produced by Howard Hughes, The First Traveling Sales Lady, and on such iconic television series as Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Annie Oakley, and Bonanza just to name a few. In later years he also worked in the music industry as the manager of Marty Robbins. His most impressive role being the husband of Sandra Larson, Queen of the Rodeo in Moses Lake 1950, for some sixty-six years and counting. He summed up some of his most cherished memories working alongside Mike Farris to produce the book Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood.
Tina Ayres: What was it like growing up in Texas when you did? What do you remember most about those days? How do you think those early days helped shape you into the man you would become?
Robert Hinkle: Well what I remember the most is how poor we was. I remember one Christmas we had to whitewash a tumbleweed for our Christmas tree. I am not kidding we was from a poor family and I couldn’t hardly wait to get out of school. I was in the tenth grade and a guy from the recruiting office from the Air Force came down and told, and I said well I’ll go ahead and get me a diploma because none of my other family had had diplomas. So he said, “I can get you a diploma in four months.” And I said, “How do you do that?” And he said, “Well we’ve got correspondence courses (which is now a G.E.D deal). I said, “Do you guarantee it?” He said, “Yeah.” And about three weeks later I enlisted in the Air Force. And I did get the G.E.D about four or five months later, but I just remember growing up, I was born on a ranch out there and I was on a horse by the time I was three months old riding with my dad and my uncles. It was just a lot of fun and everything. That’s one of the reasons I liked working in the movies because you are kind of re-enacting all that stuff from when you were young.
Tina Ayres: Is that how you first came to be interested in the rodeo?
Robert Hinkle: Oh yeah, every kid there. I’d have rather been the world champion cowboy than I’d had The President of the United States. That was my mentality and what I wanted to do so while I was in the service I still did a little rodeoing on weekends you know when there was a little rodeo around where I was stationed. And then when I got out of Air Force I started rodeoing and then doing construction work so I could afford to rodeo. I got discharged when I was up in the state of Washington and I stayed up there and I got married up there. I was in a rodeo, it was in Oregon and they were shooting a movie down there called Bronco Busters (1952) and I was one of the guys they picked to do stunts and stuff like that in the movie. And then when I got married and we moved to California in 52, the Fall of 52, and that is when I got started in the movies down there.
Tina Ayres: When you worked on Giant, which of the actors would you say was the most endearing to work with? Which offered you the greatest challenge?
Robert Hinkle: Jimmy Dean was the best you know. Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Carroll Baker, and Rock Hudson all of them, they were just a delight to work with and I really never had any problem with any of them. Well, Elizabeth Taylor didn’t learn a Texas accent. He wanted her to keep that Eastern accent. She ended up being a good friend.
Tina Ayres: What was James Dean like as a person? Do you think who he was as a person often gets overlooked in favor of celebrity image that has been created over the years?
Robert Hinkle: Well he wasn’t really a celebrity as such when he died. Because he died so young and he only had two movies out at the time. Actually he only had one movie out. He had East of Eden and then Rebel was released after that, and that is the movie that really kicked him upstairs until when Giant came out and then it was all over he was a top star then. But he never thought of himself as a star.
He was kind of shy and laid back. You know a very nice guy and he was kind of lonesome for Fairmount, Indiana. We just became real good buddies. He spent a lot of time over at our house, eating. He liked that home cooking of my wife’s. We spent about 7 and a half months, nearly every day together. I can’t even think of a day that we missed, on weekends and everything.
Mark Kinnaman: After the work on Giant away from the set did you ever see him again?
Robert Hinkle: I did every day and night while we were on Giant but we were still shooting Giant when he got killed. He told me one time when he first met me, he said, “ I heard you’ve been hired here by Warner Brothers to work with Rock Hudson, to teach him a Texas accent.” He said, “I’d like for you make a Texan out of me where I can be a Texan twenty-four hours a day.” That is what we really tried to do. Two or three times while we were down in Texas doing Giant I had people ask me, said, “What part of Texas is he from?” and I thought that was a compliment, because he talked like a Texan down there, he wore Levi’s and boots and a hat, and rolled his own cigarettes just like them old timers did and things like that. Everybody liked him. Everybody down there in Marfa, they just thought the world of him. The other stars were kind of standoffish a little bit like Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Now Dennis Hopper this was really his first big picture and Carroll Baker hers, but Mercedes McCambridge she won an Oscar on it and she played Rock’s sister. She was isolated, kind of stayed by herself you know.
Tina Ayres: As someone who has worked both behind the camera and in front of it did you prefer one more than the other? Why?
Robert Hinkle: Yeah, I really, I guess I had more fun when I was doing extra work and then when I was doing stunts. It was kind of fun when I started doing acting but I was a little scared you know because I’d never had any training, but I found out that I had a knack for doing stuff behind the camera. I was a little more creative there than I was becoming a Broadway actor so I really enjoyed that. And then when I made the transition in about 1960, 59 because I wrote and directed and produced a picture for Universal called Ole Rex, it was kind of a Disney type of picture, that is when I got the bug and from then on I directed and produced and wrote scripts. I did a little acting here and there the last thing I did was a Walker Texas Ranger in 1995, that is when I retired up in Dallas. That was the last thing I played a two parter in that called, The Reunion with Chuck Norris.
Tina Ayres: Was it somewhat therapeutic to work with Mike Farris on your biography Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood?
Mark Kinnaman: Did it bring back a lot of memories?
Robert Hinkle: Oh Man it really did and the thing about it was when I first met Mike, the way that came down we was living in Dallas I had retired from my Walker Texas Ranger and the Southern Methodist up there the library had a program every year where they’d bring in about eight or ten celebrities to set at a table. Each one of them had a table and then the people paid, I think fifty dollars a piece or something like this to come in and have dinner and sit with a celebrity and discuss different things. And my table was talking about the movies being made in Texas which I was connected with Hud (1963), with Paul Newman, with Brandon De Wilde, and Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas they both won Oscars on it and with Giant. So there was a lady she was a commentary on a t.v station there in Dallas and she was sitting at my table and we got to talking and she said her husband had a table over there himself and he was the guy that when Kennedy was shot he worked for the Dallas Morning News and he saw it right there. He was right on the sidewalk when it happened and he got into the car with the policemen that finally arrested the guy over in Oak Cliff. She said, “Oh my husband said he really wanted to sit at this table.” I said, “Man I’d love to sit at his table.” When it was over we all met and she said. “Why don’t you do a book?” And I said, “Well I don’t have the education and the whatever it takes you know to put a book together.” She said, “I’ve got a good friend let me call him and see if he’d work with you.” That is how she got a hold of Mike Farris and then Mike called me.
When I met with Mike I started to tell him some of these stories, he had a kind of funny look on his face. I know he thought now this is some bullshit. I didn’t have any credentials, no World Championship or this or that, All American this or that. So he got on the internet and he started looking up some of the stuff. Then he started coming up with pictures that I was in that I’d even forgotten about. He really got interested because he said, “Hell this guy is legit.” So I’d take and put a story down. I’d just tell a story, like, “July 25, 1946, I soloed and got my pilots license and then I went on in like that and I’d record it and then he’d take it and put it into book form and he knew the way to do it. How to go from one chapter to the next and write teasers for this and that and that is how we got started and the more I worked with Mike the better I liked it and I learned an awful lot working with him.
Mark Kinnaman: How long did you work with Marty Robbins?
Robert Hinkle: I met him in about 1957 and his manager died in 68 or whatever it is, it is in the book. I was friends with him all that time and then from 1968 til the time he died which was fourteen years I was his manager.
Tina Ayres: What do you think is key to a life well lived?
Robert Hinkle: Oh I guess just being honest and not getting tied up in dope and alcohol and stuff like that. And don’t get too carried away with yourself. Don’t believe all that publicity, because it will go to your head.
Tina Ayres: What are your personal feelings on life, death and what comes after?
Robert Hinkle: Well I don’t know. If I had it to live over I’d like to do it all even the bad in along with the good. It was so much fun for all those years. I just feel blessed. I’ve been married 66 years to the same woman and had three beautiful kids and family and friends. I’m a fifty-year mason, fifty-one year mason now. I’ve hundreds of friends. I don’t smoke. I never did smoke, or drink. I never took drugs. It’s clean living, being honest, and having your word as your bond. You don’t have to have a contract with me, a handshake will do it.
Tina Ayres: How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?
Bob Hinkle: I just hope to be remembered, as somebody says, “What do you think of old Bobby Hinkle? “, “ Well he was a pretty good old boy.”
Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
I’ll probably live another ten years. I am in real good shape. Just tell that young lady I appreciate her doing the story. Tell Pam Crawford I said hi, she is a good friend of mine and my wife.
(This interview was written by Tina Ayres and conducted by Mark Kinnaman. ~ Thank you Mark.)