Drawl or Nothin’

Did you think our beloved Texas accent was disappearing? Not so fast, y'all. Turns out it's hotter than a two-dollar pistol.

SEE, I WAS WORKINAS an actor in Hollywood,” said Bob Hinkle. He grinned under his white straw hat as he told me the story of how his twang, which is pure West Texas, had changed the course of his life. “It was 1955, an’ I had gone on an audition fer a part in Giant. Well, the very next day I git a call that George Stevens, the director, wunts to see me agin. So I go back over to Warner Brothers, an’ his sec’tary says, ‘Mr. Hinkle is here.’ An’ George Stevens runs out the door an’ grabs my hand like we was ol’ buddies. Well, I start hyperventilatin’ ‘cuz I jus’ knew he was fixin’ to give me the part of Jett Rink. See, I was perfect—I’m a Texan, I kin ride a horse, an’ I talk raht, yew know. But George has a diff’rent idea. He says to me, ‘Kin yew teach Rock Hudson to talk like yew do?’ An’ I say, ‘Whut? I been goin’ to a speech coach tryin’ to lose this accent ‘cuz I cain’t git work.’”

In the fifties and sixties Bob Hinkle taught Hollywood how to talk Texan. On the sets of Giant and Hud, he read dialogue to Rock Hudson, James Dean, Dennis Hopper, Paul Newman, and Patricia Neal until they could mimic his pronunciation: Barbed wire became “bob wahr,” a dime was “tin cints,” the petroleum industry was the “all bidness.” His accent has its own topography, a landscape of flat a’s, dropped g’s, and rounded o’s, where syllables rise up without warning, as in “He was playin’ the gui-tar,” and vowels stretch on forever. He does not have the soft, musical drawl of East Texas or the more clipped rhythm of Central Texas, but the flat, nasal twang that is typical of his hometown of Brownfield, south of Lubbock. James Dean

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