Bob and Helen Kleberg of King Ranch

May 13th, 2007

Following a presentation at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame several years ago, someone innocently mentioned native Texan and author Edna Ferber within earshot of Hall of Fame member Helen Groves (pictured). Groves said nothing at the time, but later that evening, with a great amount of rancour, she shared her opinion of Ferber.

It was Ferber who wrote Giant, which was made into the Academy Award-winning movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson. Groves, who turns 80 this year, is the great-granddaughter of Captain Richard King, founder of King Ranch, and the daughter of Robert Kleberg, president and director of the famous ranch for nearly 50 years.

In 1947, Ferber had already published Cimarron and Showboat, when she visited Kleberg to inform him about her plans to tell the story of King Ranch in her next novel. Kleberg explained to her that he preferred nothing “inaccurate” be written until he had time to confer on a proper history of the ranch. Despite Kleberg’s protest, Ferber proceeded and the end result was Giant.

You can read about the confrontation between Ferber and Kleberg, along with many other fascinating recollections of family life and ranch history, in Groves’ memoir Bob and Helen Kleberg of the King Ranch. This magnificent coffee-table volume is rich in personal memories and over 200 never-before-released photographs taken by famous photojournalist Toni Frissell and Frissell’s close friend and fellow photographer Helen Kleberg.

Anyone who loves horses, cattle, art, photography, Western Americana or the Western lifestyle will love this book. It was Robert Kleberg who helped develop the American Quarter Horse breed with his Old Sorrel line of horses. Kleberg also loved Thoroughbred racing and bred 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault, as well as 1950 Kentucky Derby winner Middleground. There are chapters in the book devoted to Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, as well as to Santa Gertrudis cattle, a breed created by Robert Kleberg.

Helen Groves and her children inherited Robert Kleberg’s love of racing. Coincidentally, Groves’ daughter, DD Matz, is married to Michael Matz, a former Olympic medalist and the trainer of Barbaro.

If you are interested in the King Ranch, I also recommend Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch, by John Cypher; as well as The King Ranch Quarter Horses, by Robert Denhardt; and artist Tom Lea’s two-volume King Ranch (endorsed by Kleberg), published in 1957.