THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)





"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

WYATT EARP: Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake, The Final Chapter

Part I can be read here and Part II here.  


Stuart Lake's best-selling "biography" of Wyatt Earp spawned four Hollywood movies, all produced and/or distributed by Fox studios, as well as a hit TV series.





FRONTIER MARSHAL (Fox, 1934)

DIRECTOR: Lew Seiler;  PRODUCER: Sol M. Wurtzel;  WRITERS: screenplay by William Counselman and Stuart Anthony based on Stuart Lake's book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal; CINEMATOGRAPER: Robert Planck

CAST: George O'Brien, Irene Bentley, George E. Stone, Alan Edwards, Ruth Gillette, Berton Churchill, Ward Bond, Russell Simpson



Wyatt's widow Josephine threatened to sue Fox for $50,000 charging the studio with producing an unauthorized portrayal of her late husband.  The studio responded by changing the name of the main character to "Michael Wyatt."

George O'Brien, who had been an important leading man during the silent era, starring in a number of films directed by the young John Ford, became one of the more talented actors to specialize in B-western series during the 1930's. In fact, leading up to his starring role in FRONTIER MARSHAL, he was Fox's reigning B-western star and had been starring in that studio's B-western series since the beginning of the sound era.  

FRONTIER MARSHAL was much like the films O'Brien had been starring in and was very much a B-western.  Despite the film's source material it wasn't given any special treatment and was simply considered to be just another entry in the O'Brien series.  After all, most of the scripts for the superior series were based on stories by Zane Grey and Max Brand, two writers who were a lot more famous than Stuart Lake.            

Doc Holliday, portrayed by Alan Edwards, had to also undergo a name change and thus became "Doc Warren."  His illness was changed from tuberculosis to a heart condition.  As per usual in the four films there is a "good" girl (Irene Bentley) and a "bad" girl (Ruth Gillette; but with a heart of gold, of course).

Ward Bond has a role in three of the four films, playing decidedly different characters in each.  Here he is hardnosed troublemaker that Wyatt must corral. 

The chief villain is portrayed by Berton Churchill, who is not only a crooked mayor, but also a crooked banker.  That's not a good combination.  Churchill would play a similar character five years later by attempting to abscond with his bank's deposits in John Ford's Stagecoach (UA).
  
George O'Brien

REVIEWS:

"'Frontier marshal,' being a frank melodrama, does not bother about plausibility, and one gathers that it was produced with the adapter and the director having their tongues in their cheeks." -- Mordaunt Hall, New York Times

"Fox gave it a fair budget but it was inferior to the earlier, and similar, 'Law and Order.'* -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide

*You can read my review of LAW AND ORDER here.






FRONTIER MARSHAL (Fox, 1939)

DIRECTOR: Allan Dwan;  PRODUCER: Sol M. Wurtzel;  WRITERS: screenplay by Sam Hellman based on Stuart N. Lake's book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles G. Clarke

CAST:  Randolph Scott, Nancy Kelly, Cesar Romero, Binnie Barnes, John Carradine, Edward Norris, Ward Bond, Lon Chaney, Jr., Chris Pin-Martin, Joe Sawyer, Charles Stevens, Hank Bell, Si Jenks, Tom Tyler, Harry Woods


Once again Josephine Earp threatened to sue Fox, but settled for $5,000 when the producer agreed to remove Wyatt's name from the title of the film; as though that made any real difference since Scott's character in the film would still be called Wyatt Earp.  But $5,000 did make a difference when it came to soothing Josie's proprietary concern about how Wyatt was to be portrayed on the screen.  Besides, as Wyatt himself complained during the couple's years in California, Josie was seriously addicted to gambling -- horses being her weakness -- and, unlike Wyatt, she wasn't very good at it, and $5,000 would surely come in handy.

The film is a step up from the 1934 version in that it had a longer running time, a more competent director, and a bigger and overall better cast, and a more adult script.  It was an ideal vehicle for Randolph Scott and represented the kind of medium-budget western that he would specialize in for the rest of his career, films that filled in the space between the B-western series films and the bigger budget A-westerns.

This time Wyatt is an ex-army scout who is given the job of Tombstone's marshal when he subdues drunken Indian Charlie (Charles Stevens) who is shooting up the town.  (The scene would be repeated in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE [Fox, 1946] with Stevens portraying the same character and with Henry Fonda doing the honors.)  And on this occasion, Ward Bond is the cowardly marshal who refuses to confront Charlie and consequently loses his job.  (Unlike poor Charlie, Bond would finally be given a sympathetic character to portray in CLEMENTINE.)      


Even though Wyatt's name is retained in this one, for some unfathomable reason (to me anyway) Doc Holliday (Cesar Romero) becomes "Doc Halliday."  Did the Holliday family include someone who threatened to sue the filmmakers?  If so, somebody forgot to tell whoever was responsible for editing the trailer.

The narrator of the trailer clearly identifies Doc as Doc Holliday.  But in the scene shown here that follows, in which the marshal and the mayor are discussing Doc, he is called Doc Halliday.  That is also the way he is listed in the credits.

And once more, Doc is a surgeon, rather than a dentist, from Illinois (instead of Georgia), who must operate on a young Mexican boy who is accidentally shot during a street fight.  I should also add that Romero is surprisingly good in the film.  Personally, I rank his performance above that of Victor Mature in the more celebrated MY DARLING CLEMENTINE.

The chief villain is a crooked saloon owner (weren't they all?) and is portrayed by the wonderful John Carradine who never disappoints.  Josie, as in Stuart's book, makes no appearance in the film since its setting is in Tombstone and Josie did her best to keep that part of her history hidden.  But there is the inevitable "saloon" girl (Binnie Barnes), who possesses a heart of gold, but one she does her best to hide beneath a rough exterior.  Her main competition in the romantic sweepstakes is the obligatory "good girl" portrayed by Nancy Kelly.

I'm going to give Brain Garfield the last word.  Here is what he said about the film in his book, Western Films: A Complete Guide:

"...filmed on the tenth anniversary of Wyatt's death, it began the movies' love affair with the Earps, and it's still highly satisfactory with all the traditional myths solidly in place.  At the time of its release it suffered from competition with the slew of blockbuster westerns that brought the genre out of the doldrums in 1939....But in retrospect FRONTIER MARSHAL stands up well against all of them.  It's still heartily entertaining."


Nancy Kelly and Cesar Romero  
Wyatt and Doc "Halliday" meet for the first time.

Fox's big-budget, blockbuster western of 1939 was the outlaw biopic, JESSE JAMES, starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda as Jesse and Frank James, respectively.  Besides starring in FRONTIER MARSHAL that year, Nancy Kelly, as Jesse's wife Zee and Randolph Scott, as the family's fictitious lawman friend, had important supporting roles.  And so did John Carradine.  He played "the dirty little coward," Bob Ford.



 






MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (Fox, 1946)

This is the most highly acclaimed Wyatt Earp movie ever produced.  But, no, it isn't any more historically accurate than those that preceded it.  It is, however, a classic western and one that I rank at the number 7 spot on my hit parade of favorite western films.

Rather than me having to repeat myself you can mosey over and read my review of the film here.

But in case you don't want to do that, I must repeat my favorite line from the movie, which is my favorite line from any western movie, and one of my favorite lines from any movie:

Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda): "Mac, you ever been in love?"

Mac (J. Farrell MacDonald): "No, I've been a bartender all my life."










POWDER RIVER (Fox, 1953)

DIRECTOR: Louis King;  PRODUCER: Andre Hakim;  WRITERS: screenplay by Geoffrey Holmes (Daniel Mainwaring) from a story by Sam Hellman based on Stuart Lake's book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Edward Cronjager

CAST: Rory Calhoun, Corinne Calvet, Cameron Mitchell, Penny Edwards, Carl Betz, John Dehner, Raymond Greenleaf, Victor Sutherland, Ethan Laidlaw, Bob Wilke, Frank Ferguson, Hank Worden, James Griffith, Eddy Waller, Mae Marsh

For some reason the names were changed again.  It couldn't be because of any interference by Josie because she had died in December 1944 and thus had not been able to create problems for this film or the earlier MY DARLING CLEMENTINE.  Maybe the names were changed to protect the innocent.  

Even screenwriter Mainwaring got into the act by adopting the high-falutin' nom deplume Geoffrey Holmes.  He even went further by giving the Earp character the name of Chino Bull (!), while Doc Holliday became Mitch Hardin.

Or maybe the names were changed so that he setting could be shifted from the southwest to the Powder River country in Montana in order to allow for some beautiful location shots in Glacier National Park, a land far removed from Tombstone and the desert southwest.

At any rate, it is a big step down from MY DARLING CLEMENTINE or even the 1939 production of FRONTIER MARSHAL.  That isn't to say that it is a terribly bad film, but that it doesn't come up to the high standards set by the other two films.

Rory Calhoun made a boatload of westerns, all of them, much like FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939), falling into that space occupied by films that were characterized by budgets and production values that surpassed the B-western series film, but weren't quite comparable with the A-westerns.  However, this is not a put down, because some of the most entertaining and enjoyable westerns ever made fall into that category.

Calhoun is Marshal Chino Bull and Cameron Mitchell is Mitch Hardin, a surgeon who gave up his practice when an untreatable brain tumor caused him to blackout during a surgery.  As a result he left his home in Connecticut to travel to the West where he became a gunfighting gambler.  Of course, he has to redeem himself when he is forced to perform an operation -- this time on the good girl who is accidentally shot and seriously wounded.  That would be Penny Edwards. She had just finished a tour of duty as the stand-in for the pregnant Dale Evans in several entries in the Roy Rogers B-series at Republic.  

Corinne Calvet owns a saloon and by default that makes her the "bad" girl.


Calvet and Calhoun
The villains are a crooked saloon owner (I told you; they all are), portrayed by John Dehner, who was always a welcome presence in westerns, and his outlaw brother played by Carl Betz.  As far as I can tell, Betz only appeared in one other Western, that being CITY OF BAD MEN, made the same year and by the same studio.  Betz would later become best known for his role as Donna Reed's husband on TV's The Donna Reed Show.


Mitchell and Calhoun
Calhoun, Edwards, and Glacier National Park


REVIEWS:

"...the dull contrivances of the story extend to the acting in general, and the entire mess has been slung together under Louis King's direction with a smart-alecky indifference to   conviction....the scenario...is as bad as it is baffling." -- H.H.T., New York Times
     










"A taut town western....Minor but enjoyable." -- Phil Hardy, The Western

"Cliches, standard character types, uninspired script and direction add up to a routine horse opera with an adequate cast." -- Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide







  
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (ABC-TV, 1955-1961)



Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp
Brave and courageous and bold
Long live his fame and long live his glory
And long may his story be told
-- Wyatt Earp TV show theme song

The TV western entered adulthood in 1955.  Prior to that year TV westerns had been geared primarily for a juvenile audience.  But that year two new series debuted that were written for adults.  Ironically, both were about lawmen who were employed to enforce the law in Kansas cowtowns.

Gunsmoke starred James Arness as a fictional U.S. marshal named Matt Dillion who combined his duties as a federal peace officer with those of county sheriff and town marshal.  How he did it, I'm not sure, but with only one part-time deputy he enforced federal, state, and local law.  But if TV viewers realized that that would have been an impossible burden, they didn't mind. The show was a big winner in the ratings and enjoyed one of the longest tenures of any program in television history.

For the 1957-58 season the program shot to the top of the Nielsen ratings and remained there for four consecutive years and for most of its long run it remained near the top.

The show originated on radio, starring William Conrad as Matt Dillion, and continued in that medium for some years after the TV series began.  Earlier I wrote about the radio show and you can read about it here.

Debuting four days earlier than Gunsmoke was The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, based on Stuart Lake's book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal.

Lake really hit the jackpot with this series.  Until her death in 1942, he had been forced to share the book's royalties 50-50 with Josie.  True, he had made money off the four Hollywood films, but nothing like what he would reap from the success of the TV show. Not only was it based on his book, but he served as an "expert" consultant and wrote a number of the scripts.  He even had final approval when it came time to cast the actor who would portray Wyatt.

The choice for the starring role was Hugh J. Krampe, Jr., who was born in Rochester, New York in 1925.  Well, it comes as no surprise that the actor is not known by his birth name but as Hugh O'Brian, the name he adopted when he began his acting career.

He first broke into the movies in 1950 when he won a supporting role in a Gene Autry B-western.  In the next five years he appeared in a variety of films, but primarily westerns.  He played John Ireland's brother in VENGEANCE VALLEY (MGM) in 1951 and one of the Devereaux brothers (Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, Earl Holliman, O'Brien) in BROKEN LANCE (Fox).  That same year he signed with Universal and was featured in eighteen of their films during a three year period.  Two of those represented director Budd Boetticher's earliest efforts in the western genre: THE CIMARRON KID (1952) and THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO (1953). 

The character of Matt Dillion was strictly a fictional creation while Wyatt Earp was -- well -- in the TV series he was largely a fictional creation, too.  Of course the people in charge of the program -- including the star -- didn't want to think that or at least didn't want the viewer to think it.

The producer didn't lie when he said that the show's scripts stuck closely to the biographical details -- which were taken from Lake's book.  That was true enough, but begs the question of how accurate the biographical details in Lake's book might have been.  The word legend doesn't appear in the title of the series for no reason.



Hugh O'Brian and guest star Adele Mara

The series was a well-crafted, well-acted series and O'Brian was quite good in the role of the mythical Wyatt Earp.  The series was also characterized by a number of excellent character actors who had continuing roles in the series: Douglas Fowley (Doc Holliday); Paul Brinnegar (Jim 'Dog' Kelly, saloon owner and mayor of Dodge, before leaving the show to portray the cook, Wishbone, on Rawhide); and Morgan Woodward ('Shotgun' Gibbs, a fictional Earp deputy).


Morgan Woodward as "Shotgun" Gibbs
Douglas Fowley as Doc Holliday

















But it is hard to swallow what the star had to say about the character he portrayed:

"With the exception of Stuart Lake, who wrote the book upon which our story is based, I don't think anybody is closer to Wyatt than I am.  Lake lived with Wyatt for four years (!!??) before Earp died, but I know a lot about Wyatt too.  I don't just mean facts, I mean what he stood for and what he'd do under certain circumstances."

Well, to begin with Lake never lived with Wyatt.  He only conducted a few interviews with him and they also exchanged some correspondence.  And if O'Brian did know a lot about Earp he never showed it, particularly when he claimed that Wyatt was in two hundred gunfights, but nevertheless killed only four men. The number of killings is close, but 200 gunfights?

Either O'Brian was making this stuff up or he had been duped by Mr. Lake. One indication that the latter was true is the fact that O'Brian carried not one, but two Buntline Specials, which he thought were replicas of what Wyatt had carried.  In fact, the special weapons were not created by Ned Buntline and the Colt Company, but by Lake's imagination.

The series moved Wyatt from one town to another over the course of its run -- from Ellsworth to Wichita to Dodge City to Tombstone -- which is a true picture of Wyatt's migrations.  However, the show made him the marshal who cleaned up each town, thus precipitating his move to the next wide-open boom town.

To repeat:  Wyatt Earp was never the marshal of any town.  He was never on the police force in Ellsworth at all, and he was the assistant marshal (chief deputy) in Wichita and Dodge.  He served briefly as a deputy marshal in Tombstone when the town marshal, his brother Virgil, deputized him and brother Morgan just before the confrontation at the O.K. Corral.

The show did not last as long as Gunsmoke, but neither did the other westerns that proliferated in its wake.  But it did okay in the ratings.  It finished in the top 20 Nielsen ratings during its four middle years, with its highest rating coming during its third season when it finished sixth.  

Ordinarily, I don't get on my soapbox when filmmakers and TV producers fail to adhere to the facts when they films stories based on actual historical figures and events.  It is only when the word "true" appears in the title or the producers claim that the story is based on "actual" events that I take issue.  Or in the case of Stuart Lake, when a writer says that he has not only written an authentic biography, but one that is based on countless interviews that he has conducted with his subject and the people who knew him -- and then proceeds to make up stuff.



I would have no complaint if the show's title had been The Legend of Wyatt Earp.  And, if so, this post would have been much briefer.












Sunday, June 5, 2016

WYATT EARP: Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake, Part II

Part I can be read here.



LAKE AND EARP.
Before becoming a writer, Stuart Lake had done stints as a professional wrestling promoter and as a press aide for Theodore Roosevelt when the ex-president made his bid for the presidency as a third party (Bull Moose Party) candidate in 1912.  Both of those jobs must have been perfect training for writing a pseudo biography of Wyatt Earp.

In his foreword to the book, Lake wrote:

"Since Wyatt Earp has so long been a myth to lovers of the Old West, it is no more than fair to state definitely that this biography is in no part a mythic tale.  It would be less than fair to subject and to reader if any least resource of effort had been spared in seeking the utmost accuracy of fact.  Scores of eyewitnesses to the scenes portrayed have been interviewed to verify circumstantial details; thousands of miles have been traveled to unearth substantiating material; hundreds of time-worn documents and files of frontier newspapers have been examined for pertinent content; literally thousands of letters have been exchanged with competent old-timers in developing this work.  

"The book had inception in an observation by Bat Masterson, more than twenty years ago.

"'The real story of the Old West can never be told,' Bat said, 'unless Wyatt Earp will tell what he knows; and Wyatt will not talk.'

"Happily, time and circumstances combined to bring Masterson's foreboding to naught, and Wyatt Earp was persuaded to devote the closing months of his long life to the narration of his full story, to a firsthand and a factual account of his career.  It is upon this account that the succeeding pages are entirely based.

"...[Wyatt Earp won] frontier-wide recognition as the most proficient peace officer, the greatest gunfighting marshal that the Old West knew."

The above comments contain what can only be described as a combination of hyperbole, misrepresentation, and outright falsehood, but the reading public swallowed it hook, line, and sinker; and not just the public. The Saturday Review called it "a rare contribution to authentic Western history," and the New York Times followed up by stating that "the book is a notable contribution to knowledge of our Western and Southwestern frontier."  It may not be possible to fool all the people all the time, but Lake's pseudo-biography proved that it was possible to fool all the people some of the time.  The book became a best seller in 1931, one that elevated a relative unknown to legendary status and in the process made Lake a wealthy man.

It is possible that Lake did have the conversation with Bat Masterson that is noted above, but if so, Bat was mistaken about Wyatt's unwillingness to talk. In fact, no persuasion was necessary to get Wyatt's cooperation for he had been attempting for some time to get a book published about his life.  Therefore, when Lake contacted him he quickly agreed to be interviewed.


Wyatt Earp, age 21
That said, however, the book was in no way a "first-hand" or a "factual account" of Wyatt's life and career. It is true that most contemporary accounts described him as a competent and efficient, if not distinguished, lawman, but it is a gross exaggeration to say that he "won frontier-wide recognition as the most proficient peace officer, the greatest gunfighting marshal that the Old West knew."

In fact, prior to the showdown at Tombstone's O.K. Corral in 1881 he was virtually unknown and even then he did not possess a national reputation. That changed with the publication of Lake's authorized "biography." Only then did Wyatt Earp acquire the legendary stature that he would possess for decades to come.



Tombstone, 1881


Wyatt Earp, age 39
There is no doubt that Lake's book is filled with tall tales.  The question becomes, however, who was responsible for their inclusion?  Was it Lake or Earp?  The answer: probably both.

According to Lake, he conducted eight interviews with Wyatt.  He later admitted to fellow writer Burton Rascoe that he found the elderly Wyatt to be inarticulate and rather monosyllabic during the interviews and that they resulted in no usable quotes and therefore he was forced to make up the quotes that he attributed to Wyatt. This is readily apparent for Wyatt comes across in the book as anything but inarticulate and monosyllabic, and his quotes have the same rhythmic pattern as Lake's narration.

Wyatt demanded to read the finished product before its publication.  However, his death in 1929 prevented him from doing so.  Therefore, there is speculation that with his subject out of the picture, Lake proceeded to sensationalize his book with half-truths and outright fibs in order to boost sales.  If so, it worked.

On the other hand, Wyatt had years earlier recounted some of the tall tales that found their way into the book and therefore he has to bear some of the responsibility for the lack of veracity in the narrative of his life.

Here are some examples of Wyatt's culpability in that area for which there is no independent corroboration:
  • His account of his arresting a shotgun wielding Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas in 1873;
  • His account of backing down Clay Allison in Dodge City in 1878;
  • His account of shooting and killing Curly Bill Brocius in Arizona in 1882;
  • His account of shooting and killing Johnny Ringo in Arizona in 1882.
Wyatt Earp was never the marshal of any town, including Tombstone.  To his credit (and Lake's), he does not make that claim in the book.  Hollywood was the primary culprit in making that assertion.  However, either Earp or Lake failed to tell the whole truth about his peace officer duties in the Kansas cowtowns of Wichita and Dodge City.  It is true, as stated in the book, that Wyatt was an assistant marshal (chief deputy) in those towns, but Lake has Wyatt claiming that in that position he was actually the chief law enforcement officer who even had the responsibility for hiring the other deputies.  The marshal, on the other hand, was a figurehead administrator who handled the political and public relations duties of the office.  This must also be placed in the dubious category.


Buntline Special

On the other hand, Lake must take full responsibility for foisting the Buntline Special on the reading and viewing public.  According to Lake, Ned Buntline, a writer of pulp novels, in an act of appreciation, gave one of the specially made Colt .45's with a 12-inch barrel to Earp and four other Dodge City peace officers. In appreciation of what?  Neither Earp nor the other lawmen ever appeared in a pulp novel written by Buntline or any other writer.  Furthermore, the Colt Company has no record of any such weapon ever being produced by their company.

Since Earp never mentioned that he ever possessed one of the weapons it is safe to surmise that it is entirely a creation of Lake's imagination, a creation that became a mythical weapon in the hands of a mythical hero.


John Henry "Doc" Holliday
    
DOC AND WYATT.
One of the more perplexing problems faced by Lake and/or Earp was trying to explain the close relationship that existed between Earp, saintly paragon of virtue, and John Henry "Doc" Holliday, a notorious gunman and gambler who cohabited with a known prostitute.

Of course, it was perplexing because neither Lake nor Earp were invested in telling the whole truth about the life and times of the frontier lawman. The reason given in the book is that Doc once saved Wyatt's life.  Okay, but how did that lead to a situation in which Doc became Wyatt's closest friend and Wyatt became Doc's only friend?

The answer is simple.  As more recent, and more truthful, biographers have established, the two men were much more alike than they were different.  They were both gamblers who frequented not only saloons, but also the brothels that were often maintained upstairs.  In short, they shared common interests which neither Earp nor Lake wanted to admit, but did not know how to satisfactorily explain.  


It would require another book to correct all the errors of commission and omission in Lake's "biography" and I don't possess the capability or desire to do that. However, there is one other omission that needs to be addressed:   Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp.


Josephine Sarah Marcus


Johnny Behan



JOSIE AND JOHNNY WERE SWEETHEARTS.
Although you will not read about it in Lake's book, when Wyatt Earp came to Tombstone he brought his wife -- actually common-law wife -- with him.  She was an ex-prostitute named Cecilia "Mattie" Blaylock.  At the time, Josephine Sarah Marcus was the common-law wife of Wyatt's chief political rival, sheriff Johnny Behan. In addition to politics the two became rivals for Josie's affections -- and Wyatt eventually won.

After Wyatt's so-called "Vendetta Ride," in which he and others, including Doc Holliday, hunted, rode down, and killed several men who were implicated in killing Morgan Earp and wounding and crippling Virgil Earp, he deserted Mattie. He and Josie became man and wife and lived together for over forty years, though no documentation exists that they ever wed.

In order to protect Wyatt's reputation -- and hers -- Josie was able to pressure Lake into completely removing her -- and Mattie -- from Wyatt's Tombstone period.  According to Lake, since neither Wyatt nor Morgan was married they shared living quarters.  In reality, both men, just like Virgil, were married and their wives were with them in Tombstone.  And the truth is, it probably didn't require much pressure for Lake to exclude the two women because they and their past would have blemished the whitewash that he was applying to the Wyatt Earp persona.

Lake's narrative does contain one amusing allusion to the Josie affair:

"As Wyatt Earp followed the run of Tombstone's social activities with no special pretenses, Tombstone was considerably amused to learn that the object of Johnny Behan's most ardent affections had given Johnny the mitten and was publicly exhibiting a decided preference for the marshal's company."

Well, now.  Who could that unnamed, mysterious lady have been?

Finally, Josie does make an appearance -- but not in Tombstone -- and not until page 376 -- where Lake wrote:

"For the five years next succeeding, Wyatt Earp and his four-animal hitch of mules roamed the California and Nevada deserts, on the prospecting expeditions which kept him in the wilderness he preferred to the settlements.  In San Francisco he had married Josephine Sarah Marcus, daughter of a pioneer merchant in that city, who, as Wyatt put it, 'was a better prospector and camper than I ever hoped to be.'"

In her efforts to protect Wyatt's reputation she told Lake and other writers that Wyatt didn't drink, never owned a gambling establishment, and that he certainly never operated or frequented a brothel.  But he did -- and there is documentation that proves it.  Even though she was able to protect her reputation she nevertheless branded the book as one that was filled with outright lies -- and collected royalties on its sales until her death in 1946.


HOLLYWOOD.
Lake's book became a cottage industry for him.  Four movies and one hit TV series were based on the book and Lake served as screenwriter and/or "expert" consultant on all them.  

The title of the TV series was The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.  The lyrics to the opening theme set the tone for the series:

I'll tell you a story a real true life story 
A tale of the Western frontier.
The West, it was lawless,
but one man was flawless
and his is the story you'll hear.

Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp,
Brave, courageous and bold.
Long live his fame and long live his glory
and long may his story be told. 


"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" would have been a fitting title for Lake's biography.  If your library or bookstore has the book today, it will be found in the fiction section.  And if it isn't there it has been misplaced. Whatever one thinks of Wyatt Earp there is no doubt that he was "brave, courageous, and bold" and his fame and glory have lived a long life.  Unfortunately, his true story was not told in WYATT EARP: Frontier Marshal.  







Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ROMAN:A Novel of the West by Douglas C. Jones



"On the day Roman Hasford's father came home from the war in June of 1865, it was raining.  The new green of the Ozark hardwood timber was like washed lettuce, dripping clear crystals in the slow but steady fall of water from a pale sky that held the sun close above the clouds and was about to break through at any moment.  It was not a bleak day.  It was a pearl-gray day, shining and gentle, with even some of the birds ignoring the weather and making their sparkling calls that seemed, like the leaves, to be washed clean by the rain."  

In two of Douglas C. Jones' earlier novels, Elkhorn Tavern and The Barefoot Brigade, the reader learned Roman Hasford's backstory.


Because his father was a soldier in a Confederate regiment fighting in Virginia and Tennessee, Roman, at age fourteen, began to assume the mantle of man of the house as he attempted to protect his mother and sister and their home from bushwhackers and jayhawkers who ravaged and plundered the area.


If that wasn't enough, large Union and Confederate forces clashed in a major battle, the battle of Pea Ridge, sometimes called the battle of Elkhorn Tavern, that was fought on and around the Hasford farm in the Arkansas Ozarks.


But now the war had ended and Roman's father had returned.  Roman couldn't help resenting the fact that he was no longer in charge and that he had to take orders from his father, while realizing that his father had every right to give those orders.  And anyway, after the danger and excitement of the last few years he didn't look forward to settling down to the peaceful pursuits of an Ozarks hill farmer.

Therefore, at age eighteen, seeking independence from father and with an urge to see and experience the wider world, he left home.  And as many young men did after the war, he headed west.  Well, sort of.  He settled in Leavenworth, Kansas, which was actually much more north than west from his home, but in every other way very much a western frontier town.





Leavenworth

Because he was intelligent and industrious he was able to make important connections in Leavenworth and was soon on his way to becoming a prosperous young businessman.  But not all was peace and tranquility.


Post-Civil war jayhawkers and bushwhackers were also experiencing difficulty in making the transition from war to peace and they continued to plague the border land. And to the west the Cheyenne were fighting a holding action against western encroachment and expansion.


Roman, at age twenty-two, even found himself with a small group of soldiers and scouts surrounded by a large group of Indians in eastern Colorado in what came to be called the battle of Beecher Island.  The irony was not lost on Roman that the Indians were led by a Cheyenne chief known to the whites as Roman Nose.



The battle of Beecher Island
As with Jones' other historical novels there is an intermingling of fact and fiction and an interesting mix of colorful fictional and historical characters.  Since Leavenworth was the site of the major frontier military post, it comes as no surprise that a number of real military officers make cameo appearances, including Winfield Scott Hancock, George Armstrong Custer, George Forsyth, John Pope, and Philip Sheridan.

Furthermore, the battle of Beecher Island is an actual historical event and, yes, the Cheyenne warriors were led by a chief known as Roman Nose.


Published in 1986, Roman received the Western Writers of America's Spur Award for Best Historical Western.  Later editions were published under the title Roman Hasford.



"Few writers can summon forth the agonies and joys of the rites of passage as poignantly as Douglas C. Jones, who in 'Roman' counterbalances that highly personal experience with a broader one of the coming-of-age of the American West .... as always Jones' vision is as singular as a thumbprint. -- Loren D. Estleman 








Thursday, May 12, 2016

WYATT EARP: Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake, Part I







As Western legends go, Wyatt Earp was a relative latecomer.  In 1927, Walter Noble Burns published Tombstone: An Illiad of the Southwest, but it wasn't the big seller his The Saga of Billy the Kid was a year earlier.  The latter book not only reintroduced Billy to the general public, but it ignored much of the historical record by romanticizing the young outlaw's persona to the point of transforming him into a veritable Robin Hood of the Southwest.

The Tombstone book, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as widely read, and thus Wyatt Earp remained a relatively obscure individual, but not for long.

The general public did become aware of him in 1931 when Stuart Lake published Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal.  It became a best seller and established the O.K. Corral in the public consciousness and created the image of Earp as an incorruptible paragon of saintly morality who fought for truth, justice, and the American way (No, wait, that was Superman.  No matter. Lake's Earp successfully fought the same battles, but without the benefit of super powers.)  What Lake began, Hollywood finished.  Four movies were based on the novel as well as a popular TV series that ran from 1955 to 1961.  Lake served as screenwriter and/or "expert" consultant on all the movies and the TV series and thus profited financially from his book right up until his death in 1964.

Lake wrote in the foreword of the book that "Wyatt Earp was a man of action. He was born, reared, and lived in an environment which held words and theories of small account, in which sheer survival often, and eminence invariably, might be achieved through deeds alone."

Furthermore, "[t]he man won from contemporaries who were his most competent judges -- from intimates, from acquaintances, and from enemies alike -- frontier-wide recognition as the most proficient peace officer, the greatest gunfighting marshal the Old West knew."


Okay, but if that recognition was frontier-wide why was Earp virtually unknown in 1931?  The answer is that not only was he not known frontier-wide during his days as a peace officer and, with the exception of some old-timers in the southwest, very few people had even heard of him fifty years after the showdown in Tombstone's O.K. Corral in 1881.  

It was Lake's book that made him famous -- and legendary -- and mythical.  As with all mythical legends some of what Lake wrote was based on fact, but much of it fell into the category of tall tale.  Like Walter Noble Burns, Lake never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

However, what made it believable to so many readers for so long is the fact that Lake had the co-operation of Earp in writing the book.  Not only was he able to interview Earp on several occasions and quoted him verbatim in long passages that go on sometimes for pages, but he also claimed that "[s]cores of eyewitnesses to the scenes portrayed have been interviewed to verify circumstantial details; thousands of miles have been traveled to unearth substantiating material; hundreds of time-worn documents and files of frontier newspapers have been examined for pertinent content; literally thousands of letters have been exchanged with competent old-timers in developing this work."

Then why in light of all that conscientious research described above is the book today shelved in the fiction section?  The answer is because that is where it belongs.


Wyatt Earp in 1923, age 75

My reprint copy of Lake's book, published in 1994, has this blurb on the front cover: "The only authorized biography of the legendary man who inspired two of the year's biggest movie events!"  That would be TOMBSTONE, starring Kurt Russell, and WYATT EARP, starring Kevin Costner.  Both films are fictional of course, but even at that they are more historically accurate than Lake's authorized "biography." 








Tuesday, May 10, 2016

THE BAREFOOT BRIGADE by Douglas C. Jones


"One of the best Civil War novels I have ever read." -- James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

Martin Hasford, torn between his love of his family and devotion to their welfare on the one hand and a sense of loyalty toward his state on the other, reluctantly enlists in the Confederate army.

It is his hope that his unit will remain in Arkansas and defend it from a Yankee invasion.  But as fate would have it, his regiment is sent to Virginia and, as we saw in Jones' Elkhorn Tavern, a major battle erupts back home in his backyard.  To add insult to injury, Hasford learns that his daughter has married a wounded Yankee officer. 

Meanwhile, his regiment sees action in some of the biggest, most significant, most lethal battles of the war -- Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness.  They are even transferred west of the Appalachians for a period of time where they fight in the battle of Chickamauga.


Antietam: the Civil War's deadliest day
Among Hasford's closest friends in his company are the Fawley brothers -- Zack and Noah -- and a Black Welshman by the name of Liverpool Morgan.  This is their story, too.

In a brief introduction, Jones writes a perfect summation of the book:

This is a story of the common soldiers.  It is not a story of causes or politics or social systems, not of generals and grand strategy, but of simple soldiers and how they were in some ways amazingly different from modern soldiers, and in others amazingly the same.  There were a great many like these who, despite all odds, at least attempted to do whatever was asked of them.

"...this is a sturdy, above-average Civil War fiction -- strong on unromanticized detail and day-to-day grit." -- Kirkus Review