Sunday, December 04, 2022

Greed May Be Good But This is Bad

 December 4, 2022

   I'm still deep into Robert McKee's masterful book on "Story," or, more accurately, the book on how to write a successful story. He often refers to old films like "The Battleship Potemkim" (1925) which features an action scequence way ahead of it's time. Known as "The Odessa Steps," the sequence has masterful camera movements and a superb visual technique way ahead of its time. The rest of the movie is rather painful to watch, like most silent pictures, the actors are from the ham-fisted, over-dramatic school of performance and it just comes off as amateurish and hokey to a modern audience.

  Another film McKee references more than once in the book is "Greed" from 1924, known for its clever twist ending. According to McKee, Erich von Stroheim filmed "the climax over three days and nights, hero and villain, across the Mojave Desert." He also apparently shot it in the summertime at Death Valley "with temperatures rising to over 130 degrees." He almost killed the crew but McKee claims von Strhem "got what he wanted." McKee claims  Greed's "brilliant ending is created out of ultimate choices that profoundly delineate it's characters." So, I wanted to see what all the hub-bub is about so I talked Kathy into watching it with me, and, boy howdy, was that ever a mistake.

Two Guys Watching Paint Dry
"Greed" 1924

   Some of the scenes are dramatic (this is a still from the movie, above, and the filmed sequence was lost) and well staged, but most of the film is tedious and slow moving and virtually all the acting is, once again, ham-fisted on steroids. According to film lore, von Stroheim filmed 49 reels—ten hours!—and when the studio demanded he cut it, he trimmed it to four hours and said he could not take out another frame. MGM supposedly trimmed it to three hours. After watching an hour we decided to call it a night and get up today and see if we could fast forward to the last ten minutes to at least see the classic climax everyone is talking about. Fortunately, at least for me, at the three-hour-and-forty-five-minute mark, we get a posse in Death Valley and man o' man, check out the background players in this closeup.

Real cowboys in the background

   And, by the way, the film moves into sepia tone in some sequences and I'm not sure if this was in the original or the folks who did the salvage job added the semi-color. It is known that van Stroheim added hand colored gold to gold teeth and gold canaries, etc.

Another shot of the Death Valley posse

   The punched-in-crown hat style appears to still be alive and kicking in 1924 as three of the riders in this posse are wearing a version of the style (keep in mind Billy the Kid wears a punched-in-crown in his only known photo from 1880). These cowboys were born around the turn of the century, and it also must be noted, Wyatt Earp could have seen this movie when he lived in LA (he died in 1929). What I'm saying is "Greed" was filmed less than three decades after the actual Old West ended and so the outfits and gear are very interesting to see.

 A couple saloon scenes stood out for me, like this one.

   I especially like the real cowboy in the background showing off with his behind-the-back, pool shot. Here he is in all his cowboy "check-this-out" coolness.

   Here's another shot in the same saloon. Check out all the great hats.

Overhead Drone Shot

   And so we finally came to the ending and after a B Western fist fight the guy on the right, below, is killed, but before he dies he manacles the bad guy, at left, to his wrist and they both die in Death Valley. Was it worth the wait? 

      Other than the cool hats, I have to agree with Variety.

"Despite its excellent acting, fine direction and the undoubted power of its story. . .it does not entertain."


Friday, December 02, 2022

One Legit Brit: A Hailsham, Sussex Lass Shanks A Yank

 December 2, 2022

    Here's one you can file under. . .

Nothing Changes More Than The Past

    A little over a week ago, I revisited a very familiar historical event: the killing of Jesse James by Robert Ford. 

   In my YouTube talk I recounted the long-accepted tale that on the day of his assassination, Jesse James was at the breakfast table in his rented house in Saint Joseph, Missouri, reading the newspaper when he spied a headline and said, “Hello, here. The surrender of Dick Liddil.” Jesse, looked up and said to his houseguest, Robert Ford, “Young man, I thought you told me you didn’t know that Dick Liddil had surrendered,” adding, “It’s very strange. He surrendered three weeks ago and you was right there in the neighbor-hood. It looks fishy.... By the way, where is Dick Liddil?”

   “I don’t know,” Robert Ford replies.

   At this moment, Bob and his brother Charlie know they are dead meat—Jesse is going to kill them. Bob speculates: “I think Jesse would have killed me, then and there, but he did not want to in front of his family.” After Jesse’s wife Zee serves breakfast, Charley and Jesse go to the stable to feed and curry the horses. Bob plays with the kids in the kitchen. Returning from the stable, Jesse walks through the kitchen to the front room, saying, “It’s awfully hot today,” as he takes off his coat and vest, tossing them on the cot in the sparsely decorated room. He opens the front door, then starts to mount a chair so he can dust the pictures. Jesse, afraid the neighbors would see him armed, unstraps his holster in which he carries two .45-caliber revolvers (one a Colt; the other a Smith & Wesson) and puts it on the bed. He returns to mount the chair and raises both hands above his head to take hold of a framed picture of a racehorse named Skyrocket. Bob slips into the front room, carrying the revolver Jesse gave him. He extends his arm and thumbs the hammer. Jesse hears the triple click and starts to turn, but it is too late. The bullet catches him behind the left ear, ranging upwards and lodging in the skull over the left eye.

  When the coroner asks Zee her name, she replies, “Howard.”  (their alias)

   Then, “Who killed him?”

   “Two boys named Johnson.” (their alias)

   “Where are they?”

   “They jumped over the fence and

ran away.”

   This has been the accepted historical version of the story for a long time and in my YouTube talk I went on to praise the 2007 movie with Brad Pitt starring as Jesse James and how they duplicated this scene perfectly.

Brad Pitt as Jesse James and Casey Affleck
 as Robert Ford in "The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford"

   Imagine my surprise when I received the following email:

"I too am a huge admirer of the Brad Pitt movie and it was while watching the tense scene where he reads about the surrender of Dick Liddil on the morning of April 3, 1882 that I realized I had never seen that newspaper. I set about finding it, but found something else instead.

"After Liddil gave himself up, he was far from secretive. He travelled to Liberty, Missouri, 'where, under the name of Joe Anderson, he personated a friend of Sheriff Timberlake, stopping at his hotel until recently, and walked about so freely that his intentions did not remain secret for long.' [The Kansas City Daily Times, April 6, 1882] He was soon seen “on the streets of Kansas City hundreds of times,” and had been spotted “in Independence, and all over this and Clay counties.” [Kansas City Daily Journal, April 1 1882.] On one occasion a relative saw him “coming out of the police station in [Kansas] city” right behind Captain Craig, and another man told a reporter how “Liddil had said to him that he had turned state’s evidence.” [Kansas City Journal, March 30 1882; St Joseph Daily Herald, March 31 1882]
"News of Liddil’s surrender officially leaked on March 27, 1882, eight days before Jesse was killed. Three days later, the Kansas City Journal featured the headline, DICK LIDDLE [sic] OF THE NOTED JAMES GANG – Reported To Have Been Captured And To Have Been Given His Liberty On Turning State’s Evidence, and the St. Louis Globe Democrat reported, JAMES GANG - Dick Little [sic] Surrenders to the Authorities. On March 31, the news appeared in the St Joseph Herald, while the Kansas City Daily Times continued its coverage with, DICK LITTLE [sic] – Surrender of the Notorious Outlaw. When asked, “How did the news that Liddil had surrendered become known at Independence?’ a local officer replied, ‘It came from his own friends.’” [St. Louis Globe Democrat, March 30 1882]
"The fact that Dick Liddil was 'the principal topic of conversation' urged them to question officers on what they thought Jesse’s reaction might be to such sensational news. [Kansas City Evening Star, March 30, 1882] The answer surprised them – “Jesse James and his pals have known for weeks that Little [sic] was in Kansas City in communication with officers.” [St. Louis Globe Democrat March 30, 1882] Aware that Liddil frequented his uncle’s house in Adairsville, Kentucky, Jesse had contacted his cousin, Clarence Hite, with a clear warning. 'He said...that I had better leave home,' Clarence later recalled, 'Dick was in with the detectives and they would soon take me away.' [T.J. Stiles p374] But Clarence was sick with tuberculosis, was unable to travel, and was subsequently arrested at his home on February 13, 1882, the same day Bob Ford surrendered to Captain Craig.
"News of Clarence Hite’s arrest brought with it details of his brother, Wood Hite’s demise. Even the Liberty Tribune, a weekly, managed to remind its readers on March 10 that Wood had been 'killed in this state some weeks since,' and as the Ford’s testified that Jesse regularly read the newspapers, it is impossible he missed the information. [Sedalia Daily Democrat May 20, 1882] By April 1, 1882, details of Liddil’s confession and the deal he had made had been leaked to the press and the murder of Wood Hite was well known. The location had been fixed as a farm just outside Richmond and Liddil was known to have 'killed Wood Hite with whom he had trouble in Kentucky.' [Kansas City Evening Star, March 30, 1882]
"The ‘irony of ironies’ is that, contrary to the apparent need for the Fords to kill Jesse as soon as he discovered the fact that Liddil had surrendered to prevent him from killing them, Jesse invited the Fords into his home already fully aware of that fact. There was no mention of Liddil's surrender in the April 3 papers, it was old news. Ironically, there was a piece on page 8 of the Kansas City newspaper which contained an interview with George Shepherd saying how well informed Jesse always was!
"Hollywood has to entertain and that final scene in the Brad Pitt movie is one of the most emotionally charged scenes I have ever witnessed. But its not true!"

–Michelle Pollard, Hailsham, Sussex, England

   Could this be true? It certainly has the ring of truth. When I asked around if Ms. Pollard is legit, I was assured she is one "legit Brit" researcher. So this is nothing short of flabbergasting to me. So, I wanted to know, who started the story about Jesse reading the newspaper on the morning of his assassination? Here's Michelle, once again:

   "As far as I can tell it was Finnis Farr, Crittenden's former secretary, who was the first to tell the story in an 1895 interview that Jesse was reading about Liddil's surrender on the morning of Jesse's death and this forced Bob Ford to kill him. It also apparently resulted in Jesse rendering himself entirely vulnerable in front of two men he knew were completely untrustworthy but Legends seldom rely on common sense!"

   And, who is this wonderful researcher who put all of this together?

Michelle Pollard
researcher extraordinaire
(photo by Liz Rains Johnson)

So tell us a bit about yourself

   "I live in Hailsham, Sussex and I guess I was bound to 'meet' Jesse eventually as I loved watching programmes about Robin Hood and Dick Turpin when I was a kid. My mum loves Clint Eastwood, so the westerns came next. When I left school, I missed the learning. This was about the time Young Guns II was released. So I read about Billy the Kid for a couple of years before wanting to move on. This was before the Internet made everything accessible but books about Billy were easy to get here, as were books about Jesse James, so he was next. I figured I'd read about him for a few years then move on again but I found him so interesting I stuck around a little longer.

   "In 2002, I had the opportunity to visit Missouri and did so thinking that would be the final part of the journey but my interest just intensified, and here I am! Been back eight times! Never get tired of learning more about him and the events going on around him. Never tire of making new friends or going on road trips with firm friends and sharing what we find. Love it!

  "I guess I started looking into it about a decade ago; first thinking it would be real easy to find the last thing Jesse read and then realising there was more to the story, as is so often the case. I live in the UK so I began by asking fellow English Westerner, Robert J. Wybrow, if he had seen the newspaper. He said he had not. I then posed the same question to my essential US friends, all amazing researchers: Linda Gay Mathis, Liz Murphy, Chuck Rabas and the late Paul Saeli. None had seen, or could find, the relevant newspaper article and all set about finding why. I remember spending hours in the record offices of St Joe and Kansas City during a visit to Missouri, finding articles about Liddil's surrender but all a week before I'd thought they'd be! The others found the same. I wrote an article about it in 2010 for the Friends of The James Farm."

   And what do Jesse James historians think of this new find? Is it, in fact as huge as I suspect it is?

   "The story is a powerful part of Jesse lore, so the revelation that it's a myth is indeed huge. In some ways, the myth cast the Ford brothers in a sympathetic light —it was either Jesse or them (still cowards, though). I think the brothers were set on killing Jesse for the reward. Charlie later said they'd been offered $40,000 for the outlaw alive and $10,000 for him dead. The Platte City robbery was supposedly planned for that very day, and I imagine Bob and Charley wanted no part of that, so the time had come.
   "We'll never know if Jesse suspected Bob and Charley of cooperating with the governor or the authorities. I'm not aware of any statements from Zee or his two children that Jesse ever uttered such suspicions. Which I find interesting because, as you know, Jesse had become fairly paranoid."

—Mark Lee Gardner, author of "Shot All to Hell"

   And, what about the source material, The book, the movie is based on?

“A lot of people still admire Jesse James, and I wanted to impress on them he really was a psychopath. I wanted to do a kind of character-in-the-round the way Shakespeare does, where you see both his good and bad sides and get to appreciate what draws people to him. He was a star in a lot of ways, and he used it. If he entered a room all eyes would be on him.”

—Ron Hansen, the author of the book the movie is based on

   All of this will be covered in a major cover story in an upcoming issue of True West magazine

"The myth lives on, the reality—not so much."

Thursday, December 01, 2022

On The Hunt for The Hat on The Cat

 December 1, 2022

   If there is one thing I absolutely love it's those old school sugarloaf sombreros.

Mexican Revolutionaries, 1914

(with peasant women, aka adelitas)

   I especially dig the hat on the cat to the left of the page crease. You know this guy:

Swept Back Sugarloaf Supreme

   Dig the high pinch and the swept back crown. In fact, it inspired me to do him as a character in a story I want to do on "The Mexicali Stud."

Daily Whip Out:

"On The Hunt for the Mexicali Stud"

   One of these days that story will see the light of day. Meanwhile, on the story study front. . .

Funny Story, I Thought I Knew Story

   "The only way we can make characters that are interesting and not boring is by the choices they make.

"What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind a facade of traits. No matter what they say, no matter how they comport themselves, the only way we ever come to know characters in depth is through their choices under pressure.
   "If the outward appearance matches the inner person, the role becomes repetitive and predictable and, worst of all, BORING."

Why Did Rambo Fade?

   "In First Blood he was a compelling character—a Vietnam burnout, a loner hiking through the mountains, seeking solitude. Then a sheriff, for no reason other than wickedly high levels of testosterone, provoked him, and out came Rambo, a ruthless and unstoppable killer. But once Rambo came out, he wouldn't go back in. For the sequels, he strapped bandoleers of bullets across his oiled, pumped muscles, coiffed his locks with a red bandana until super-hero characterization and true character merged into a figure with less dimesion than a Saturday morning cartoon."

—Robert McKee, "Story"

"Autobiographical films often lack the very virtue they promise: self-knowledge."

—Robert McKee

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Are You A Talented Curator of Art? Do You Like Money?

 November 30, 2022

   My longtime curator, Kristi Jacobs, is having to step back from her day to day job of shipping and receiving of books, running the BBB art website, and selling my original and print artwork. Are you an organized person? Okay, where would you file this?

Daily Whip Out In Progress:

"The Day Tom Mix Died"

   This unfinished piece needs to be filed until I find the artistic reference to place a Packard going 80 mph down a dirt road, just above my signature.

   In a separate file, but cross referenced to the above painting, could you file this nifty little newspaper piece:

   This tidbit was gifted to me by Steve Todd (that info would need to be in the file).

   Or, could you successfully file this?

Daily Whip Out:

"I've Got Your Badge, Right Here."

   Full disclosure: I could easily file this, but I would have a hard time finding it. That is your job, if you want it. Obviously, you need to be within driving distance from Cave Creek, but let's start there. If you have any questions, email me at:

"Yes, he can be a challenge."

—Kristi Jacobs

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The View from Deming, New Mexico

 November 29, 2022

   This just in from the Wal-Mart in Deming, New Mexico:

Front and Center, Wal-Mart


   Thanks to Paul Hoylen for the newsstand shot.

   Meanwhile there is a bombshell report coming on my latest YouTube video.

   And my neighbor Tom Augherton is training his dog where we are training Uno.

Training Day

   This morning's epiphany from reading "Story"; stay true to the parameters of genre but avoid cliche. Seems like a contradiction of terms, yes? In the end we're all genre writers. Lots of rules we need to follow to please an audience. For example, one of the rules of comedy is "nobody gets hurt." I never knew this, but McKee goes on to explain a bizarre exception: in A FISH CALLED WANDA, a character with an obsessive love of animals, tries to kill an old lady, but accidently kills her pet terriers instead. The last dog dies under a massive construction block with his little paw left sticking out. The director of the movie shot two versions of this, one showing only the paw, but for the second he sent to a butcher shop for a bag of entrails and added a trail of gor draining away from the squashed terrier. When this gory image flashed in front of preview audiences, the theater fell dead quiet. The blood and guts said, ``It hurt." For general release the director switched to the sanitized shot and got a huge laugh. Not sure how this adheres to "Nobody gets hurt" but perhaps it means, the coyote who is after the roadrunner, blows himself up by accident but walks away?


—A Certain Writer

Monday, November 28, 2022

A Flurry of Stories

 November 28, 2022

   Someone called outlaws and banditos landlocked pirates. Thus. . .

Daily Whip Out:

"Pirates of The Sierra Madre."

   In other parts of the country, the outlaws wore a different type of hat, but the game was the same.

Daily Whip Out: "Lucky"

   Some who headed West were not as lucky as Lucky.

Daily Whip Out: "Fallen Saint"

   In fact, one of the most famous Soiled Doves on the Old West frontier had a notorious and heart-breaking background that has been hidden until now.

Daily Whip Out: "Debauched"

  All these stories, all these swirling snippets will eventually find a home. So help me God.

"Story is a metaphor for life. A storyteller is a life poet, an artist who transforms day-to-day living, inner life and outer life, dream and actuality into a poem whose rhyme scheme is events rather than words—a two hour metaphor that says: Life is like this!"
—Robert McKee, "Story"

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Beady Eyes And Big Bad Bass

 November 27, 2022

   Kristi Jacobs informs me someone wants to buy "Badass Bass" and I believe this is the version they would like.

Daily Whip Out: "Badass Bass"

   I have done several of the legendaery Oklahoma Lawman, including this whip out.

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"Black Man In A White Hat"

   And, then there's this cat.

Daily Revised Whip Out:

"Eyes of A Gunfighter: John Ringold's Stare"

   And, speaking of steely stares.

Daily Revised Whip Out:

"Lee Van Cleef Scowls"

   Sergio Leone said, Lee Van Cleef could stare holes in the screen. The actor put it this way:

"Being born with a pair of beady eyes was the best thing that ever happened to me."

—Lee Van Cleef