July 1, 2006
A big monsoon storm blew in last night, knocking out the power. Dogs cowering at my feet as I sat on the patio and listened to the thunder and watched the palo verdes quiver and shake. The paper said we got about three quarters of an inch of rain with fifty mile an hour winds.
As promised, here’s my journal entry (original written in long hand) where I visited the set of Tombstone. First, let me backtrack:
In May of 1993 I got a sneak peek at a new movie getting set to film. The script, Tombstone, by screenwriter Kevin Jarre (Glory) really nailed the Earp story and I bemoaned in my daily journal that I couldn’t have done as good a job (I had the conceit I would write the definitive Wyatt Earp script). Several weeks later, the movie’s historical consultant, Jeff Morey, called me and asked me if I wanted to visit the Tombstone set. Here is my journal entry for that day:
June 9, 1993
Left the station [KSLX, radio station in Scottsdale] with Deena [my daughter, 13] at 9:30 and drove to Tucson. Picked up Jeff Morey at 11:30 and stopped at McDonald’s to get a quick bite. Deena got out and said, “Your tire is going flat, Dad.” Sure enough, the right front tire of Kathy’s Toyota Land Cruiser was fading fast. I moved the car away from the front door and called AAA. Deena and I ate ($6) and I tipped the tow truck guy ($3). Got gas ($26). The flat put us about an hour behind and we finally took off at about one p.m. We cruised easily to Sonoita and had a movie production crew map to get to the Elgin movie site which was on the “Research Ranch” property. Jeff was the navigator and since he had been out to the site a couple times, I was irritated when it became obvious we had missed the turn. Finally, we backtracked, losing another half hour!
Finally, at about three we pulled into the side canyon where the “Tombstone” crew was filming. We could see all the way up into the draw where the “Rustler Park” scene was being filmed. Big trucks were parked down by the main road—all kinds—Budget rental trucks, water trucks, sound semis, horse trailers, stunt buses, dressing rooms (portable). Three body dummies were sprawled across the tailgate of a big white truck. No movie logos were evident on the trucks. It was an instant-mini-city. I took a pic of Deena with one of the dummies and we headed, on foot, up the draw. We met various employees with headsets and props coming and going up the road. Half-way around the bend we came to the power truck which was a huge, white tractor-trailer-cab, with a big, square transmitter type batteries on the back. Big cables stretched out from one of the modules towards the canyon. The engine was running—nobody was in the cab. Just beyond the power pack, on the opposite side of the road was a long red horse trailer with six or seven black thoroughbreds tied to it. Each horse had a handsome, authentic, high-back saddle and a shotgun on the saddlehorn and a Winchester in the scabbard. I recognized this immediately as Wyatt’s posse armada. A short distance from the posse remuda we met the gun wrangler [Thell Reed]. He looked like Ike Clanton, and showed us all the rifles being used stacked in the back of a truck. It was an impressive arsenal—with many 1873 model Winchesters. Masking tape was attached to the stock of each one with the name of the character that used it—”Ike Clanton” and “John Ringo.”
We were now “on the set” and I could see a camp with horses, a tent, a red flag on a hill behind and men eating—my first reaction was that they were eating lunch, but I quickly realized they were in a scene. When we cleared a phalanx of grips and lights I finally saw where the cameras were and Jeff, Deena and I made our way along the edge of the scene. I heard “Action!” and a Charro stepped out from the chuck wagon and said, pointing, “Florentino, blah, blah, Chingado, blah, blah, Chingado.” In the crush of technicians swarming around the two panovision cameras, I tried to make out Kevin Jarre, the director. I would never have picked the slender, non-descript, guy in the baseball cap. Jeff introduced us. We were in the eye of the hurricane. People were coming up and calling him “sir.” We watched them film the “Chingado” sene again and again. Kevin retired to the back, and sat, side by side with the cinematographer on high canvas chairs with umbrellas. All the crew stood in front of them, blocking their view but the two of them could watch the scene on a monitor which showed the camera view in blue video. Kevin jumped around and smoked. As the crew wrapped the scene Florentino did several close-up takes at looking shocked as the non-existent posse came over the rise (he looked rather wooden and hammy to me)—the crew picked up and moved across a wash to the other side.
That’s where we spotted Val Kilmer on horseback. He looked pasty and small. He was sitting next to a guy in a tango hat who turned out to be Kurt Russell! We didn’t recognize him until he took his hat off. They started improvising a new scene where the posse rides up (and over) several rustlers and confronts them. Wyatt quirts one of the bad guys, tosses his hat to Doc and gets down to beat the daylights out of him. This seemed totally made-up on the spot! When Russell would punch he would actually say, “Pow!” and “Bam!” just like a kid in the back yard. Kevin stepped in and showed Kurt how he wanted the punches delivered “Up, across, uppercut.” I think I spotted Russell slowly change the sequence into a typical Hollywood fight scene. It was hard to see clearly from the back, but when Kevin did it—the sequence had a sort of Queensbury boxing rhythm to it, which slowly evaporated with each runthrough.
We gravitated to the other side and watched the scene shape up. It was warm—almost hot—a slight breeze made it bearable. Kevin J. and Kurt walked through the scene again and again. We retired to a small hill for a better view. A warning was related that live-half charge ammo was being used. Deena and I both wondered how the horses would respond. The Wranglers trotted them back and forth to loosen them up. Finally, the five man posse backed off about fifteen yards and prepared for action. A series of commands began, “Mark!”, “Sound!” “Fire in the hole!”, etc. The quintet rode forward on “Action!”—firing several shots in the air. The horses barely flinched. Wyatt had words with a cowboy—quirted him—and then throwing his Zorro hat to Doc (I wondered how many takes it would take until the hat took off—it happened on about the fifth take.) At the end of the scene, Turkey Creek Johnson remarks that Florentino is getting away—and turns to fire a Winchester at him. The first time he does this—he pulls, cocks and aims right at the gunsmith and being a bevy of gun-savvy extras, they all dive out of the way! He (Turkey) is oblivious to their very existence. (In fact every time this is re-enacted, Turkey’s horse starts walking and he has to rein in and aim, several times per take. Deena and I chuckle under our breath). After about 45 minutes into this scene, Kevin Jarre looks up to where we are sitting and comes up the hill to sit down and chat! I am thrilled! I know he’s very, very busy. I gush a bit more than I would have liked, but when I tell him I especially liked the hats—he visibly beamed—he lit up.
My last two images were of a close-up on Val, where Wyatt tosses him his hat. Val is alone on horseback and Kurt is on a ladder [to simulate being on a horse] to toss the capo! Just before we left, I talked to Russell. I asked him if he knew who “Honkytonk Sue” is, he said nope. When I said that Goldie bought the rights, he said, “Oh, yeh, the water-rights story!” Meaning the script Larry McMurtry wrote. He seemed decent. When we left, Val was sitting in his canvas chair, sucking on a cig and looking down into a mirror, mesmerized with something in his face.
End of diary entry. Two days later, on June 11, I got the phone call that Kevin Jarre had been fired as director. I later heard from a crew member that it was the fight scene that was the last straw. If true, I had witnessed the moment he lost his job. Amazing. None of the scenes I saw filmed made it into the movie.
“Anticipating pleasure is also a pleasure.”
—Old Vaquero Saying
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