October 21, 2008
Back in the office and working hard on the next two issues.
Riding A Bike While Spinning Six-Shooters
I haven't spun a gun since I stood in front of the mirror in my parent's bedroom on Ashfork Avenue in Kingman, Arizona. Yes, it was a Fanner-fifty and I used to practice for hours spinning the gun on my forefinger until I could spin it coming out and spin it going back into the holster. I was never as good as Joey Dillon or Jim Dunham, but I was the King of Six-Gun Spinning on Ashfork Avenue.
One of the setups on the shotlist for the History Channel shoot at Bonanza Creek Movie Town bothered me. It called for me to wear a holster and six-gun and walk down the street, all the while mocking a Hollywood showdown.
At breakfast on Monday morning I expressed my concerns to Pip Gilmour the director of the History Channel series. I told her I wanted to protect my credibility as a historian and that strapping on guns and parading around put me in the "re-enactor zone," which was a place I really didn't want to be video-taped in. She said we could talk about it on the set and she left in a van.
I drove out to the location in my rental car and fretted about the scene all the way. But first I had to get past the opening sequence, which went better than I expected (I was pretty nervous even though Sherry Monahan told me I was going to be fine). In fact, I nailed the first set-up on the first take. I had to walk around a corner of a false-front building, start talking at my first mark (the director walks the route and digs her heel in the dirt to mark the spots) and then turn and point out a building as I'm walking and talking, stop at my second mark and talk to the director (don't look at the camera!) and finish my comments, remembering the date (May of 1874) the name (a black hod carrier from Wichita named Charlie Sanders), the name of the river (The Arkansas) the name of the local newspaper (The Wichita Eagle) and the demand from that newspaper: "This outrageous killing led to the Wichita Eagle calling for a reorganization of the police department. . .") and the punchline: ". . .which led to the call for a stronger police force, and on this new force was a young man named Wyatt Earp.")
Then the prop guy brought out a set of Navy Colt's in a Wild Bill Hickok rig (they belonged to Hickok lookalike Thadd Turner) and I debated whether to strap them on.
Pip told me they wanted to do a parody of Hollywood showdowns and did I know how to spin the revolvers. I instantly pulled both Navys and spun them into position at full-cock and said, "You talkin' to me?" The director and the crew kind of did a Whoa! which prompted me to spin them back into the holster position and back out again and this time saying, "You sons of bitches have been lookin' for a fight and now you can have it!" At this little bit of showmanship, the director is going nuts, the cameraman pulls his rig off the sticks and starts following me. I do every spin and every twirl and flourish I can remember (from 1958!) and just like riding a bike, I'm doing it all like I have been practicing for months.
The director wants a Sergio Leone eyes shot: "Normal eyes, then squint. Yes, like that! Now pull the guns at full cock! Turn! Go low! That's it! That's it!"
I growl, I make gun noises (pistol shots down a canyon with extreme echo and I point at the sound guy and say, "That's for you." Which he loves and give me the thumbs up.)
Inspired, I go into a death crouch, grabbing my gut and giving my best B-Western grunt: "You got me!" The crew is now on their feet (actually they have been on their feet all morning, but still. . .) and I start doing even more ridiculous spins and twirls, until I finally stop, turn towards Pip and say, "Well, at least I still have my dignity."
"That's a wrap."
—Pip Gilmour, History Channel director
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