April 20, 2011Saw a posting by Tim Fattig on Facebook at lunch time, saying that Kevin Jarre had passed. When I Googled it, I was stunned to see that he had died on April 3rd. For those of you who don't know, it was Kevin Jarre who wrote the best screenplay on Wyatt Earp that many of us have ever read.
If only they had let him film it.
In June of 1993 a group of Old West buffs, loosely calling ourselves The Renegades, met in Tombstone to break bread, drink margaritas and solve the mysteries of the Old West. After dinner and several pitchers of margaritas at that Mexican food joint catty-wampus from Schieffelin Hall, the gang sauntered up to Allen Street and landed at the Crystal Palace Saloon. A band was playing. It was loud and we couldn't talk. Before we left I recognized a notorious character, a self-style bounty hunter, named Bob Burton. I recognized him from a photo I saw of him in the Arizona Republic. I am not a fan of Mr. Burton. He had taken it upon himself to single-handedly banish my first edition of Wyatt Earp from the Arizona Highways bookstore.
As a matter of fact, the week before our Tombstone trip, I received a phone call from the publisher of Arizona Highways, Hugh Harrelson, informing me that this same bounty hunter had called to complain that my book was pornographic and he was going to the state legislature and tell them that Arizona Highways, a state funded publication, was sending pornogrpahy through the mails.
Hugh told me they couldn't afford the bad publicity and they were dropping my book. The "pornography" was a sarcastic reference to Hugh O'Brian's Buntline Special and the offensive word was "penis," as in "in Hugh O'Brian's other holster he has a normal length penis." It was in a cutline. I was an ill-advised attempt at humor, but still. . .really? Pornography?
Anyway, Mr. Burton walked out on the sidewalk just as we were all leaving and I couldn't help but call out his name. He stopped and turned to face us, almost directly in front of the location of Hatch's Saloon where Morgan Earp got ambushed. There were some seven or eight of us and he was alone. He wasn't intimidated in the least. I told him who I was and he laughed. Said something like, "Well, it was just a joke, but you shouldn't have done that." One of our guys smirked and said something sarcastic. His name was Jeff Morey.
That was it. It was tense, but nothing else happened (other than the next day we went back to that spot and had a group photo taken which we call "The P Photo" in honor of "The Peace Commision" photo).
When we got back to our rooms at the Tombstone Boarding House, Jeff Morey asked me if I wanted to read the new, top secret movie script by Kevin Jarre for a movie to be called "Tombstone." Tired and fried, I asked if I could read it tomorrow. Jeff told me he was leaving directly in the morning and if I wanted to read it, tonight was the night. I took it and retired, and, in a grumpy mood, read the first paragraph. A couple hours later, I sat it down on the night stand and sighed. Damn! That is the best script I have ever read on Wyatt Earp, EVER! I had the conceit that I would someday write a movie on Wyatt's life, but that was a joke. This was absolutely brilliant.
I remember thinking at the time, if they actually film this, it will be an instant classic Western, for the ages. It was—and still is—that good. The script, I mean.
When we got to the film location, several miles southeast of this photo, and northwest of Fort Huachuca. We were flagged through security (Jeff was the historic consultant on the film) and followed, on foot the cables up a side draw to a film crew at a cowboy camp. They were filming a scene of the Earp posse riding into a cowboy camp on the Vendetta Ride. They evidently had already filmed a scene of running over a Mexican bandido (I think he was based on Florentino Cruz), who, now stared wild-eyed into the camera and barked his Spanish lines, over and over. After about a half hour, the crew broke and moved across a wash to a cowboy tent. Jeff, my daughter Deena (10) and I walked with them, and then up a small hill south of the set and sat down to watch them work.
Jeff pointed out the director in the ball cap. It was Kevin Jarre. He had never directed a movie before, but he had leveraged his brilliant script into a shot at directing.
When we originally walked onto the set, one of the crew members, a producer type, growled at me, pointing at my camera: "No pictures!" I nodded, like a good boy.
Kevin Jarre started blocking out the next scene where Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) confront a group of cowboys in front of a tent. Threats were exchanged.
I held my camera on my knee and snapped off a quick shot.
Wyatt took off his hat and threw it to Doc. At this point, the actors retired to ladders and sat atop them perhaps so the hat throwing would go faster. It didn't. Kurt threw his hat several times and Val missed catching it. Finally they got the take they wanted, dismounted and Wyatt prepared to do fisticuffs with one of the cowboys.
Kevin Jarre ran through how he wanted the fight done. We were about 50 yards away and couldn't hear him, but we could clearly see that Kevin was pantomiming a Queensbury style boxing stance (which was inspiring to me because, in fact, Wyatt was a boxing enthusiast, promoter and himself a boxer). Kurt was having none of this, and when he did it, he threw the typical Hollywood style punches with exaggerated swings and blocking blows straight out of a Magnum P.I. episode. Kevin ran through it again.
Words were exchanged which we couldn't hear. The crew took a break. Incredibly, Kevin Jarre walked towards us, up the little hill and sat down next to Jeff Morey. We were introduced. I told Kevin how great the costuming and especially the hats were. I said I had never seen such historical accuracy in a Western before. He beamed. He told me he was very proud of the look.
On an impulse I reached down and snapped the shutter. This is the shot I got:
What's not apparent in this photo (or, is it?) is that Kevin Jarre had just lost his job.
I heard several years later from a member of the film crew that the fight scene was the last straw with Kurt Russell and he had Kevin fired. There were other reasons given, of course: Jarre was moving too slow. He wanted the cameraman to shoot close-ups of the gear. He would go riding between takes.
After Jarre was fired, the movie was altered to be a bit more Hollywood. Many of the scenes I raved about in the written script were gone from the final film version. Including the entire sequence we had witnessed and which Kevin lost his job over.
Close friends say the firing really devastated Kevin. I tried to contact him several times about doing an interview with us to tell his side of the story, but he never responded.
"In the end, all films are just words on water."