Sunday, July 17, 2011

William Goldman: Almost A God

July 17, 2011

Last Wednesday I spoke to Paul Hutton's American History class at the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque. Big auditorium with stadium seating. Great crowd, lots of laughs and I had fun talking about the Western heroes I love. As a gift, Paul gave me a paperback novelization of William Goldman's 1978 screenplay, "Tom Horn." Of course, William Goldman wrote the screenplay for "Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid," giving us all those classic lines:

"Who are those guys?"

"Swim? Hell, the fall'll kill ya!"

"Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?"

"I've got vision and the rest of the world wears bi-focals."

Goldman also wrote "The Sting" and, although uncredited, he allegedly wrote the best parts of "Good Will Hunting" which, of course, won a writing Oscar for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (don't you think it strange that they've never written anything else?).

Anyway, I came home from my long road trip and cracked the "Tom Horn" paperback book on Friday night. The screenplay has been novelized by one D. R. Bensen, so it's not clear exactly who wrote what, but I think it's safe to say, the dialogue is all Goldman.

I'm curious about this story because Paul and I have been trying for five or six years now to bring the story of Mickey Free and the Apache Kid to life. Also, two of the other characters in our story are Al Sieber and Tom Horn. I also wrote the Classic Gunfight regarding the Emmett Crawford battle in Mexico for the current issue of True West (arriving to subscribers this week) and so I'm more than a little conversant with the scholarship.

If you are a subscriber you know I have done several episodes of General Crook leading a military campaign deep into Mexico, and high atop the Sierra Madres, one of the mules almost goes over a cliff, and Al Sieber is frantic because his long johns are on the mule's pack. Mickey rides a mule. All of this, of course, is original to our story.

Or, so I thought.

Reading Goldman's "Tom Horn" this morning, I just about fell out of bed. Came out to the studio and sent the following email to Hutton:

Paul,
Sweet Mother of God, is there nothing new under the sun? Evidently not. Goldman has Horn, Sieber and Free, on mules, deep in Mexico, high up in the Sierra Madres, on a cliff. Sieber has them go off the cliff with their belongings (I kid you not). Mickey takes along one of his mules (he has two!). They are about to attack Geronimo's camp on the Devil's Backbone (Goldman doesn't site this, perhaps it came later with Edwin Sweeney scholarship, but Goldman is obviously poaching Maus's account in Mile's book of the Crawford expedition). Decent descriptions of the night marches, etc.

Goldman has Geronimo and the warriors leaving the camp to go hunting and then Sieber orders Mickey and Horn to burn the camp. Mickey Free is "wolfishly happy" and proceeds to torch the wikiups, which leads to this exchange between Sieber and Horn:

Sieber: "I hate this. My home was taken. . .the old country. . .I was little, but still I remember. . ."

Sieber is explaining war to Horn, which is totally unlikely in the circumstance and seems utterly fake, giving us a pinch of relief and hope that Goldman is not totally a God, however, in the next paragraph, he comes close:

"The French hate the Germans. The Germans hate the English, the English hate the French. . .Mickey is Apache but he hates Geronimo because Mickey is Tonto Apache and Geronimo is Chiricahua Apache. . ."
—William Goldman


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