Friday, February 03, 2012

GPS Guided Combines & Magazine

February 3, 2012

I had a performance-speech last night in Apache Junction. Took me an hour and a half to wade across The Beast to AJ during rush hour. The 101 crawled all the way to the 202 (I'm sure it's the same across the country, just different numbers). I'm thankful I don't have to do this every day as so many commuters do everywhere.

That said, the show in the Apache Junction High School Performance Art Center Auditorium was fun. This was a joint show with Allen Fossenkemper's O.K. Chorale, a trio specializing in Wyatt Earp and the O.K. Corral fight, believe it or not. They did a half hour, then I followed with a half hour and they closed the show. Afterwards, sold some books, gave away some mags and met some very rabid afficionados of the Wild West like Walter Christ, a snowbird from Illinois. He wanted a photo with me, but his camera wouldn't work, so I pulled out my cell phone and Linda, the promoter, took this shot of us:

My phone took this! Still amazes me. Chester Gould (of Dick Tracy fame) predicted that someday we would have picture-wrist watches that doubled as phones, well, here we are not even a half century later and he only missed it by two fingers.

Walter is one of the charter members to our True West Preservation Society. I originally met him at our first fundraiser for the club at the Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek several years ago.

Last night Walter regaled me with modern-day-farming stories. I had no idea how sophisticated farm machinery has become. Walter told me about the new combine harvesters that plant seeds via GPS to within one inch of accuracy. The combine is guided by GPS and all the operator does is make the turns! And when it comes time to load up the trucks with the harvest, the same GPS systems automatically load the trucks, evening out the load with automated thrusts and moves to even out the payload, while the combine operator and the truck driver eat lunch, answer emails or play video games. I swear, the prediction that machines will very quickly take over every aspect of our lives while we sit by and pretend to be doing something, is a lot closer than any of us would like to believe.

I read recently, that with the external memory available from Google, etc. "we are all cyborgs now."


Whipped out another study of Bob Paul this morning before I came into work. This is no. 8:

Shifting gears today to work on what Hollywood was like in the 1920s when Wyatt Earp was desperately trying to cash in on his story. Even though he had the ear, and admiration of, both William S. Hart and Tom Mix, they could not get his story published, or made into a successful movie. Hart came the closest, with "Wild Bill Hickok" (1923) where he hired Wyatt as a consultant and weaved a story about, Hickok, Custer, Lincoln, and, of all things, The Dodge City Peace Commission.

So what was happening to the careers of Hart and Mix in this period? Well, Hart was on the decline after 1923 and bowed out. Mix, meanwhile started earlier than Hart, but had a longer road to stardom.

I am reading a biography of Tom Mix and in the beginning (1909-1920) he is bouncing all over the West filming one-reelers in little towns like Prescott, Arizona and then over in Las Vegas, New Mexico and the newspapers are all reporting that the Selig Movie Company plans to make "this area the center of the film industry." Reading between the lines it's like it's a big carnival road show and they are milking it with the locals, getting them to invest, etc. The names of some of these one-reelers are crazy, ridiculous, like "Rescued by Her Lions" (1911); "Bud Doble Comes Back" (1913); "When The Cook Fell Ill" (1914); "The White Mouse" (1914); "Weary Goes Wooing" (1915);"The Child, the Dog and the Villain" (1915, filmed in Las Vegas, NM). They appear to turn these out in a week or so. By 1921 he starts making five-reelers and his contract at Fox is amazing, at $900,000 a year. But it's bust by 1927.

Hart has already soared and crashed (partly because of Mix being the new kid on the block) by 1923, when Earp is the consultant on "Wild Bill Hickok" (1923). Still, the two of them , Hart and Mix are royalty.

I want to know that world, the pecking order of the big stars. Did they go to lunch at Musso and Frank's on Sunset? Did Mix pick up the tab for Wyatt? We know that at one point Wyatt borrowed $50 from Hart.

Of course, we all assume the story of Tombstone and the O.K. Corral was part of the movie biz from the beginning, but it wasn't. It doesn't enter the standard plot line until after Walter Noble Burns publishes his book "Tombstone" and Stuart Lake follows with "Frontier Marshal." These two books, the result of creative writers (mostly Burns who also reinvented Billy the Kid for the modern age) into a plot line in the early thirties and is still going strong today. How it got to that point and what happened in the culture to make this odd and tragic story finally resonate, that is what fascinates me.

"History is a cruel trick played on the dead by the living."
—Still my favorite Old Vaquero Saying

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