Thursday, November 30, 2017

Our Historically Accurate Westerns feature has been put to bed, and now we are fighting over the cover.

November 30, 2017
   Woke up in the wee hours, worried about how to finish our big Historically Accurate Westerns package which starts uploading to the printer today. Spent way too much time and too much money on getting expensive photos to illustrate the big 14-page opus, but it is what it is. Finally finished the issue at noon and now all we have to do is decide on a cover:

The Four Finalist Covers

   My father lived for quite a few years in So-Hi Estates on the edge of Golden Valley, outside Kingman, Arizona. One day, in the 1990s, my kids and I decided to climb to the top of Castle Rock. This is a photo I took of my daughter Deena near the top. Check out those crazy rock formations! A truly wild place.

Deena C. near the top of Castle Rock

   Found a photo of our visit to Stillwater, Oklahoma in 1999 when we bought the contents of True West magazine, lock, stock and back issues. Here is Steve Gragert in front of their inventory (which cost over $12,000 to ship to Arizona!) and in the background is the editor, Marcus Huff and my partner, and co-buyer, Robert G. McCubbin.

Former owner Steve Gragert Is Secretly Thrilled.

To be getting rid of all those boxes and boxes of back issues.

Daily Whip Out: "Olive In Shadow Series"

Daily Whip Out: "Classic War Bonnet with In-din Head"

"Charles Portis's 'True Grit' is a masterpiece. Don't settle for seeing the film versions. One of the great heroines of all time and a magnificent book filled with great dialogue."
—Anthony Bourdain

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Fond—And Not So Fond—Memories of Clantonville

Flashback Memories in the history of True West

November 1, 1999
Three Mayflower trucks pull up to the new True West offices behind Frontier Town in Cave Creek and demand a cashier’s check for $12,920.40 before they’ll unload. Bob McCubbin dubs the premises “Clantonville” and a new era in the history of the West begins.

Jackass Central: Marcus Huff and BBB

The Huff Remembers Clantonville

Remember it well. Cold pizza from the Horny Toad and Bob in his surf shorts and Stetson. Photoshop never worked. We had to beg advertisers to take a chance. Story ideas came and went. We laughed a lot. We fought harder. Dozens of groupies and trendies wanted in. In the end, only Boze and I remained. Late nights and more laughs. Worried investors and office managers. Photo shoots and loud music. Cold feet because we couldn't afford heat. Pancakes at Bozeville. The toilet was always clogged. The hate mail was inspired. We did it our way.
—Marcus Huff

"I was born knowing the truth. Everybody is. Trouble is they get it knocked out of them before they can walk."

—Bob Dylan

Another Sketchbook Bites The Dust

November 28, 2017
   Back from Mexico and the beach. While I was there I finished the last page of my latest sketchbook. Funny what you can accomplish if you fill one page a day. Here is a review, starting with the first page:

Daily Whip Outs: "Sketchbook, Sept. 1, 2017

   I was intrigued by the word "Hammerhead," and wondered if there was a title in there. That's why it's randomly placed at the top of the page. Not sure it works, but that's why it's there.

   It was also in this sketchbook, where I finished the Wild Bill book and there are pages and pages of notes and sketches and ideas that never took flight (A coding System?!):

Daily Whip Outs: "Sketchbook, Sept. 8, 2017

   I finished the Wild Bill book at 4:57 on October 18. Here is that page:

Daily Whip Outs: "Sketchbook, Oct. 18, 2017"

Moved from there into marketing and noodling the next project:

Daily Whip Outs: "Sketchbook, Oct. 26, 2017"

Also took a swing at certain lighting effects:

Daily Whip Outs: "Sketchbook, Nov. 27, 2017"

  Now I'm shifting gears to focus on narrative for a certain captivo:

Daily Whip Out: "Olive In Shadow"

"You must be in tune with the times and prepared to break with tradition."
—James Agee

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Chicken Scratch On The Beach And Bushwhackers Galore

November 26, 2017
   Last day on the beach. Lounged around and did a page of sketches:

Daily Whip Outs: "Puerto Penasco Sketches"

   Yesterday, we had a Chicken Scratch band on the beach and I had to run down and give them a big, fat tip.

Chicken Scratch Puerto Penasco Style

   This is bushwhacker country so I'm always on the lookout for Jim Hatzell types.

Bushwhackers Galore

   "Based on a true story means once upon a time."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Saturday, November 25, 2017

On The Beach And Olive In Relief

November 25, 2017
   Sometimes we just need to just get away and recharge. And when I get in that mode, my mind goes south. Took off Friday morning and motored the back way through Buckeye and stopped at this place for breakfast:

The Sheep Camp in Buckeye, Arizona

   Tom Augherton and I discovered this little neighborhood cafe a couple years ago when we came down for the Buckeye Rodeo parade. I love these little places off the beaten path, because I love to hear the local guys BS-ing during their daily coffee klatch discussions: "Twenty-five percent of the new cars don't even have a spare. Don't need 'em anymore when a tire can have a nail in it and you can still drive for 40 miles." I'm sorry, but you don't get this valuable kind of information at Cracker Barrel.

   Got to the border at about noon and landed in our beachfront condo at one. Brought some work with me:

Daily Whip Out: "Olive In Relief"

       But this is why we came.

Sunset on Sandy Beach.

The view out our window this morning.

"Nobody is interested in accuracy; they are interested in things being Western."
—Hernan Diaz

Friday, November 24, 2017

Why Am I In Why?

November 24, 2017
   Found myself in Why yesterday.

A wonderful mural on the side of the bathroom at the
Why Not Travel center in Why, AZ.

   For those of you who don't know, it's named Why because back at the turn of the Twentieth Century when the post office submitted the name of the town—"Y"—which is where two roads came together south of Ajo, Arizona, the post office told them a post office for a town in Arizona had to have at least three letters so the town fathers—or mother—said, okay, the name of the town is Why.

   So that's Why.

   Also in Why is this gorgeous fountain:

The Gurgling Pickup Truck Cab Fountain at Why, Arizona.

   What a state. What a town.

"Why go on living, if you can't live in Why?"
—A proposed slogan for Why, Arizona

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Few Words of Sympathy to All My Fellow Men Who Have Behaved Badly

November 23, 2017
   It's a day to give thanks and that is exactly what I'm going to do.

I finally got down to the Scottsdale Museum of the West
to see the poster show and I am thankful for that
and all the great Westerns that inspired them.

   I'm thankful for my family and my extended family, and that includes all of you.

   Sometimes we have to give thanks for the wishes and desires that didn't come true.

   Many years ago I was talking to the manager of two legendary Outlaw Country stars who toured together and he told about getting on the plane to take the entourage to the next gig and as he walked down the aisle, in every row a band member had a groupie bent over his lap.

   My honest reaction at the time was: "Gee, how do I get me some of that?"

   But I was too shy, or insecure,  or unhip, to get to that level of success. Looking back, I am truly thankful for that deficiency.

   And honestly, I don't get the potted plant deal. And for THAT, I'm REALLY thankful!

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."
—Old Vaquero Saying

   Looking back, the whole sex thing is such a curse. I lived a joyous life until puberty. Little League, Boy Scouts, American Flyer train sets. Then came testosterone. To think I spent the better part of a century thinking of almost nothing else but how to get my dick wet. Really troubling and pathetic when you think about it. True, I got two wonderful kids out of the deal so I am thankful for that.

Sometimes we writers are too hip for the room.
This is one of those times. But I am thankful for all
my wacky friends.

   So I missed out on some shallow and immature notions of "success," but with the daily onslaught of humiliating news about all my successful, fellow men walking the gauntlet of shame, I give thanks I don't have to deal with the inevitable fallout from that so-called success.

"Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem."
—Henry Kissinger

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Tale of Two Sets: Tombstone vs. Wyatt Earp

November 21, 2017
     I think it's possible I am the only person on the planet who had the privilege of visiting the movie set of Tombstone, in June of 1993, and then the competing Wyatt Earp set, the day after Thanksgiving of the same year.

   This happened because of my therapist (long story). I arrived at  Cook's Ranch-movie set outside Santa Fe, New Mexico as the guest of the production manger. He had purchased more than 70 copies of my recently published book, "The Illustrated Life & Times of Wyatt Earp" as gifts for his carpenters and crew, who had carefully built Dodge City, which had been grafted onto the existing set, complete with stockyards and shipping pens, at a cost of $2.5 Million. When I saw the ambitious sprawl for the first time, I gasped, "Holy Guacamole, you could rebuild my hometown of Kingman on Bell Road in Phoenix for $2.5 million!"

   When I asked what they were going to do for the Tombstone scenes, he said dryly, "Oh, we just moved over a street." And here is that street, doubling as Fremont Street:

The Walkdown. What's especially accurate about this scene
is the couple on the balcony looking on with curiosity. In most movie portrayals of the fight, the townspeople are oblivious to what is coming, but in the real Tombstone, the entire town was a buzz with the rumors of a fight between the cow-boys and the Earps.

It was very cold on the set that day with a biting wind. Costner showed up around 2:30 and they filmed a cattle scene in a tiny corral. It's a transition scene and barely shows in the movie and I stood there freezing to death and watched them redo it a dozen times and I couldn't tell you what it was about.

Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner) and Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid)
get serious at the bar.

   Costner was fresh off his box office juggernaut Dances With Wolves and could do just about anything he wanted. He told Warner Brothers he wanted to do a six-part TV series—a la Lonesome Dove—on the life of Wyatt Earp and the studio paid Dan Gordon to write six-hours worth of script. In the meantime Costner got wind of the competing Kevin Jarre project, Tombstone (in fact it was offered to Kevin and he read the script), so Costner quickly shifted gears and told the studio he now wanted to convert the six-hour miniseries into a major motion picture and the race was on. Costner had the ponies (a reported $55 million budget against $20 million for the Jarre project).

Costner physically made a good Wyatt Earp although,
 I think he chose the wrong hat.

Wyatt Earp (1994) was literally upstaged by Tombstone which came out six months earlier, (I saw the premiere in Tempe on December 20, 1993) and even though it had great promotion, Wyatt Earp was too late in the cycle and got beat up over the comparisons. However, the relationship with Earp and Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid) is still pretty strong and authentic.

John Behan (Mark Harmon) and his posse. The rumor on the set was that Costner had been upstaged by Alan Rickman in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991) and he, or the director Lawrence Kasdan, insisted that the outlaws in Wyatt Earp wear drab browns, like in old B-Westerns where care was taken not to outshine Hoppy's outfit.

   I think this is the key difference between the two movies. In Tombstone the cowboys, and Curly Bill in particular, are dressed flamboyantly like land-locked pirates and the end result is wilder and more fun. Costner's version is much more laced up and tamer. And perhaps that is the key to any good movie. There needs to be a little wildness, something unexpected, and in Tombstone the costuming and the Buckaroos gave the movie an edge Wyatt Earp didn't have.

Once, when I was watching TV and landed on Tombstone while channel surfing, Kathy walked by and stopped. I turned to look at her and she said, almost mesmerized: "Oh, this is different." This is a woman who can't stand most Westerns and what I think she meant by this is, Tombstone looks different from most Westerns where the outlaws wear brown pants and try not to upstage the star.

Long Story Short
   When I turned forty I hit the wall as an artist. I had never believed in writer's block but now I had it, bad. Finally, Kathy, who is a therapist said, "You need to go see someone." She found me a therapist who specializes in artists who hit the wall at forty. I'm not kidding. He wrote his graduate thesis on the subject and regaled me with all the artists who have hit the wall at the age of forty and then flamed out. His told me that when we sensitive types turn forty, we can see the finish line and none of us are where we thought we'd be. We also can see all the people who are ahead of us, some of them taking victory laps and having fun, while we are way back at the third turn trudging along. So, we either drown ourselves in drugs and booze, or we suck it up and charge on with a new effort. Anyway, thanks to William Heywood, I finished my Wyatt Earp book and dedicated it to him. The book premiered at Suzanne Brown's Art Gallery in Scottsdale in October of 1993, and a couple weeks later he took the book, and went on a vacation to Santa Fe where he and his girlfriend rented a casita near the Plaza. His next door neighbor introduced himself and said he was in the film industry. Turns out he was the production manager for a movie being filmed there called Wyatt Earp. 

"Pay attention. The Universe is trying to help you!"
—Old Vaquero Saying

Monday, November 20, 2017

Heaven's Gate Debate And The Wrong License Plate Date

November 20, 2017
   I've got to hand it to Dr. John Langallier, who just returned from a road trip to LA and brought me a slew of very cool still photos for our big, Historically Accurate Westerns feature. John sure knows how to find rare gems:

Wardrobe and Make-up shot for "Baker's Men" in the film "Arizona" (1939)

   Those guys look darn good with a couple nitpick criticisms. And this is pretty early. Shows you people have been trying to get it right for a long time.

   Here's a jaw-dropping set with a specially built train that had to be packed in, piece by piece to the set. Check out the steam rising from the multiple chimneys and the hordes of extras snaking back up that street.

"Heaven's Gate"

"Ulzana's Raid"

   Great photo and it looks really authentic, except for that wrangler at the end of the line in the 1972 Resistol. This remind me of a great quote about directing:

“It is all detail, detail, detail. A hundred million, thousand, billion details. When it's raining and your girlfriend or your wife is saying, 'Why aren't you doing such and such?' and the person you are working with has to go home and return a call to his press agent, and lunch is being served, and the head of the union says, ‘Well, you have to stay out there for another 10 minutes because they have to have coffee,’ and then the camera breaks down, and there is noise, a plane flying over, and this wasn’t the location that you wanted... are you going to have the energy to devote to the detail of saying, ‘That license plate is the wrong year’? That’s where the stamina, the real fight comes in.” 
—Warren Beatty

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Keeping It Real: The Real West vs. The Reel West

November 18, 2017
   Still wrestling with a major conundrum: Is there such a thing as a historically accurate Western, and, does it really matter?

   Personally, I think we all want authenticity in our lives. We seek it out. We hate fakery and we want the real deal.

Is a cowboy in Brooklyn the Real Deal?

   In the past month we have built a pretty strong case that there are certainly scenes, or specific moments, in Westerns, that are quite accurate and we love these moments, although we can't all agree on the same moments. One film, however, stands out heads and shoulders above almost everything else:

Buckaroos Advance: attention to detail
is appreciated in "Tombstone."

   Meanwhile, there is a palpable disdain for the "reel" West among history types. Since we bought True West in 1999 I have constantly heard the sarcastic refrain, "Why don't you rename the magazine Reel West?" I've always found it a little amusing, since it's been my experience that whenever a group of scholars, or history buffs, go out drinking, the subject almost always turns to movies. As Paul Hutton put it in his masterful take (actually more of a take down on my premise!), most of us came to the real West from the reel West.

"The Alamo" On Track (1960): getting the shot at what cost?

   Hutton and I love to disagree on what constitutes authenticity in Westerns. He mocks the effort to get the correct pistol in Billy the Kid's hands in "Young Guns" only then to have him shoot Murphy (Jack Palance) which, Hutton claims is bad history (we agree on that part). But, as we each make our cases, it's clear to me that one person's mockery is another's Holy Grail. And long may that Holy Mockery Wave.

Film Director King Vidor surveys his custom-built
kingdom of Lincoln for "Billy the Kid."

   So, is it an exercise in futility? Perhaps, but it's fun to argue about this stuff. And if it's not any fun, why even do it? The way I look at it, we're keeping it real.

   And, by the way, the cowboy up top is Pedro "Joe" Esquivel, billed as a champion vaquero, who was photographed in Brooklyn, New York at a Buffalo Bill show. Pedro may have been authentic, but the setting is not. And so it goes.

"Most of the fiction in this world comes from people who are repeating true stories."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Friday, November 17, 2017

When True West Had A Resident Punk

November 17, 2017
   Doc Ingalls has a great look as an authentic Old West character and he shows up in a lot of my work, for example, right here:

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill Wagonmaster"

   Doc has also posed for some Out-There concepts as well, like this:

The Old West Has A New Look!

   Indeed, this was back in the year 2000 when we had another publication, in addition to True West, called Old West Journal. Here is an ad for it:

An ad for Old West Journal that ran in True West, July of 2000

   "Old West Journal" was the brainchild of myself and Marcus Huff. It was daring and edgy and doomed after only a couple issues. Jesse worked at Clantonville, the shabby headquarters of True West, back in the day, located on the other side of the wash from The Goatsucker Saloon in downtown Cave Creek. Here she is in our masthead:

True West Resident Punk: Jesse Adams

Gee, I wonder where she is today?

"Success is women you don't even know walking around your house."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Billy the Kid Going The Other Way

November 17, 2017
   I was getting beat up on Facebook about our proposed cover of Emilio Estevev in "Young Guns" and the real Kid. Buffs were berating Emilio's tie-down and so I called our Art Director, Dan "The Man" Harshberger, and when I told him the problem with the tie down he chortled and said, "He's got a tie down on both legs!" So, I asked him to reverse the images and take out the tie downs and here is how it looks going the other way:

Billy the Kid: Split Down The Middle"

   In addition to this, everyone is asking me about the new Billy the Kid photo that appeared in the New York Times. Is it really him? Here is my take on it:

"Rile up the natives, but Advise persons not to engage in killing."
—John Fusco

A Mesquite Tree Sunset Begets A Fools Errand

November 17, 2017
   I was sitting in the Triple B breezeway last night, enjoying a glass of Cabernet when I spied this view out the front gate. I would call this a "Mesquite Tree Sunset." By the way, the sun is setting on the opposite mountains, to the left of this and Continental Mountain, is in the east. A reflective sunset in more ways than one.

A Mesquite Tree Sunset

A Fool's Errand
   So, back to work. This morning I wanted to make a solid case for our search for the most authentic Westerns and I asked Professor Paul Andrew Hutton to write up 100 words on the accuracy of "The Alamo" (2004). Instead, he wrote this.

Western History Vs. Western Film
The Western, be it a novel or a film, always carries with it the burden of history. For much of our nation’s existence the West was the story of America. Frederick Jackson Turner, our greatest historian, wrote that the American character—and thus American exceptionalism—came from the settlement of the frontier from Jamestown to Wounded Knee. It is that history that provides the setting for every Western film: be it a historical epic like The Iron Horse, The Plainsman, They Died with Their Boots On, Broken Arrow, The Alamo, or Tombstone; a morality play such as Stagecoach, Shane, The Ox-Bow Incident, High Noon, Ride the High Country, or True Grit; or even a whimsical farce such as Destry, The Outlaws is Coming, Alias Jesse James, Sergeants Three, Blazing Saddles, or countless Gene Autry and Roy Rogers singing cowboy pictures. All are set in a seemingly mythical land and yet are grounded in a particular time and place—the American frontier.
To seek points of accuracy in the Western film is at best a delightful parlor game, and if taken too seriously it is a fool’s errand, for every movie is essentially a three act play. Once the first word of dialogue is written it is a work of fiction. Thus every Western film, just like every Western novel, is fiction, not history, entertainment not fact.  Many so-called Western documentaries, with invented dialogue, are also fiction masquerading as history. Westerns often go to great pains to be historically accurate in detail but then go off the rails in terms of story. I call this The Plainsman syndrome after one of my favorite films. In Cecil B. DeMille’s epic the wallpaper and a ceramic statue in General Custer’s office are correct (copied from a famous photo of Custer and his wife Libbie that is in the DeMille research collection at BYU), but almost everything else in the film is wildly inaccurate. DeMille even had to fight with the studio to be allowed to kill Gary Cooper’s Hickok at the end of the movie—the studio heads wanted a happy ending. In Young Guns the pistol used by Billy the Kid is accurate, and he then uses it to kill Jack Palance’s villainous Murphy at the film’s climax. This is a delightful if small accurate gun detail, a good piece of story development with the evil villains death, but some really bad history.  In Tombstone an elaborate dance of death is played out between Ringo and Holliday so that the dead outlaw can be properly laid out under a tree with an accurate head wound (a detail grasped by only a handful of viewers). The only problem is that Holliday did not kill Ringo. In the 2004 Alamo from Disney great stock is put in historical accuracy, and yet the set designer changed the scale of the set so that the famed chapel façade could be seen from most camera angles and the costume designer placed almost all the defenders in top hats and frock coats to distance the film from John Wayne’s buckskin-clad defenders in the 1960 The Alamo. It was as if every defender was a lawyer or businessman, not the farmers and frontiersmen that they actually were. Crockett is stripped of his signature coonskin cap as well. To make matters worse the Crockett character is repeatedly called David not Davy and it is even pointed out in dialogue that he prefers to be called David. In reality the famed backwoods politician was called Davy by contemporaries even though he signed his name David. In The Revenant Hugh Glass hunts down and kills the man who deserted him after the bear attack—once again a good story that satisfies the audience but totally inaccurate history. More often than not when a film claims in opening credits to be true to history it often goes wildly astray—two classic examples are Hour of the Gun and Little Big Man.
My favorite historical Westerns tend to be those that get at the heart of why we remain so fascinated with the West and why that story still resonates today. John Ford was the undisputed master of this. Thus my favorite Custer film is Fort Apache, in which the names and locale are changed but which perfectly explains the necessity of a false western legend to our national identity, and my favorite Wyatt Wyatt Earp film remains My Darling Clementine, in which almost every historical detail is wrong and yet the mythic power of the Tombstone saga is perfectly captured. These films go to the heart of James Warner Bellah’s oft-quoted line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance—“This is the West sir, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
I love historical Westerns—both films and novels. My first interest in history came about as a result of Disney’s Davy Crockett, and my fascination with the Apache Wars can be attributed to Elliott Arnold’s novel Blood Brother and the film based on it (Broken Arrow). My love of the Custer story, however, came from the famed Cassilly Adams saloon print that hung in the bar my parents frequented in San Angelo, Texas. I studied that painting for hours while they drank and when I finally saw They Died with Their Boots On I was confident that the painting and film were “correct in every detail” (a wonderful line about a history painting from John Ford’s Fort Apache). In the nineteenth century epic historical paintings toured the country, and along with Wild West shows and stage plays presented a version of frontier history for mass consumption. The conventions of these paintings and shows were later adopted by filmmakers. The cinematic image of Custer’s Last Stand comes directly from paintings (and in DeMille’s The Plainsman is essentially a living tableau of Alfred Waud’s famous Custer illustration). The visual imagery from nineteenth century canvas flowed easily into twentieth century celluloid. Be it a painting, a stage play, a novel or a film it was always a constructed version of history with often scant resemblance to fact. The goal is entertainment, not education. As a famous producer once quipped: if you want to send a message call Western Union!
The great legacy of these historical paintings, plays, novels and films about western history is that they have inspired generations of Americans—including this writer—to further explore the frontier story and to delve much deeper into our nation’s history. They are the starting point of many a lifetime of adventure in history.
—Paul Andrew Hutton

"Be careful what you ask for."
—Old Vaquero Saying