Who Was This Guy, Really?

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A couple days ago, Ol’ Robbo found himself watching “Tombstone” on one of the cable channels. It’s one of those movies that I’ll always watch if I stumble across it, and even toss into the Netflix queue from time to time, because I like both the story and the cast.  (Kurt Russell and Sam Elliot, for Pete’s sake, along with Stephen Lang and the fellah who played Col. Gamble in “Gettysburg“.  And Robbo can haz moar Dana Delaney, pleez?)

Then, by chance, last evening I watched “My Darling Clementine“, John Ford’s 1946 version of the famous showdown with Henry Fonda in the part of Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as Doc Holliday.  (I forgot I had seen it before.  Frankly, it’s okay but nothing to write home about.  And Monument Valley looks nothing like southern Arizona.)

And as I watched “Clementine”, I found myself musing on other screen treatments of Earp.  Jimmy Stewart plays him as a comic fraud in a completely unnecessary side-story in an otherwise serious and compassionate “Cheyenne Autumn“.  Will Geer plays him as genial and competent in his Dodge City days in “Winchester ’73“.  And I even recall an episode of Star Trek TOS where Kirk and his team get transported by aliens to a Tombstone mock-up with Earp as something of a Terminator.

And as all this flashed through my alleged mind, it occurred to me that I really haven’t the faintest idea who the real Wyatt Earp actually was.  How many brothers did he have and who died where and why?  Was he married or not?  What was he doing in Tombstone to begin with? Why did he get tangled up with the Clantons?  Who actually got kilt at the O-K Corral and did the fight even actually take place there?  What really happened after that?  (In a special feature that accompanied the “Clementine” movie, a history prof suggested that a lot of this ambiguity was the result of Earp’s own efforts to cash in on celebrity self-promotion.)

It’s an interesting crossroads where popular myth and reality clash.  Other obvious Old West examples that spring to mind are Davy Crockett, Billy the Kid and Custer.  (Kit Carson, too, although his mythification occurred during his own lifetime and he’s long forgotten by all but serious students of the period these days.) I find it to be a satisfying intellectual exercise to try and read up on the actual biographical facts (so far as we know them) and plot them against the various fictional portrayals that have come down the line.  In the case of Earp, as I say, I just don’t have a baseline against which to work.  Any friends of the decanter know of a solid biography into which I could dip?

Speaking of which, I suppose it’s appropriate here to mention something that has long bugged Ol’ Robbo:  Recently, I’ve been making my way again through the HBO series “Band of Brothers“.  As fans of that series know, the early episodes have much to do with the incompetent martinetism and eventual humiliation of Easy Company’s first commander, Captain Sobel.  My problem?  He wasn’t a fictional character, but a real man.  And if you read the Stephen Ambrose book on which the series is based, you’ll learn that he led a miserable life, botched a suicide attempt, and died alienated from his entire family.  It just makes me uncomfortable that such a wretched individual – who could have lived to within just a few years ago – should be depicted this way in popular entertainment.  Yes, it was all true,  but still……..

Oh, one other thing:  Ol’ Robbo is becoming increasingly convinced that Netflix is not trying very hard to keep current its DVD library.  The number of films in my “saved” queue marked “Delivery Date Unknown” has got pretty significant over the past year or two, and I’m not talking about obscure titles, but about films that are part of the general canon.  “Sleeper”? “Tora! Tora! Tora!”? “The Man Who Would Be King”, “A Fish Called Wanda” for Heaven’s sake?  If you don’t want to carry such titles anymore, Netflix, for Pete’s sake just say so and drop them from your offerings!