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5.0 out of 5 stars Blake's aim is as true as Wyatt Earp's, December 10, 2006
This review is from: Hollywood And the O.K. Corral: Portrayals of the Gunfight And Wyatt Earp (Paperback)
Michael F. Blake's "Hollywood at the OK Corral" nicely fills a gaping hole in the literature on Wyatt Earp's transition from itinerant lawman, gambler, miner, horse thief, pimp, and con man to the iconic, legendary, and nearly mythical character he is today. The same goes for the evolution of the sudden and shocking street fight in Tombstone to today's metaphor for any vicious gun battle, firefight, or other spot where bullets seem to be flying from all sides. This progression for both the "gunfight at the O.K. Corral" and the one participant who remained standing, untouched by lead, and Hollywood's role in building and shapeshifting the legend, has been discussed and argued about at some length in biographies by Casey Tefertiller, Allen Barra, Tim Fattig, Steve Gatto, and others, and in surveys by George McDonald Fraser and others. But this is the first book-length examination, and it is packed with material not published elsewhere.

Right from the start, the O.K. Corral was the stuff of cinema. It was immediately preceded by what must have been one of the most visually arresting images in Western history, the walk down to destiny by Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan Earp and their ally Doc Holliday. That Blake understands this is clear: his book's cover displays the walkdown most familiar to today's audiences, that of four grim and superbly costumed lawmen played Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton from the movie Tombstone.

Blake begins by reviewing the argued-over facts of Wyatt's life, including the OK Corral. In order to accurately compare the "real" to the "reel," film historian Blake understands the importance of getting the history right. This chapter, as do the later ones, benefits greatly from Blake's use of recent historical research, including the Tefertiller and Barra biographies, and Peter Brand's groundbreaking work on Wyatt's Vendetta riders, such as Sherman McMasters and John Johnson (known to filmgoers as "Turkey Creek Jack"). Blake has also sought insight from descendants of the unfortunate McLaury brothers, including writer Pam Potter. Blake next provides an overview of Earp and Hollywood, from the old Westerner's friendship with William S. Hart, through Hollywood's use of Stuart Lake's powerfully influential book "Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal," and on to the pervasiveness of Earp and the gunfight in American and global culture (e.g., the Star Trek episode, "Spectre of the Gun").

The heart and soul of the book are the separate chapters on the making of eight theatrical O.K. Corral films: Frontier Marshal (1939), Tombstone: the Town Too Tough to Die (1942), My Darling Clementine (1946), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Hour of the Gun (1967), Doc (1971), Tombstone (1993), and Wyatt Earp (1994). Here is where this film historian's nearly half-century immersion in the industry comes into play. (Blake is the son of an actor, a childhood actor himself, and an Emmy-winning make-up artist, as well as published film historian.) Wonderful anecdotes came from a variety of sources, including the subjects of Blake's interviews, including Burt Lancaster and James Garner, "Wyatt Earp" screenwriter Dan Gordon, Tombstone" costumer Joseph Porro, and "Tombstone" historical consultant Jeff Morey. Many wonderful on-the-set photos came from archival sources, including the William S. Hart, John Ford, John Sturges, and Hal Wallis collections.

One of Blake's most important themes is this: "History and Hollywood have never been synchronous when it comes to facts. At best they are civilized adversaries and, at worst, churlish rivals." Blake explains why "historical" films are and must be ahistorical, however much that maddens "buffs" of any historical topic.

Each chapter colorfully reveals the usually difficult gestation of a film, from starry-eyed conception, through arguments over scripts, budgets made and busted, lawsuits threatened, and on-set shouting matches (and at least one angry golf-cart destruction derby), to marketing successes and failures and make-or-break film critic reviews. Each chapter is a delight, precisely because Blake knows how to identify and draw out the conflicts inherent in movie making. In this regard, the making of "Tombstone" was probably the diciest affair. Here Blake's book benefits from the cooperation of Jeff Morey, who helped Kevin Jarre develop perhaps the greatest O.K. Corral script. But each project was an eye-opener. I for one wish the "Doc" chapter had been longer, because one wants to know every detail of how such an abysmal film could ever be made.

The book has a few typos and, as one reviewer noted, at least one miscaptioned picture. The font is a little small for some aging eyes. My biggest complaint is that I wish the book had been bigger. I know Blake must have left some additional good stories out to save space for what's here.

This book is an absolute must for anyone interested in Wyatt Earp, the O.K. Corral, Westerns, and how Hollywood makes any movie.
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