The Western film genre may not appeal to everyone, yet despite that, most people have heard of the 1993 classic American Western film, Tombstone. Thanks to its star-studded cast, the film was somewhat of a revival for the genre, helping it gain popularity once again. For those of you who are fans of the film, you will enjoy learning about some of the behind-the-scenes secrets, brushing up on your knowledge of this legendary movie. For those of you who are less familiar, you will get a taste of one of the classics of our time.
Kevin Jarre, who wrote Tombstone was initially intended to be the director of the film. However, he was replaced in the early stages of production by the legendary George P. Cosmatos. While Jarre was considered to be a very talented writer, this was set to be his first attempt at directing a movie of this scale. Unfortunately, Jarre, overwhelmed by the project was ultimately replaced by Cosmatos, who at the time had a reputation for making films with amazing historical accuracy.
While it was perhaps a loss for some, many people in the production felt a sense of relief when Cosmatos took over. Cosmatos was able to bring a different eye to the film and shine a new light in a way that Jarre couldn’t. This new perspective brought the movie to life, which for a Western film is certainly a feat. Thanks to Cosmatos’s vision and execution, Tombstone is now an all-time classic.
Despite the genre’s major decline in popularity by the ‘90s, Tombstone was able to attract some great film icons of the film industry to be part of the cast. The story was compelling enough to appeal to the likes of Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell, who both felt that the film had real promise.
Alongside these A-list stars were a host of other actors including Powers Boothe, Dana Delany, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, and the Oscar-nominated Sam Elliott. Hollywood legend, Robert Mitchum, gave his voice to the film as the narrator which as a combined cast, gave Tombstone an excellent starting point. Considering this was 1993 and Western movies were totally out of date, compiling this cast was a major accomplishment.
Tombstone may have been released at a time when interest in Western films was low, but despite this, it managed to pull in over $56,500,000 in domestic ticket sales. To all those who thought Westerns had passed their sell-by date and could no longer draw a crowd, Tombstone proved them wrong. The movie was released on Christmas Eve of 1993 and won over audiences.
It wasn’t just the fans who loved the movie. The critics also gave it positive reviews which probably encouraged some of the more skeptical viewers to go and see it. Ranking at number 14 of the highest grossing Western movies since 1979 is a fantastic achievement, especially considering that so many people doubted its success.
Bob Dylan’s Obsession
Tombstone also had a celebrity following, among them was music star, Bob Dylan. The feeling was clearly mutual as Val Kilmer was once quoted as saying, “One of my favorites was Bob Dylan, who was obsessed with Tombstone.”
Speaking of one of their meetings, Val Kilmer recounts how much of an honor it was that Bob Dylan came to see him at his hotel. During their conversation, he remembers that Dylan eventually said, ‘Ain’t you gonna say anything about that movie?”. Kilmer was pretty starstruck over the encounter and felt extremely flattered over the fact that all Dylan wanted to do was discuss the film. Read on to learn more about the real-life “Doc” Holliday.
Michael Biehn Wanted to Get Shot
If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ll know there is a scene where Doc Holliday, who is played by Val Kilmer, shoots Jonny Ringo, played by Michael Biehn. Many fans didn’t want this to happen, but Biehn gave an interview where he revealed: “I wanted him to shoot me!”. This may seem strange to viewers and fans, but this just showed how invested in the movie the actors were. Very impressive!
Indeed, it went with the character as Biehn continued to say, “Well, I always thought Johnny Ringo had a little bit of a ‘suicide by police’ mentality.” During the interview, he mentioned how he still feels that Tombstone has one of the greatest moments on film and stated, “Yeah, that’s what I was trying to do, and that’s what I got.” Clearly, Biehn saw the acting as a success.
A Legendary Scene
The scene where Jonny Ringo is shot by Doc Holliday is one of the favorites among the cast and crew of Tombstone. Speaking about the impact of the scene, Sam Elliott described the acting as “incredible.” He was quoted in an interview as saying, “They’re both so good, and you just know this moment is coming all the way through the film. You’re salivating by the time it does come.”
The dramatic tension was fitting for such a movie, adding to the atmosphere and bringing the story together in a climactic moment. It certainly left fans entertained and encouraged them to give the film the great reviews it deserved.
“That Adrenaline Rush”
Holliday was not the only one who enjoyed the thrills in life. As Biehn said of his character, Johnny Ringo, he liked to live on the edge from which he would get an adrenaline rush, especially if his life was in danger. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do in the Old West except sit around and drink, so for Johnny, who sought out the thrills in life, things could get a little dull.
Biehn explains Johnny’s day-to-day, was made mostly up of sitting around in hot and stuffy saloons, drinking warm beers, (there was no air conditioning back then) In an interview, Beihn said that his character was just a drunk guy who had a real thirst for adventure. Biehn continued saying ”and it’s Tombstone, and if you’ve ever been down there, it’s hot all the time, so it would be pretty miserable if you ask me.” We don’t think it’s surprising that Johnny got himself into sticky situations all the time, but then again, he lived for them!
A Favorite Character
For Michael Biehn, the role of Johnny Ringo was a chance of a lifetime. He said he loved playing his character and really connected to his personality. It was a challenging role as Johnny was a complex character, though he enjoyed it nevertheless. If he had to rank his favorite parts, Johnny Ringo would have been near the top along with his portrayal of Kyle Reese from the Terminator It’s no coincidence that Biehn has a special fondness for these roles, as these two characters actually have a lot in common.
Biehn says that Reese was almost a futuristic version of Johnny Ringo and there were many similarities in their characters. It’s no surprise then that Beihn would connect with these two characters and rank them among his favorite to play. He certainly did the job well as they are two iconic characters from equally legendary movies.
Tombstone was the “Bubble Gum” Version of a Western
While Michael Biehn had a lot of praise for Tombstone, he did also have some criticism. The actor recognized the film’s contribution in re-energizing the Western film genre in the early ’90s, but said that the film, “ain’t history” and even though he enjoyed his role as Johnny Ringo and his time on set, he compared it to “the latest pop hit.” Perhaps he feels that Tombstone is a watered-down version of other Western classics?
He does, however, credit Kevin Jarre, who wrote the script. , According to Biehn, Tombstone was a success because it had a great script and that’s why it was played by such Hollywood greats like Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. The cast was filled with big names, each of them giving the performance of their careers. These screen legends included Sam Elliott who has since been nominated for an Oscar, Billy Paxton, Billy Zane, Thomas Haden Church, Jason Priestly, Powers Boothe, Frank Stallone, and even Billy Bob Thornton.
The Movie Was Fun
With all these legends around on set, it wouldn’t surprise you to know that it was actually a lot of fun to film. Even though Michael Biehn has been vocal about the movie’s shortcomings, calling it a “bubble gum version” as well as the problems with production, sacking Kevin Jarre and bringing in George Cosmatos very early on, he still reflected on how much fun it was to make.
It wasn’t just the making of the movie that was fun but the film itself. Helped by its excellent script and some equally great performances but some of the world’s best actors. The fun they had on set definitely translated onto the screen, and as Michael Biehn puts it, “By the time it got cut together, and I saw it, I thought it was really good.” The audience clearly felt the fun too as it got a lot of laughs. Perhaps it was the gun twirling or the excellent script that people could quote. The characters enjoyed their roles and played them well, which added to the fun and enjoyment.
(Almost) Everyone Grew Their Own Mustache
You may have realized this when watching the movie, but almost the entire male cast have mustaches. Moreover, they are the same kind of mustache that curls up at the end. Michael Biehn explained that the writer, Kevin Jarre, had a vision about how the mustaches should look and that he wanted them to curl up. To do this, you have to grow the mustache long enough, so then you can use wax on the ends to curl it. Perhaps it was for authenticity purposes, but almost everyone grew their own mustache for the film.
Talking about the mustaches, Michael Biehn said that “Everyone was pretty proud that they grew their own mustache.” Jon Tenney, however, was the exception as he had a commitment to another project which required another style of facial hair. As Biehn puts it, “I think he always felt a little bit like the small dog of the group. Because it wasn’t his real mustache.”
Kevin Jarre was Fired Over Wanting Complete Creative Control
As the writer of a movie script and being the director, you would think that you would have the prerogative to demand things be a certain way. For Kevin Jarre, this was precisely the thing that got him fired off the set of Tombstone. It couldn’t have been easy losing that vision from the movie, and Michael Biehn describes this as a “hard time.”
The cast must have felt the void and certainly felt sad over Jarre’s departure. Every aspect of that movie was envisioned by that director. and it is hard not to convey it. He just wanted everything to be the way he imagined it. He was there from script, to casting, and to the early stages of production. He had a hand on everything from saddles and spurs and even mustache length. Everything had to be a certain way, including the dialogue. Ultimately, it was because of his rigidity on set, that the actors felt so creatively stifled. As a result, Jarre was fired from the movie, and George P. Cosmatos was brought in to replace him.
A Sad Departure
It was not an easy decision, and many members of the cast and crew were sorry to see Jarre be fired from the movie. According to Sam Elliot, this was one of the biggest challenges in the making of Tombstone. It mainly affected Kurt Russel, who found it very difficult without Jarre on set. Elliott added that it was actually heartbreaking as Jarre was the one with the vision, “The sad part of it was this guy was a brilliant writer, and he knew the elements. He brought all those elements together.”
On hearing the news, everyone involved in the making of this film pulled together to make this vision alive. They felt that they wanted to do that for Kevin and honor the script the way he imagined it. Kurt Russel, who felt particularly sad when Jarre was fired, said, “We gotta pull this thing off, do this for him.”
A Modern Retelling
Kevin Jarre’s vision was specific, and even though it was released in 1993, he wanted the look and feel to be like it was shot in the 1940s, like a classic Western. Jarre wanted the movie to be done in a long master shot, but the production crew didn’t agree. Even though this was how things were shot in the 40s and would have been more authentic, it was decided that Jarre should not be the director of Tombstone.
The production crew was eager to do a modern retelling of an old story. Kevin Jarre fought for his vision as he was so passionate about this movie. It would eventually be the main reason why he was fired.
A Handpicked Cast
Kevin Jarre had taken a very hands-on role throughout his involvement in Tombstone. Before he was fired as the director, he had been able to hand pick the cast, which included the likes of the Oscar-nominated Sam Elliott. He remembers the first time he met Jarre about his role in Tombstone.
Elliott recalls going to have lunch with Kevin Jarre at an eatery on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, which probably doesn’t even exist anymore. It was where Kevin Jarre had held all of his meetings for the movie, in fact, Elliott describes it like he was “holding court in the restaurant.” Speaking of Jarre’s vision, Elliott said, “I think Kevin’s the one who really controlled this thing creatively before it got off the ground.”
The Script Was Brilliant
Every film brings a unique feeling or experience to its cast. For the majority of the stars of Tombstone, they felt a strong connection to the project mainly because of its script. To be specific, most of them fell in love with it! For Sam Elliot, it was easy to become drawn it to Tombstone’s script, because it was complete and dynamic, and was outstanding in every way he could think of. It had its own dialogue, it embodied Kevin Jarre’s brilliance as a scriptwriter, and every character from top to bottom was well depicted. Jarre also managed to bring in actors that you typically wouldn’t envision on a Western movie, like Val Kilmer.
For Sam Elliot, Val Kilmer’s performance on Tombstone was the masterpiece of his entire career. Val Kilmer was instantly convinced on the script after he read the line “I’m your huckleberry.” He asked Jarre about the line and where it came from and even though Jarre wasn’t able to give out an exact response to his answer, the actor, nevertheless, loved it and became completely sold on his character because of it.
The Cast Were Not crazy About George Cosmatos
The cast had built up a strong rapport with Kevin Jarre, so when he was fired from the movie and replaced with George Cosmatos it took some time for the actors to adjust. Having been handpicked by Jarre, Sam Elliott said of Cosmatos that “he was a whole other animal.” There may have been a clash between Cosmatos and some of the cast. Sam Elliott recalls an exchange with him right at the beginning of shooting. Elliott would come to set even on the days when he wasn’t filming any scenes. He felt it was good to be part of the whole process, and besides, it was more fun than sitting around the hotel all day. He recalled how one day, Cosmastos came up to him, looking at him from behind his dark glasses and asked, m I gonna have trouble with you?”
Talking about the incident, Sam Elliott remembers how he reacted when Cosmatos asked him the question. In a cool, calm and collected manner he recalls he looked him straight back and returned the question asking, “I don’t know, am I gonna have trouble with you?” Cosmatos must have realized that Sam Elliott was a professional who was there to do a job to the best of his ability. The two ended up laughing about it and in the end, got completely fine. This could have set things off on completely the wrong foot with George Cosmatos, but luckily no one took offense and things eventually started to click when the camera’s started rolling. Sam Elliott was able to take the comment in his stride and maintained his good spirit.
The Film Started To Come Together
George Cosmatos simply had a different vibe to Sam Elliot, and he appeared somewhat intense, so to speak. Everyone was not comfortable with him as well, but despite the shaky start with the entire cast and production crew, everything eventually fell into place. Following Sam Elliot’s staredown with Cosmatos and the provocative question on whether he was going to be trouble for him, the actor didn’t back down from the new director of the movie.
When Cosmatos asked Elliot the question “Am I gonna have trouble with you?” the actor simply looked right back at him, straight in the eye and said, “I don’t know, am I gonna have trouble with you?” After his strong stance and unexpected response, Cosmatos just laughed and told Elliot that they were going to get along just fine… And they did!
Ultimately, Tombstone is About Friendship
For all of the drama in Tombstone, at its core, it is a story about friendship. It was Val Kilmer who spoke about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday’s bond, however unlikely it was. They were seemingly different characters who, on the surface, didn’t have much in common, but they had a level of empathy with each other that was very special.
Wyatt Earp was a lawman who gets the opportunity to earn some money and live a stress-free and wealthy life- the American Dream. However, something stops him, and he is forced to do the right thing. He could have just escaped and lived a life of leisure, which many of us would love to do. Yet he “did the right thing,” which is a very American concept. Conversely, his best friend is Doc, who we know has killed people and has a crazy side, and yet through it all, the two who appear to be very different characters remain close friends.
The Real-Life Story
John Henry Holliday was known in history as an American gambler, gunfighter, and dentist - hence the nickname “Doc”-, but most importantly, a dear friend of Wyatt Earp. Although Tombstone might have depicted Doc Holliday as a “good guy at heart,” the truth is, Val Kilmer’s character was the exact opposite if you look at the historical accounts. Doc Holliday was notorious for being the “slickest gunslinger in the west” and was believed to be a binge drinker and gambling addict at the same time and was “known to have sliced open a man’s stomach when the man refused to follow the [gambling] rules” that he established.
Eventually, Doc Holiday would be vindicated for his involvement during the OK Corral shootout and moved to Colorado because of its good weather. Unfortunately though, his alcohol and gambling vice became even more severe, until at 37 years old, he passed away from Tuberculosis. It’s the same illness that claimed his mother’s life when he was just 15 years old – Holliday was thought to have acquired Tuberculosis from his mother, while he was tending to her needs during the contagious phases of her illness.
Charlton Heston’s Role
The role of Henry Hooker was played by the legendary actor, Charles Heston. In the original script, Heston’s part was quite large, and this was to show the closeness between Wyatt Earp and Henry Hooker. Charles Heston was also one of the most well-known actors at the time, so it made sense to cast him into a role where they could maximize his star quality.
Interestingly, there are many similarities between Henry Hooker and the actor who played him, Charles Heston. Both men lived a long life, Hooker dying just before he turned 80, and Heston dying at 84. Henry Hooker lived and owned an enormous 250,000-acre estate in Arizona which was home to the Sierra Bonita Ranch. Famous for being one of the oldest cattle ranches in the United States, Sierra Bonita is also a national landmark.
Where was Robert Mitchum?
Robert Mitchum, who was one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors and was featured in Tombstone as the narrator. But how did this come about? Surely an actor of his ability could have featured in the movie. After all, he played the role of Max Cady in the original Cape Fear. The same role was later performed by the great Robert De Niro.
It was intended that Robert Mitchum would play the role of Old Man Clanton, but on his first day on set, he had an accident horse riding and fell off, causing injury to his back. It was decided that, due to his age, (he was in his late 70s) that his character, Old Man Clanton, be removed entirely from the script. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to have Robert Mitchum involved in the movie, he was cast as the narrator, and so his voice can be heard throughout the film.
Billy Claiborne- Real Life Wyatt Earp Connection
Wyatt Earp is not only the name of one of the characters in Tombstone but of another actor who famously played roles including Billy Claiborne, another famous outlaw of the Wild West. In a crazy coincidence Wyatt Earp, the actor, is, in fact, a distant relative of the original Wyatt Earp. Perhaps his parents knew they were related and so named him after his famous cousin.
Billy Claiborne was also present at the OK Corral incident, but when things got dangerous, he decided to run away and flee the scene as he was unarmed. Unfortunately, Claiborne died at the young age of 22 when he got into a brawl with the infamous “Buckskin” Frank Leslie. Billy was said to have drunkenly confronted the notorious gunfighter. This clearly did not end well. Conversely, the actor Wyatt Earp has had a long and successful career doing a variety of acting and voice-over work.
Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo famously do a scene in Tombstone entirely in Latin. The view is full of confrontation, but what are they actually saying to one another? We’ve translated the scene below while looks as follows: Doc Holliday: In vino veritas - In wine, there is the truth. Johnny Ringo: Age quod agis – Do what you do. Doc Holliday: Credat Judaeus Apella, non-ego – Apella the Jew may believe it, not I. Johnny Ringo: Iuventus stultorum magister – Youth is the teacher of fools. Doc Holliday: In pace requiescat – May he rest in peace.
This conversation is pretty cryptic, so if you’re interested in understanding the meaning behind the words, then keep reading!
Reference to Roman Culture
Some of these lines are a bit more obvious in meaning, and some require some further interpretation. For example, the mention of Apella the Jew could be a reference to Horace. It could also be an example of holding contempt for something. It is said that in Roman times, the Jews believed that the divine was weaved into every day was ridiculed. Perhaps in this scene, Doc is mocking Johnny for being uneducated?
It is very possible, according to historians that Doc Holliday may have been educated in Latin. However, it is agreed that it is unlikely that Johnny Ringo would have been able to speak and understand it with such fluency. Therefore, we can assume that Doc was ridiculing Johnny.
Other Actors Who Missed Out On Roles
Tombstone was very nearly not the way it was pitched. There were different actors in mind to play those now iconic roles. Doc Holliday, which was eventually played by Val Kilmer, was initially intended for Willem Dafoe. There was some controversy around Dafoe has he had recently played a role in The Last Temptation of Christ. Buena Vista, who was the production company of Tombstone said they would not distribute the film if he had a part in it, and so the casting team was left with no choice but to offer the role to Val Kilmer.
This was not the only switch in the casting. Mickey Rourke was rumored to have been offered the role of Johnny Ringo but it was eventually played by Michael Biehn. Glenn Ford, who was well known for his roles in Western genre movies was meant to play Marshall White but couldn’t take the part because of ill health, and it was eventually given to Harry Carey, Jr. George Cosmatos was also not the only name in the running for the role of director. John Carpenter who is best known for his horror films including Escape from New York, Vampires and Prince of Darkness almost signed on to be the director.
Kevin Jarre, who wrote the script and was very much the creative vision behind Tombstone was also supposed to be the director of the movie. He was abruptly fired when it became clear he was not willing to compromise on anything. One part of his vision was to ensure that everything is as authentic as possible, including the costumes. Val Kilmer said he remembered how important it was to Kevin Jarre and that it was his vision that brought the movie to life.
The authenticity of the costumes went to the smallest of details. Jarre wanted to convince viewers that they were watching a Western movie from the Western era in the ’40s, not a remake in the ’90s. This means that he insisted all the costumes were to be made out of real wool, just as the men at the time would have worn. The movie was shot during the heat of the summer in the middle of Arizona so you can imagine how uncomfortable it would have been for the actors. Val Kilmer recalled shooting the scene in the Birdcage Theater, and there was a thermometer there which read 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Val joked that it was no wonder Doc Holliday went around killing people. He said, “It’s just, like, he wore wool in the summer, in the Arizona territory, and that made him mad.”
Kurt Russell Now
Kurt Russell played the role of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone but had in fact been acting since the 1960s where he played his first role in an episode of Dennis the Menace. It wasn’t until the 80’s when Russel really started to have star power which coincided with his meeting Goldie Hawn. Together they starred in several successful. The two went on to raise a family together and are still very much in love despite never marrying. Kurt Russell continues to appear in Western movies and recently played the role of John “The Hangman” Ruth in Quentin Tarantino’s version of The Hateful Eight.
More recently, Kurt Russell played the role of Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell in the movie Deepwater Horizon alongside Mark Wahlberg. Directed by Peter Berg, it tells the story of the BP oil spill of April 2010, the worst in American history. He also stars in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 which was released in 2017 as well as playing Martin Sr. in the upcoming movie Crypto.
Val Kilmer Now
Val Kilmer was considered to have the standout performance in Tombstone with his role as Doc Holliday. Perhaps this was down to his meticulous learning of Doc’s accent and a perfectly executed quick draw. As an actor in Hollywood, he had a bit of a reputation around the time this movie was made, but over the years those issues seem to have faded. He remains one of the most well-respected actors in Hollywood.
Recently, Val Kilmer has been subject to some rumors regarding his health. He was allegedly photographed looking quite unwell and was said to have had a tracheostomy. It was revealed that he has been suffering from throat cancer for some time and appeared on the red carpet for screening in San Diego with a banner covering the tube to his throat. We wish him well and hope he makes a full recovery.
Bill Paxton Now
Wyatt Earp had a brother named Morgan. Unfortunately, Morgan was killed, which was depicted in the movie Tombstone. The role of Morgan was played by Bill Paxton who would later reprise more memorable roles such as Bill Harding in the thriller Twister in 1996 and Brock Lovett in the blockbuster Titanic in 1997. More recently Bill has played the role of Detective Frank Rourke in the TV adaptation of Training Day.
Unfortunately, during this time Bill Harding was admitted to hospital for heart surgery to correct a valve. While the procedure was a success, there were complications post-surgery, and he suffered a devastating stroke while in recovery. He died at the age of just 61 years old. He had finished work on two movies, The Circle and Taking Tiger Mountain Revisited, both of which will be released posthumously.
Real life OK Corral Gun Battle
Another example of Kevin Jarre’s attempt at authenticity was for the scene of the OK Corral shooting. Jarre wanted to use the actual dialogue between the men at the time. Doc Holliday says at the end of the scene, “You’re a daisy if you do!” which is a direct quote from the actual event.
Doc Holliday reportedly said, “You’re a daisy if you do!” to a cowboy who told him, “I got you now Doc, you *expletive*!” This exchange was apparently so famous that it made it into the local Tombstone newspaper. Of course, with everything, there has to be some artistic license, so there was one small change to this scene. In the movie, Ike Clanton runs away in the middle of the fight, but we already know that this was actually Billy Claiborne who was unarmed and scared for his life.
Debates About Wyatt’s Gun
In the scene of the OK Corral fight, Wyatt Earp is shown to be holding a specific gun, a Colt Peacemaker, distinctive for two reasons. The first is that it has a long ten-inch barrel. The second distinctive feature is an engraved plaque inlaid into the handle of the gun. The gun itself was made famous because of these two special features and is often associated with the legendary Wyatt Earp.
So important was this gun that historians have tried to track it down. Writer Ned Buntline, who focused most of his works on Wyatt Earp, famously ordered a number of guns from Colt to distribute them as gifts among the peace officers of Dodge City. He did so in an attempt to raise the profile of the story and uncover some of the hidden truths surrounding Wyatt Earp. In the movie, you see Vigil Earp using a similar gun.
Kevin Jarre Drama?
We know that Kevin Jarre was a visionary and had a specific idea of how he wanted Tombstone to be. Unfortunately, at the time, this was his directing debut, and he was sadly not up to the job yet. Those on set, in the production crew, lacked confidence in Jarre and wondered if he would ultimately be able to bring his vision to life. As a result, he was famously fired from the movie he wrote. Since then he has gone on to write several famous scripts including, The Mummy, Rambo II, and The Jackal and The Devil’s own.
Sam Elliott, who had one of the leading roles in Tombstone said instinctively, “I knew from the third day Kevin couldn’t direct.” Reflecting on those early days on set he said it felt like Jarre wasn’t getting the shots required and so the production team was left with no choice. This was by no means the end of his career as he went on to be nominated for several different awards. Unfortunately, Kevin Jarre suffered heart failure and died at just 56.
The Secret Director
When Kevin Jarre was fired as director of Tombstone, there was a real fear that the whole movie would be shut down. To avoid that fate, Kurt Russell took it upon himself to rally the troops and keep things rolling. This proved to Buena Vista that this movie had potential and that the cast and crew were willing to do anything to actualize it. They arrived at George P. Cosmatos through a recommendation from Sylvester Stallone.
Sylvester Stallone was familiar with George P. Cosmatos because he had directed him in both Rambo II and Cobra. According to some opinions, it sometimes felt like Kurt Russell was the actual director and Cosmatos was just the “ghost director” simply taking instruction from Kurt. It was very close to being an entirely different movie with names like Richard Gere being thrown around to play the role of Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday who was almost played by Willem Dafoe. This could have been a completely different outcome.
The Batman and Doc Holliday Connection
If someone asked you what the connection was between Doc Holliday and Batman, you might be stumped for an answer. Funnily enough, they have both been played by the same actor. Many actors have reprised the role of Doc Holliday over the years, one of which was Adam West, who also famously played Batman! So, there you have it, the Batman and Doc Holliday connection.
Adam West famously played the roles of both Batman and Doc Holliday. He was actually the first actor to play Batman in a feature-length film and played Doc Holliday in three different versions on television. This is not the only coincidence regarding Batman and the movie Tombstone. Val Kilmer played the role of Doc Holliday in Tombstone and then was cast to play Batman in Batman Forever. Allegedly, the director, Joel Schumacher noticed Val Kilmer in Tombstone and wanted to cast him as Batman based on his performance as Doc Holliday!
The Elvis Presley Connection
This was not the only coincidence between the film Tombstone and the actors who starred in it. Another perhaps unlikely connection can be made between Elvis Presley, also known as the King of Rock 'n Roll. In separate movies, Elvis has been played by both Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer who played alongside each other in Tombstone.
Val Kilmer played Elvis in the movie True Romance. He had been busy as it was released in the same year as Tombstone and then played him again in the movie Top Secret. Kurt Russell also played Elvis on two occasions. The first was a TV movie called Elvis, and then later he was the voice of Elvis in the Oscar award winning Forrest Gump which was released in 1994.
Lester Moore's Grave
There is a scene in Tombstone when the Earps enter the town for the first time. In one of the shots, the camera pans around the cemetery and focuses in on one of the tombstones. The engraving on the stone reads, “Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No less, no more.” While this may seem like a slightly unusual engraving, it was actually taken from a real tombstone in Tombstone Arizona. Here art was mimicking life.
There is an amusement park called Knotts Berry Farm, located in California which has a special “Wild West” section. There they have recreated the cemetery and tombstone from the movie which visitors and fans of the film love to come and see. There were actually several scenes shot at Knotts Berry Farm as they were used for some of the establishing shots in the movie. We know this because the name of the theme park is listed in the thank you section of the movie credits. It’s always nice for a contribution to be recognized.
Tombstone has some unlikely lines in the dialogue, such as a quote by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Doc Holliday recites a passage from Kublai Khan. This is unlikely as Doc Holliday probably was not well educated in the works of Coleridge. Kevin Jarre, the writer of the script must have been as he included the following excerpt, “And close your eyes with holy dread, for he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of paradise.”
Coleridge was known to be addicted to opioids, and Doc Holliday also became addicted when he used it to treat his tuberculosis. Doc Holliday took the drug in the form of Laudanum. Another unusual excerpt came from Mr. Fabian’s character played by Billy Zane, who quotes William Shakespeare’s Henry the V play. Tombstone was not the only Western movie for this quote to appear in. Dutton, a character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance also recites the line. The scene which is done entirely in Latin is another literary reference and is a nod to The Cask of Amontillado.
The "Kaloma" Photograph
There is a particular scene in the movie that is worth referencing as it is taken from a real-life story. Just before the shoot-out at OK Corral, there is a scene where Josie, who is played by the actress Dana Delany -Wyatt Earp’s love interest, refers to the famous “Kaloma” photograph. In the scene, she briefly sees the photo at Fly’s Photographic Studio. The “Kaloma” photograph is, in fact, real and pretty famous and depicts the image of a nude woman who has draped herself in a sheer cloth.
There is a dispute over who the mystery woman is in the photograph. Some think it might be Josephine Marcus Earp, while some historians have questioned whether the photograph is in fact authentic. Some claim it to be just a showgirl from the East Coast. Historians also believe the photograph to be dated between 1913-1914 which would not match the timelines of the events in Tombstone, so it is unlikely actually to be Josephine Marcus Earp.
The Famous Huckleberry Line
There are many cultural and literary references throughout the movie which make for some of the most iconic moments. One of these moments is when Doc Holliday says the line, “I’m your huckleberry.” This has been interpreted by many to mean “I am your man,” perhaps in reference to his love interest, or perhaps as a challenge. There is some discussion about whether this is also linked to Mark Twain’s iconic Huckleberry Finn.
The question is, why would Doc Holliday reference Huckleberry Finn? Perhaps he could be referencing practices from Arthurian Lore. In those times the huckleberry was made into a garland and presented to the Knights of the Kingdom who had rescued damsels in distress. It was considered to be a token of gratitude for their actions. So, potentially Doc Holliday was saying that he is, in fact, the hero on this occasion. While this is a nice interpretation, there is a more sinister one. This line from Doc Holliday could be in reference to pallbearers who help take a casket to be buried at the gravesite. Waiting there would be someone checking that the grave bell didn’t ring. This was a time-old tradition to ensure no one was buried alive, so if the bell started to ring, the grave would be unearthed. In this instance, Doc may have meant something much more sinister, which was that he was going to put that person into a grave.
Wyatt Loved His Women
Wyatt Earp was known for his love of the female form. He had many lovers and partners and loved being around women. No one is perfect, and everyone has their vices. Whether its food, alcohol, gambling, lovers, drugs or anything else, people enjoy living on the wild side. Did you know that Michael Jordan’s vice was gambling? He would regularly take trips to Las Vegas from Chicago, especially before big games, play a few rounds in the casino and head back. Nice work if you can get it! For Wyatt Earp, it was all about the ladies.
He loved women so much that in 1872 it was reported that he had been found in a “house of ill-repute,” also known as, a brothel. In fact, he was arrested three times for being seen there. Supposedly, he was registered as living in the brothel with a lady named Jane Haspiel. You have to really love women to want to live in a brothel, but such was the way for Wyatt, he just couldn’t get enough. (20 more) Behind the Scene Looks at Tombstone
“Here Lies Lester Moore”— Not Exactly
Pictured here, and found in the real ghost town of Arizona, is one of the famous tombstones. Propped among the rocks and desert terrain in the famous Boot Hill Graveyard, it bears the equally famous epithet. The only problem is, it seems that some of them are fictitious creations to attract tourism.
The interesting part, however, is that although Lester Moore was presumed to have been killed in a gunfight with Hank Dunstan (over a mishandled package), there is no evidence of a Lester Moore being killed in 1881 in Pima County. In fact, there is no proof that any Lester Moore was killed in the entire Arizona territory. Likewise, there is no evidence the reputed killer, Hank Dunstan, ever existed. Another inconvenient fact is Lester Moore didn’t die in the year 1881.
He Really Did Say, “I’ll be Damned”
It’s true! “Well, I’ll be damned really were the final words of John Henry “Doc” Holiday as he passed away. Historians have argued ever since about the true meaning of his comment, but it’s probably his last joke. As a wild cowboy, it was ironic that tuberculosis killed him.
Especially because chain-smoking, heavy drinking, gambling and shootouts didn’t kill him first. When he uttered the statement, he was looking at his bare feet. So, some think, as a gunfighter, he thought it was funny to die with his boots off.
A Name Game
Both actresses who portrayed Wyatt Earp’s love interests had the same name. As a funny coincidence, Earp’s character fell in love with a Josephine and a Matty, but in real life they are both named Dana. Dana Delaney played Josephine and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson played Mattie.
Mattie was Earp’s second common law wife who he met at a brothel after his first wife died. Josephine became his third common-law wife after things with Mattie fell apart.
One-Liners from Wyatt Earp
For a gun-slinging hero who kept gamblers and sporting men as his constant companions, Wyatt Earp’s character had a sharp tongue. Referring to silver miners in Tombstone who had gotten very rich mining the area, Earp says, “They’ll all be richer than Croesus.”
It’s an idiom of the time, but it refers to a legendarily wealthy king who reigned over Lydia in Western Asia Minor from 560 to 546 B.C. His reserves overflowed with gold pouring from the mines. He was the first king to use gold to make coins. Silver coins were made of Tombstone’s silver mines.
An Ill-Fated Love Scene
Speaking of love interests, a love scene between Wyatt Earp and Josephine ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s the part when Earp and Josephine happen to meet each other while riding horseback.
Director Cosmatos didn’t want to rush into a steamy sex scene with the couple so early into the film, so he cut it. This, despite the fact that a clip of it is featured in the movie trailer.
Tombstone Might Have Been Directed by John Carpenter
Director John Carpenter revealed in an interview from the late-1990s that he had an interest in directing the movie. Carpenter has often noted his affinity to Westerns and his hope to make one. During the interview he says that he almost directed Tombstone.
It’s not surprising that the collaboration was a possibility. Carpenter’s friendship with Kurt Russell goes back a long time. Since Russell starred in the film, it’s easy to imagine Carpenter manning the director’s seat.
Finding a Composer for Tombstone
Originally, the musical score for the film went to Jerry Goldsmith. He’s an Academy Award-winning composer who won an Oscar for his work in The Omen in 1976. He was actually contracted for the job and working on it, but the arrangement fell apart. Because of a scheduling conflict, Goldsmith had to turn the Tombstone music score down.
He recommended composer Bruce Broughton to score the film. It was such a last-minute deal that Goldsmith’s name still appears in the credits. Broughton, who admitted it was a rushed composition, noted that he had less than four weeks to finish it.
Stephen Lang’s Portrayal of Wild Outlaw Ike Clanton
Director Cosmatos divulged the fact that Stephen Lang drank heavily during the filming of Tombstone. In the book, The Making of Tombstone, the author relays one such drunken moment. Actor Charles Schneider, who played Professor Gillman, told the story. He said Lang was still in costume and appeared to be yet in character, though his shoot was wrapped up.
“So there he was looking like he was red-faced, shit-faced, drunk out of his mind with his eyes all bleary-eyed, all crazy, and he was acting like he was a fancy man directing an orchestra.” Schneider detailed Lang’s off-script “conductor performance,” which, he said, was perfectly suited for his crazy character, exactly what Ike Clanton might do. Schneider sums up the story, “Wow, I’m watching Stephen Lang being that guy totally in the moment having fun.”
Kilmer’s Impromptu Whistle
The classic gunfight scene at the OK Corral is the climax of the movie, but it lasts only about five minutes. The actual shootout with guns-a-blazing detonated in only 30 seconds.
The historical event is known as the most famous gunfight in American Wild West history. When Tombstone portrays it, Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holiday are pictured strutting into town. Val Kilmer, playing Doc Holiday, decided to start whistling in the middle of the filming of the dramatic scene. Just when the tension was so thick you could slice it with a knife, Kilmer broke into a whistle. The director liked it, and Kilmer’s eerie whistling improvisation made it into the film.
Wanted: For Cattle Rustling
There is no doubt that Ike Clanton was a wild gun-toting outlaw capable of doing the worst. While it may seem likely that he was killed while he was robbing a bank (as we learn in the film’s narration), in reality, he died trying to get away with a different crime. Detective Jonas Brighton who was on Clanton’s trail, tried to arrest him for cattle-rustling.
So, as Clanton tried to escape arrest for stealing cows, he was shot and killed. One thing’s true about the narrator’s summary, Ike Clanton lived on the other side of the law and was killed for doing so.
An 1880s Star Spangled Banner
Despite the fact that screenwriter and former director Kevin Jarre was adamant about creating a historically accurate setting of an authentic 1880s Tombstone, a couple of minor details got caught by the historical accuracy police.
If you watch the scene that precedes the O.K Corral gunfight, you’ll see Wyatt is standing on the town marshal’s office porch talking to Doc and his brothers. If you look closely, you’ll notice an American flag is flying behind him. In 1881 there were only 38 states in the union and 38 stars on the American flag. The flag in this scene is our current flag with 50 stars. Oops.
The Billy Breckenridge Controversy
In real life, Billy Breckenridge was a soldier, an author, a teamster, a railroader, and a lawman. He was one tough dude. During the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Breckenridge served as assistant Tombstone City Marshal for the Arizona Territory (before Arizona statehood).
In the film, for some reason, Billy Breckenridge’s character was portrayed as effeminate and weak, and some might say, possibly gay man. In actuality, he was a big man, robust in stature and a strong former railroad worker. Jason Priestly was chosen to play Breckenridge. Though his performance was fantastic, the role he was given showed a man quite different than the historical Breckenridge.
Why Was the Building on Fire in the Middle of the O.K. Corral Gunfight Scene
Some people have wondered why a building burned as the four lawmen headed through town to the O.K. Corral. In the movie, no explanation for the fire’s source is given. And, while it is historically accurate that many fires devastated the town of Tombstone in the early 1880s, a factor leading to its ghost town status, it seemed a bit random that one building was burning with no one attending it. It’s true, though, wood construction and a lack of water led to a lot of fire damage in Tombstone during that period.
In the movie, a building on fire is part of the dramatic buildup to the shoot-out scene. It represents some serious fire and brimstone biblical symbolism. And it’s a great background to the shot of the four horsemen on their way in. The coming of death and mayhem is officially introduced.
Cowboy Death Toll
Historically, the Earp posse clashes with the cowboys, ending in raw vengeance for the Earps called. The death of Morgan Earp preceded the infamous “Earp Vendetta Ride.” When the jaws of justice clamped down on the cowboys, at least four cowboys were killed. The actual number is probably closer to 8 – 15, however. The record of the violence is not as sure as the deaths incurred. In the movie, quite a few more cowboys were shot dead. If you count them as they fall, 27 cowboys are killed.
Another shooting inaccuracy in the film happened when Warren Earp says the cowboys were shooting up people’s wives. The line in the movie by Earp is, “They hit Claude’s house too, shot up his wife.” No wives were shot up or shot at in 1881 Tombstone.
Where did the O.K. Corral Gunfight Really Go Down?
In the movie, the dramatic scene takes place in the O.K. Corral. In actuality, it took place in a nearby area. The first shots were fired six doors down in a narrow back alley way. It measured 1,520-feet wide and it was located just west of 312 Fremont Street near a 12-room boarding house. After several shots fired, the fight spilled out into the street.
In the movie, cowboy Clanton runs inside the gallery and shoots at the Earps from a window. Actually, Ike Clanton ran inside and escaped out a back door. And Billy Claibone took off before shooting commenced. The flare up was diffused by town marshals.
Tombstone is a Real Place
Go visit it! Tombstone is a historic city founded in 1879 by a silver prospector in Pima County, Arizona Territory. Today, Tombstone is located in Cochise County in the furthest southeast corner of Arizona. It’s only 30 miles from the Mexico border, making it good haunts for outlaws. The town itself is set upon a mesa over the Goodenough Mine. It was the largest producer of silver in the mid-1880s with $40 to $85 million worth of silver extracted. Silver mining made Tombstone a Boomtown, setting the scene for the famous site of the epic O.K. Corral gunfight. It took place at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881, and lasted just 30 seconds.
The historic gravesite that includes the storied tombstone epitaphs for Tom McLaury, Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury are there to see. Within two years of Tombstone’s founding, the town was booming with four churches, two banks, three newspapers, an icehouse, a bowling alley, an ice cream parlor, saloons, and many gambling halls. Plenty of dance halls and brothels were also on hand. There was even an opera house with shows presented by traveling troupes. The Bird Cage Theater served the miners and cowboys.
Tombstone’s Fight Scene Parodied by Anchorman
In great fun, the cast of Anchorman performed a hilarious dramatization of the O.K. Corral gunfight. Ready to battle ferocious foes, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Paul Rudd, and Will Ferrell come strutting into town for a fierce throw down.
They encounter more foes than they bargained for with actual news anchors playing parts in the movie. They face off includes reporters from NBC, Spanish language news and PBS scrapping away in the epic brawl.
Box Office Buoyed by Record Second-Week Sales
For a classic Western released in the middle of the 1990s, Tombstone was an astonishing success. Positive reviews buoyed ticket sales. Variety said it’s “a tough-talking but softhearted tale that is entertaining in a sprawling, old-fashioned manner.” Released on December 25, 1993, you may recall, it racked up $56.5 million in domestic ticket sales.
Opening weekend at the box office, it brought in $6.5 million, landing it in 3rd place. That great feat was only outdone by the following week’s ticket sales. In a rare and exceptional feat, Tombstone’s second weekend at the box office increased by 35 percent! It brought in $8.7 million its second weekend. It was the 20th best-grossing film of 1993. With a $25 million budget, the film easily landed Buena Vista and company in the black.
John Henry “Doc” Holliday
Val Kilmer’s portrayal of legendary Doc Holliday gave the man a heroic hue. Known as a ruthless vigilante with a reputation for murdering more than a dozen men, he was a dynamic character that lives on today. Although he was a fierce fighter, the actual number of men he murdered is likely closer to two men.
Holliday, who as we know was a close associate of Wyatt Earp, was also a gambler, a gunfighter, and a dentist. Yep. A dentist. He earned his degree in dentistry when he was 21. He set up practice in Georgia but shortly discovered he had tuberculosis, probably acquired while caring for his mom who died of the disease when he was 15. The climate in the Southwest was better suited, so he relocated and became a gambler. It was a good job, in the day!
The Horses of Tombstone
Horses provided the ‘90s classic film Tombstone a genuine Western presence. A veritable equestrian herd joined the actors on the set. In total, 123 horses were employed. It took a crew of 60 men to care for them. The horses were treated humanely. Though there are many scenes featuring horses rearing and falling, each fall and rear was performed by horses trained in those stunts. Additionally, the ground was carefully dug up and prepped for the performance to avoid injury to the horse. During gunfight scenes, quarter loads were used to reduce noise. Also, horses’ ears were protected by cotton.
In a particular scene, a horse jumps through a window. The horse was carefully trained. In the movie, it is seen leaping into a saloon through a glass window, but it wasn’t a real glass window. Instead, candy glass was used, which is a breakable material that shatters easily but contains no sharp edges and therefore, no threat of cutting the animal. For the scenes that involved galloping at fast paces, the grounds were previously inspected to be clear of dangerous objects.