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 and brushing up on your “Tombstone” knowledge. 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 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 a 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 Considering this was 1993 and Western movies were totally out of date, compiling this cast was a major accomplishment.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.”
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.
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!
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 saying that they were both so good and that he knew the moment was going to go all the way through the movie.
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 to enjoy 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 and drinking warm beers (there was no air conditioning back then). In an interview, Biehn said that his character was just a 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 Biehn 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 to 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. 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 — and even 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, 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 added, he thought Tenney always felt a little bit like the small dog of the group because it wasn’t his real mustache.
Kevin Jarre Wanted 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 being one of the hardest times.
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 the early stages of production. He had a hand on everything from saddles and spurs to even mustache length. Ultimately, it was because of his rigidity on the 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 Elliott, 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.
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 that he felt they had to pull it off and do it for Kevin.
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, the idea was scrapped and 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 approach throughout his involvement in "Tombstone". Before he was fired as the director, he had been able to handpick the cast, which included the likes of the Oscar-nominated Sam Elliott.
Elliott recalls going to have lunch with Kevin Jarre at an eatery (which probably doesn’t even exist anymore) on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. It was where Kevin Jarre had held all of his meetings for the movie. Speaking of Jarre’s vision, Elliott said that he thought Kevin was the one who really controlled things creatively before they 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 Elliott, it was easy to become drawn into 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 in a Western movie, like Val Kilmer.
For Sam Elliott, Val Kilmer’s performance in "Tombstone" was the masterpiece of his entire career. Val Kilmer was instantly convinced of 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 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 that Cosmatos was a whole other animal. Sam Elliott recalls an exchange with him right at the beginning of the shoot. Elliott would come to set even on the days when he wasn’t filming any scenes. It was more fun than sitting around the hotel all day. He recalled how Cosmastos came up to him, looking at him from behind his dark glasses, and asked, "am I gonna have trouble with you?”
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, were completely fine.
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. 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. 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's. 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. Unfortunately, his vices became even more severe, until at 37 years old, he passed away.
Charlton Heston’s Role
The role of Henry Hooker was played by the legendary actor, Charlton Heston. In the original script, Heston’s part was quite large, and this was to show the closeness between Wyatt Earp and Henry Hooker. Charlton 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.
The real-life Henry Hooker was also kind of a celebrity. Well, actually, it was his real estate that was famous. He 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 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 been 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 while riding a horse. 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 and the Real-Life Wyatt Earp
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 O.K. Corral gunfight, but when things got dangerous, he decided to run away and flee the scene as he was unarmed. Unfortunately, Claiborne passed away at the young age of 22 when he got into a brawl with the infamous “Buckskin” Frank Leslie. Conversely, the actor Wyatt Earp has had a long and successful career doing a variety of acting and voice-over work.
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 as 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 his 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.
A Journey Through Costumes
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. 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 that read 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
Real-Life O.K. Corral Gunfight
A good example of Kevin Jarre’s attempt at authenticity was the scene of the O.K. 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 that line 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 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.
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 between 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
An unlikely connection can be made between Elvis Presley, also known as the King of Rock 'n Roll and the movie "Tombstone". In separate movies, Elvis has been played by both Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer who played alongside each other.
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 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 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.
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 O.K. Corral, there is a scene where Josie — Wyatt Earp’s love interest, played by the actress Dana Delany — 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. It depicts the image of a nude woman who has draped herself in a sheer cloth.
There is a dispute over who the mystery woman in the photograph is. 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.
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 Josephine and 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 after his first wife passed away. 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 players 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 out of Tombstone’s silver mines.
An Ill-Fated Love Scene
The 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 horseback riding.
Director Cosmatos didn’t want to rush into a steamy 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 in 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 down the "Tombstone" music score.
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 occasionally had a little too much to drink during the filming of "Tombstone". In the book "The Making of Tombstone" the author recalls such a 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, slightly out of his mind 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 at the moment having fun.”
Kilmer’s Impromptu Whistle
The classic gunfight scene at the O.K. 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 ended his life trying to get away with a different crime. Detective Jonas Brighton who was on Clanton’s trial 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 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. 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 tending to it.
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 life's end and mayhem is officially introduced.
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 alleyway. 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 were 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 Claiborne 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. The town itself is set upon a mesa over the Goodenough Mine. Silver mining made Tombstone a Boomtown, setting the scene for the famous site of the epic O.K. Corral gunfight. The shootout 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 more.
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 throwdown.
They encounter more foes than they bargained for with actual news anchors playing parts in the movie. Their 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. 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 on its second weekend. It was the 20th best-grossing film of 1993.
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 and 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. 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.
Kurt Russell played the role of Wyatt Earp in "Tombstone" but had in fact been acting since the 1960s when he played his first role in an episode of "Dennis the Menace". It wasn’t until the 80s when Russel really started to have star power which coincided with his meeting Goldie Hawn.
Kurt Russell played the role of 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 starred in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2" which was released in 2017. Another recent notable role of his is Martin Sr. in the movie "Crypto".
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.
Jason is with no doubt a 1990s sweetheart with his lead role on "Beverly Hills 90210". In "Tombstone" he played the role of Billy Breckinridge, an appearance he is, unfortunately, less appreciated for. His voice has been used in several animated movies over the years and he is no stranger to ongoing TV shows.
In 2020 Jason starred in the movie "Dear Christmas" and the Animated movie "Corner Gas". He is well known for his directing abilities and had directed in recent years a number of episodes of "Private Eyes" and "The Night Shift".
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 1996 thriller "Twister" and Brock Lovett in the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic". More recently, Bill has played the role of Detective Frank Rourke in the TV adaptation of "Training Day".
Bill Paxton passed away at the age of just 61. He had finished work on two movies, "The Circle" and "Taking Tiger Mountain: Revisited", both of which were released after his passing.