Hollywood Hi-Jinks with Western HistoryHollywood sure has done some major hi-jinks over the years with western history. After all, isn't movie-making all about raking in the dough? They're not making dry as dust documentaries. Who would go see a film without rough and tumble saloon fights, Indians on the warpath, circled wagons, high noon street shoot-outs?
The heck with true history! Right? Ahem.
Here are a few examples of Hollywood movies that played fast and loose with the Old West. I'm not putting down these movies. Take it all with a grain of salt - but Doris Day as Calamity Jane? Even if Martha Jane was supposedly considered "attractive" in her youth, by the time she met Wild Bill, that semblance was long gone. Leathery skin from the wind and sun, muscular with rarely washed hair - I mean, Doris Day? REALLY? Here's a side-by-side view of the two. See for yourself. I'll even throw out photos of Howard Keel and the real Wild Bill Hickok too.
Howard could have slapped on a mustache and wig, for heaven's sake. Even though some of the scenes show Doris sans makeup - well, she was no plain Jane no matter what! Oh well. Here's a trailer for the movie - and it plays fast and loose with the romance between Wild Bill and Martha Jane too. No clear historical record existed of a marriage (or child born to them), but Calamity was clearly obsessedwith Wild Bill. Even though he'd married Agnes Lake Thatcher, a successful circus owner.
Let's examine an older movie - They Died With Their Boots On from 1941. (Let's not even go to that shadowy place where Anthony Quinn plays Chief Sitting Bull! But for the era, at least there was some sympathy shown the Native Americans.)
The dashing (and Australian, although he was actually born in Tasmania) Errol Flynn portrays Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Uh-hum. And the lovely Olivia deHavilland plays his wife, Elizabeth Bacon Custer - not much of a stretch there. But Errol Flynn? REALLY? Here's the photos. Along with the trailer, too. Can we say cliche'? Custer in real life had zero sympathy for the Indians, never touched liquor after the Civil War and was quite the arrogant bastard. Considered to be "highly fictionalized", movie goers of the day made They Died With Their Boots On one of the top-grossing films of the year.
Hmm. There might be a touch of similarity in those craggy features, but Flynn couldn't grow a mustache to save his soul. Plus he couldn't erase the hint of a British accent (he attended school in England.) No matter, since Olivia deHavilland was born in Tokyo to British parents. Olivia's mother divorced her husband and moved to California, but taught both her daughters elocution. (Joan Fontaine was Olivia's sister.) Olivia and Errol seemed well-matched and were very popular, having made eight films together. They certainly share on-screen chemistry (Olivia swears she never had an affair with him, despite Errol's desire - plus he was married at the time). Whatever the historical inaccuracy of George and Libby Custers' official first meeting, we'll forgive them.
We could name several more Hollywood hi-jinks at the movies, but I'll leave readers to add their favorite mash-ups in the comments section. And let's face it, westerns aren't the only movies Hollywood goofed up. Consider the six-foot Peter O'Toole playing Lawrence of Arabia, who was actually shorter than Napoleon at five-foot-one! Nicholas Meyers has a great article about movie inaccuracies - click here to read it.
As Hollywood often says, THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT. No questions answered.
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