Little Known Facts Of The Legendary Doc Holliday

On October 26, 1881, the most famous Wild West battle took place, and it only lasted 30 seconds. This is thanks to Doc Holliday, a dentist, deputy, and outlaw. His story has inspired many books, music, TV shows, and movies. But how many of these fictional Doc Holliday stories are true?

While it’s true that Holliday got into several shootings, legend has it that he didn’t do it alone. He teamed up with the Earp brothers to take down cowboys across the West, all while living with tuberculosis. If you like cowboy stories, then dig into the life of Doc Holliday.

A Childhood Of War And Conflict

Portrait of American dentist, gambler and gunslinger
American Stock/Getty Images
American Stock/Getty Images

Doc Holliday was born as John Henry Holliday in August 1851. Just before his birth, his father, Henry Burroughs Holliday, served in the Mexican-American War. In his early childhood, his father fought in the Civil War.

In 1862, the threat of Union troops moved the family further south in Georgia, to Valdosta. John Holliday’s family became prominent in the community, and his mother made sure that he never had to face the horrors of war. Despite the battles raging around him, Holliday didn’t grow up fighting his classmates or neighbors.

Holliday Was A Brilliant Student

A teacher demonstrates on the blackboard, as students watch attentively from crowded pews, circa 1886
Getty Images
Getty Images

Although people may expect Doc Holliday to have been a rowdy student, that was far from the truth. As a child, Holliday suffered from speech impediments and a cleft palate. Through corrective surgery and hours of lessons from his mother, Alice, Holliday recovered from both conditions.

According to historical accounts, Holliday excelled in school. As a teenager, he attended Valdosta Institute, where he learned rhetoric, math, and history. He also became fluent in Latin, French, and Ancient Greek. At age 20, Holliday received his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery.

The Threat Of Tuberculosis

Experiments using Robert Koch's lymph method being done by Dr Baccelli on a tuberculosis patient at the Santo Spirito hospital, Rome, Italy, engraving by Manza from a drawing by Dante Paolocci, 1890
L’Illustrazione Italiana/Getty Images
L’Illustrazione Italiana/Getty Images

In 1866, Alice Holliday died of tuberculosis. Her death greatly impacted John Holliday, as he and his mother were very close. Three months later, his father married Rachel Martin, who was eight years older than him. John Holliday soon left his family to practice dentistry in Missouri and Georgia.

Sometime in his teenage years, Holliday’s adoptive brother, Francisco, also died from tuberculosis. Holliday seemed to escape the tragedy when he began practicing dentistry. However, he soon learned that he suffered from tuberculosis as well. He was given a few months to live.

The Dentist And Gambling King

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After Holliday moved to Dallas, he partnered with a friend of his father, Dr. John Seegar. The two won various awards for their dental work. Holliday ended up living far beyond his initial diagnosis, but he suffered from coughing spells at unlikely times. In the 1870s, his dentistry work slowly declined.

However, Holliday discovered another money-making route: gambling. He had such a knack for gambling that he soon relied on it as his main source of income. In May of 1874, Holliday and 12 others were kicked out of Dallas for illegal gambling.

The Start Of A Rough Fighting Streak

Wild West Saloon Great Signage Ca 1890S - Great Saloon Photograph Of Unknown Western Town.
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

There are few historical accounts of Holliday fighting before he left Dallas. After 1875, that changed. Throughout Holliday’s gambling sprees, he got into several fights. In 1877, Holliday grew violent with a fellow gambler Henry Kahn. After both men were arrested, Kahn once again beat an unarmed Holliday.

In the Dallas Weekly Herald, reporters incorrectly stated that Holliday had died. His cousin, George Holliday, helped him move west to Fort Griffin, Texas. There, he had his only known relationship with an independent, educated street walker named “Big Nose Kate” Horony.

The True Doc Holliday

Old West 191 stage coach
Pinterest/DJ
Pinterest/DJ

Despite his violent tendencies, Holliday’s peers described him as a calm-tempered gentleman. In an interview, a newspaper reporter asked Holliday if his conscience ever troubled him. Holliday responded, “I coughed that up with my lungs years ago.”

Others who knew Holliday described him as having a “mean disposition” and “ungovernable temper.” According to Holliday, he had been arrested 17 times, survived five ambushes, and escaped four hanging attempts. Most of his reputation spread through self-promotion and rumors. But this was enough to cement him as a famous Wild West Cowboy for centuries after his death.

His First Meeting With Marshall Wyatt Earp

Portrait of Marshall Wyatt Earp, 1886
Getty Images
Getty Images

Around this time, Holliday ran into the famous rogue lawman Wyatt Earp. The details about their meeting are unclear outside of legend, but what is known is that the pair would become the most feared duo in the Wild West. At the time, Earp was still a deputy U.S. marshal.

According to the story, Earp was pursuing the outlaw “Dirty” Dave Rudabaugh. He asked Holliday about Rudabaugh’s whereabouts after Holliday gambled with him. Holliday said that Rudabaugh fled to Kansas, and Earp followed. But the two would end up meeting again.

Saving Earp’s Life

A portrait of American lawman and gun fighter Wyatt Earp, circa 1873.
Kean Collection/Getty Images
Kean Collection/Getty Images

According to stories, Wyatt Earp had either two or five cowboys. In the summer, these cowboys rode into the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City. Holliday, who was looking for a dentist position in Dodge, was gambling in the back room. Meanwhile, the cowboys were harassing customers and vandalizing the room.

Upon hearing the commotion, Earp burst through the door. The cowboys pointed their weapons at them. But Holliday stood and pointed his pistol at the men’s leader, forcing them to disarm. No newspaper reports back up this incident. But either way, Earp credited Holliday with saving his life.

Chasing Silver

Reenactors portraying Wyatt Earp, his brothers Morgan and Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday prepare for a gunfight in historic Tombstone, Arizona.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

In October 1879, Earp arrived in Las Vegas (New Mexico) and met up with Holliday. He told Doc that he was heading toward the silver boom in Tombstone, Arizona. Holliday had tried chasing the gold rushes in Dakota and Wyoming before but reaped nothing. Nonetheless, he eventually joined Earp in Tombstone one year later.

In these new Western territories, there weren’t many government forces to prevent crime so Earp and his brother took up the role. Initially, county sheriff Johnny Behan turned a blind eye to their shenanigans. But after Holliday joined the team, Behan viewed them as criminals.

Becoming “Doc” Holliday

Doc Holliday with a patient at his Dentistry school
Pinterest/Top Dentists
Pinterest/Top Dentists

During his time in Fort Griffin, Texas, Holliday engaged in a mixture of fighting, gambling, and dentistry. He developed a reputation for refunding customers for less-than-satisfactory business, which is where he gained the nickname “Doc.” Around 1878, Holliday permanently stopped working as a dentist.

Through his several shootings, Holliday became known for his skill with a weapon. But he still suffered from tuberculosis. For one year, Holliday moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, for the alleged healing properties of the 22 hot springs. Anti-gambling laws sent him back to Dodge City, but he later returned to Vegas to build saloons. That’s where he reunited with Wyatt Earp.

The Accused Stagecoach Robbing Of 1881

A recreated Wanted sign for Doc Holliday
Pinterest/Lolas Art Store
Pinterest/Lolas Art Store

In March 1881, three cowboys robbed a stagecoach that was headed to Tombstone. Rumors flew that the new outlaw, Doc Holliday, had led the robbery and slayings. At some point, his ex-lover Horony told authorities that Holliday did attempt to rob the stagecoach.

Holliday was arrested and convicted of assault. Fortunately, the Earps found witnesses who proved that Holliday was nowhere near the incident. Later, Horony said that Sheriff Behan had influenced her to confess and sign a document that she did not understand. This lead to rising tensions between Holliday, Earp, and Behan.

The Duel With Ike Clanton

Photo of Ike Clanton hanging in Tombstone, Arizona
Pinterest/Legends of America
Pinterest/Legends of America

On October 25, 1881, Holliday was enjoying some beverages in the Alhambra Saloon. There, he entered a heated argument with fellow outlaw Ike Clanton and challenged him to a duel–only to discover that Clanton was unarmed. Rather than let it go, Holliday taunted his opponent by saying that he had recently done away with Clanton’s father.

The next morning, Clanton gathered his weapons and searched the streets for Holliday. Clanton woke up Holliday and his common-law wife, Mary Horony, with loud threats. Reportedly, Holliday famously said, “If God will let me live to get my clothes on, he will see me.”

How A Single Duel Became A Battle

ok corrral fight
Paramount Pictres/Getty Images
Paramount Pictres/Getty Images

Before Holliday could enter the fray, the Earp brothers disarmed Clanton and took him to court. But while Clanton remained behind bars, his fellow cowboys arrived to back him up. This included his brother Billy Clanton as well as Frank and Tom McLaury. Holliday faced the outlaws with the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan.

What happened next is up for debate. We know that the field erupted in a blaze of shots. Half a minute later, all fell silent. The men managed to fire 30 bullets throughout the brief but bloody battle.

The Showdown At O.K. Corral

The graves of the three men who were killed in the famed 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' in 1881 is an attraction at the historic Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, AZ
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

In the end, the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton died on the spot. Ike Clanton fled. Reports state that Holliday may have shot each of the three men dead. Although he, Morgan, and Virgil received wounds, they emerged as the victors.

This shootout became known as the fight at the O.K. Corral since it occurred a few doors down from the Corral. As one of the most famous battles of the Wild West, it has been depicted in many movies and TV shows. But the fight was far from over for Holliday and the Earp brothers.

Becoming A Deputy

Dodge City, Kansas Peace Commissioners (L to R): Charles Bassett, W. H. Harris, Wyatt Earp, Luke Short, L. McLean, Bat Masterson, Neal Brown, ca. 1890.
© CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

After O.K. Corral, Virgil Earp was crippled for life. In March 1882, Morgan Earp was ambushed, and he died. Virgil Earp survived through several ambushes himself, but Wyatt and his deputies worked to keep him safe. Unable to find justice in the courts, Wyatt deputized Holliday, and the two agreed to avenge Morgan.

As a federal posse, Holliday and the Earps rode out to find Frank Stilwell, one of the Cowboys they believed to be responsible for Morgan’s death. They found Stilwell lying in wait on a train as Virgil Earp boarded and took his life.

The True Cowboy Life

the true life of a cowboy
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

After the death of Frank Stilwell, a local sheriff placed a warrant for the arrest of the five deputies, including Holliday. But the posse wasn’t done. Just days after the ambush, Wyatt Earp and Holliday arrived at Iron Springs in the Whetstone Mountains.

With Earp, Holliday snuck up on eight cowboys, who drew their weapons and began firing. Holliday and his posse took out at least three of these cowboys. Meanwhile, the only casualty on Holliday’s side was a wounded horse. But with a warrant over their heads, the group decided to leave Arizona and head toward Colorado.

Earp And Holliday Part Ways

wyatt earp flees
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Holliday and the posse traveled through the New Mexico Territory, hoping to escape their warrant. But in Albuquerque, Wyatt Earp and Holliday got into a fight. Afterward, Earp remained in New Mexico, while Holliday traveled to Colorado.

In 1882, Holliday headed toward Glenwood Springs. Still suffering from tuberculosis, Holliday hoped that the waters would help his ailing health. But as soon as he arrived in Denver, he was arrested. He headed to jail on the Tucson warrant for murdering Frank Stilwell. This time, Holliday had to face prison alone.

Friends For Life

tombstone movie about wyatt earp
Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

Fortunately, Holliday hadn’t entirely cut ties with Earp. When Wyatt Earp heard of the charges, he worried that Holliday wouldn’t receive a fair trial in Arizona. Earp asked his friend, Colorado Chief of Police Bat Masterson, to draw up bunco charges against Holliday.

Two weeks after his arrest, Holliday met up with Masterson. The two traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, where Holliday was released on bond. In June 1882, Earp and Holliday met in Gunnison, Colorado. Although the two remained close friends for life, this was the second-to-last time Holliday would see Earp.

Was Holliday Responsible For Johnny Ringo’s Death?

doc holliday memorial in denver
Jerry Cleveland/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Jerry Cleveland/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Before Holliday died, he may or may not have taken one more life. In July 1882, Holliday’s long-time enemy, Johnny Ringo, was found dead in a tree. Initially, his death was reported as self-inflicted. But according to Earp’s third wife, Holliday and Earp traveled to Arizona to take Ringo’s life.

Historical evidence doesn’t clarify whether Holliday was the culprit. In Arizona, Holliday still had a warrant, so it’s unlikely that he would enter the area. Some historians believe that this story was a hoax, although we don’t know for sure.

Doc’s Final Days

Doc Holliday's Tombstone in Glenwood Springs is Tourist Attraction Today.
Denver Post via Getty Images
Denver Post via Getty Images

Holliday spent his remaining days in Colorado. During this time, his health rapidly declined. When Earp saw Holliday for the last time in 1886, he noticed that Holliday had a persistent cough and weak legs. Meanwhile, Holliday ran out of money and continually entered saloon fights.

The sulfuric fumes from Glenwood Springs only worsened Holliday’s condition. Mary Horony joined him during his final days. During his last moments, Holliday looked at his bare feet and said, “This is funny.” He always assumed that he’d die with his boots on.

Holliday’s Legacy

A sign hangs over the entrance to Doc Holliday's Emporium in historic Tombstone, Arizona, known as 'The Town Too Tough to Die.'
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Holliday died in November 1887. After his passing, his legendary status grew. “Few men have been better known to a certain class of sporting people, and few men of his character had more friends or stronger champions,” read his obituary in the Denver Republican.

Wyatt Earp kept positive memories of his friend, saying, “I found him a loyal friend and good company.” Holliday’s stories lived on to inspire books, movies, music, and TV shows. He is now one of the most recognizable cowboys of the Old West.

Tombstone Was A Star-Studded Affair

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Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

By 1993, the Western film genre was on the decline, but that didn’t mean that the production team was not able to get a lot of A-list actors on board. The film stars some pretty iconic screen legends who believed in the story. The main stars of Tombstone are household names: Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer.

Supporting actors include Michael Biehn, Dana Delany, Powers Boothe, Bill Paxton, and Sam Elliott. The movie is also narrated by Hollywood veteran Robert Mitchum. That’s not too bad for a ’90s Western film that a lot of people thought wouldn’t be a success!

An Incredible Scene

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Hollywood Pictures
Hollywood Pictures

The moment where Doc Holliday shoots Johnny Ringo was also a favorite scene on the set of Tombstone. Sam Elliott looked back on the scene, remembering it as one of the best in the entire film. “That thing was just incredible,” he said in an interview. “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 scene may have been one that had fans reeling, but it did bring the whole film together and make for a fitting climactic scene for the movie.

Two Directors

Street

Tombstone was directed by Hollywood legend George P. Cosmatos. What many people don’t know is that Cosmatos was not the original director of the film! The movie was originally scheduled to be directed by Kevin Jarre who wrote the film.

Jarre was replaced early in production and, while he is a brilliant director and would have done a great job, we have to say we are pretty relieved about the change. Cosmatos definitely helped to bring the film to life in a way that no one else could. It takes a special person to direct a Western, and Cosmatos did a fantastic job.

A Financial Success

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Hollywood Pictures
Hollywood Pictures

Despite concerns about how well Tombstone would hold up at the box office, the film was actually pretty successful. Many people thought that Hollywood Westerns had already had their heyday, but Tombstone proved the naysayers wrong. It was released on Christmas Eve in 1993, and grossed $56,505,065 in domestic ticket sales.

Critics loved the film as much as the public did. Tombstone has become one of the great examples of the Western film genre, and ranks 14th in the list of highest-grossing Western films since 1979. That’s pretty good for a movie that attracted so many skeptics during its production!

Michael Biehn Wanted To Be Shot

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Warning: spoilers ahead! One of the major plot points of the movie is when Val Kilmer’s character, Doc Holliday, shoots Michael Biehn’s character, Johnny Ringo. Many fans were upset that this happened, but Biehn later gave an interview where he said: “I wanted him to shoot me!”

Biehn went on to say, “Well, I always thought Johnny Ringo had a little bit of a ‘[death] by police’ mentality. There’s a part in that movie, which I think is one of my greatest moments on film, and I don’t sit around and look for it, but whenever I see it, I always think, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was trying to do, and that’s what I got.”

Bob Dylan’s Obsession

Val Kilmer
DeptfordCinema
DeptfordCinema

According to Tombstone star Val Kilmer, music legend Bob Dylan was crazy about the film. “One of my favorites was Bob Dylan who was obsessed with Tombstone.”

Val Kilmer said, detailing a meeting that he had with Dylan. “So he came over to my hotel. I was like, ‘Where are you? I’ll come over.’ And he said, ‘No, I’ll be right there.’ So we sat and eventually he said ‘Ain’t you gonna say anything about that movie?’ I was so star struck myself. He wasn’t star-struck, but he was just really, really into that movie. It was very flattering.”

“That Adrenaline Rush”

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According to Biehn, the character of Johnny Ringo liked “living on the edge” and that life or death situations gave him “that adrenaline rush.” He said that all there really was to do in the Old West was to go around and drink and that could get boring for a guy like Johnny.

“He was just a drunk guy, as you can imagine living back then in the old west. You think about all the saloons and the all the warm beers, no air conditioning,” Biehn explained Johnny’s thirst for adventure. “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.”

A Favorite Character

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Michael Biehn still says that the character of Johnny Ringo was one of his favorites to play. He really connected with Johnny’s character and had a good time portraying the challenging role. He ranked Johnny Ringo towards the top of his list saying, ” But Johnny Ringo’s probably, along with Kyle Reese, my two favorite characters.”

Kyle Reese is a character also played by Michael Biehn who appears in the first two Terminator films. The character is almost like a futuristic version of Johnny Ringo, so it makes sense that Biehn would connect so strongly with these two iconic film roles!

Tombstone Was The “Bubble Gum” Version Of A Western

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While Michael Biehn enjoyed his time on the set of Tombstone and acknowledges that the film helped to reestablish the genre, he said that the film “ain’t history” and compared it to “the latest pop hit.”

“The reason Tombstone was such a good movie is because it had a great script by Kevin Jarre,” said Biehn.” It had great characters. And it had great actors to play them. Kurt was great. I don’t think Val has been better in any other movie. It’s his greatest performance. You have Sam Elliott, you have Bill Paxton, you have Powers Boothe, you have Thomas Haden Church. You’ve got Jason Priestley and Billy Zane. Billy Bob Thornton and Frank Stallone. Everywhere you look, there is a new face that pops up. They are a celebrity, but they fit into this world. I think our film was the bubble gum version.

The Movie Was Fun

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Despite what Michael Biehn perceived as the film’s shortcomings, he still said the movie was a lot of fun. “We had a lot of problems on our movie with Kevin [Jarre] getting fired,” said Biehn.

“It was a great script. And there were some great performances in it. By the time it got cut together, and I saw it, I thought it was really good. In terms of being fun… Our movie, for some reason, was a lot of fun. It kept people laughing. The quotes were something that a lot of people enjoyed. We had the gun twirling. The Latin. The characters were fun.”

(Almost) Everyone Grew Their Own Mustache

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One of the striking things about Tombstone is that all the male characters sported a mustache. It turns out that most of the actors grew their own mustaches for the film! Michael Biehn said, “Everyone just grew a mustache. When it comes down to it, this goes back to Kevin Jarre…He was very specific about how he wanted the mustaches. He wanted them to curl up on the end. Which means, if you grow a mustache, and it grows long enough, you have to use wax on the end of it.”

He went on to say, “Everyone was pretty proud that they grew their own mustache. There was one guy, Jon Tenney. He didn’t get to grow his own mustache because he had a job right before that. They had to put a fake mustache on him. 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 For Wanting To Do Things His Way

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You would think that writing a film and being the director would mean that you could do things your own way, but that’s exactly what got Kevin Jarre fired from his project. According to Michael Biehn, this was a hard time

“It was sad for me,” Biehn said. “I liked Kevin a lot. He was the one that wrote the script. He really wanted that script to be the way he wanted it to be. He wanted to cast it the way he wanted to cast it. He wanted the saddles to look the way he wanted them to look. He wanted the spurs to be a certain way. He wanted the mustaches to be a certain way. He wanted the dialogue to be a certain way.”

A Sad Departure

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Michael Biehn was not the only member of the cast and crew who was sad to see Kevin Jarre go. “The biggest challenge for everybody in this picture and particularly Kurt [Russell] was that they got rid of Kevin Jarre,” said Sam Elliott. “The sad part of it was this guy was a brilliant writer, and he knew the elements. He brought all those elements together…It was heartbreaking.”

But still, the cast managed to pull the film together. Elliott said, “All of us actors had a real feeling for Kevin. “Kurt was the one who said, ‘We gotta pull this thing off, do this for him.’”

A Modern Retelling

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Kevin Jarre wanted the movie shot like an old 1940s Western, but that wasn’t what the production crew wanted. “He wanted everything in this long master shot. That’s the way they used to shoot in the 40s, and that’s the way he wanted to shoot his movie,” said Michael Biehn.

“[The production crew] were looking at dailies thinking, ‘This is not a modern retelling of an old story. This looks like it’s an old Western that is being shot back in the ’40s.’ That’s what Kevin wanted. That’s what he fought for. And that’s what he eventually got fired for.”

A Handpicked Cast

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While Kevin Jarre was eventually fired from the film which he had written, he was involved in the project for long enough to pick the cast. One of the stars of the film, Sam Elliott, describes meeting Jarre about the role:

“I remember going and having lunch with him at a place on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, which I don’t think is even there anymore,” Elliott said. “And Kevin said he was having all of his meetings there, like he was holding court… I think Kevin’s the one who really controlled this thing creatively before it got off the ground.”

A Brilliant Script

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Many of the stars of the film became attached to the project because they fell in love with the script. “The dialogue was there,” said Sam Elliott. “Kevin Jarre wrote a brilliant script. I think across the board, every character there was well drawn. And he brought actors you normally wouldn’t associate with Westerns, like Val Kilmer. I think it’s the best thing that Val’s ever done.”

Val Kilmer said that he was sold on the script after reading the line “I’m your huckleberry.” After asking Jarre where the line had come from, Val Kilmer says, “He didn’t have a specific answer. But I loved it. It just seemed to be the odd, perfect statement for the scene—’You’ve met your match.’”

The Cast Was Not Crazy About George Cosmatos

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While the cast had bonded with Kevin Jarre who had handpicked each of them for their roles, they were not so thrilled about his replacement, George Cosmatos. “He was a whole other animal,” said Sam Elliott.

“I guess he was Italian. Treated everybody not too good. We had our moment right at the beginning… I always go to the set and stand around when I’m not working just to watch—I’d rather do that than sit around a hotel—and I remember George coming up to me with his dark glasses, looking up at me from the top of his glasses, sticking his nose right in my face. And he said, ‘Am I gonna have trouble with you?’”

The Film Eventually Came Together

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While the cast and crew got off to a rocky start with George Cosmatos, things eventually fell into place. After Sam Elliott was challenged by Cosmatos and asked if he was going to have trouble with the actor, Elliott refused to back down from the new director of the film.

Elliott said after Cosmatos asked, “Am I gonna have trouble with you?” and that he “Just looked him right back in the eye and said, ‘I don’t know, am I gonna have trouble with you?’ And he just laughed and said, ‘Ah, we’re gonna get along fine.’ So we got along good.”

Ultimately, Tombstone Is About Friendship

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Val Kilmer talked about the unlikely bond between the characters of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, commenting on how strong their friendship is. “Their bond and strange empathy with each other is really attractive,” said Val Kilmer.

“It’s very clear, yet it’s also mysterious. [There’s] this lawman [Wyatt Earp], who finally gets a chance to make some money and relax and have fun like every other American, then he gets pulled back into doing the right thing. I mean, who doesn’t want to just run away and live on an island somewhere? But it’s a very American tradition—you gotta do the right thing…And his best friend [Doc Holliday] is kinda crazy… It’s quite possible he’s a psychopath. But he’s so funny.”

Paul Newman Was Given Top Billing After Someone Else Dropped Out

Paul Newman Was Given Top Billing After Someone Else Dropped Out
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

In the beginning, the film was originally slated to be called “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy.” Paul Newman and Steven McQueen were both A-list actors at the time and the latter agreed to play The Sundance Kid.

But after studio executives wouldn’t give McQueen top billing across the board—opting instead to list his name first in half of the prints, and Newman’s name first in the other half— McQueen dropped out of the film. As a result, the names in the working title got reversed. “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” has a much better ring to it anyway.

Finding The New Sundance Kid Took Time

Finding The New Sundance Kid Took Time
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

When he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, William Goldman always had Paul Newman in mind for Butch Cassidy. For The Sundance Kid, Goldman wanted Jack Lemmon, after seeing the actor’s performance in 1958’s Cowboy, but he turned it down.

After McQueen dropped out, the studio approached others such as Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando. It was actually Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, who suggested they try up-and-coming stage actor Robert Redford, who at the time had only done a few films. Newman, Woodward, and director George Roy Hill had to beg the studio to cast Redford.

20th Century Fox’s President Spent Too Much Money On The Screenplay

20th Century Fox's President Spent Too Much Money On The Screenplay
Kevin John Berry/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Kevin John Berry/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Richard Zanuck, son of 20th Century Fox co-founder Darryl F. Zanuck, may have been president of the studio at the time but he put himself in some hot water after buying the screenplay for Butch Cassidy. The younger Zanuck was only authorized to spend $200,000 but he ended up shelling out twice that amount for William Goldman’s work.

$400,000 by today’s standards would equate to nearly $3 million (and for the record, that much money has not been spent on a screenplay since that time). Luckily for Zanuck, Butch Cassidy became the highest-grossing film of 1969. He still got fired the following year for money Fox lost over expensive flops like Dr. Dolittle.

A Gang By Any Other Name

A Gang By Any Other Name
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had a crew of fellow bandits and outlaws in real life that were collectively known as the “Wild Bunch.” But in the film, the group’s name was changed to the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, named after a spot in Wyoming that Butch used as a home base.

The name was changed after Fox executives learned that Warner Bros. was producing a Sam Peckinpah film called The Wild Bunch, which wasn’t about the same guys but was very similar to Butch Cassidy nonetheless. Warner Bros. was also working hard to get it out before Butch Cassidy.

Newman Had To Do His Stuntman’s Job

Newman Had To Do His Stuntman's Job
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Studio executives hired a stuntman and sent him over ahead of time to practice Butch’s showy bicycle moments as seen in the film. Embarrassingly enough, the stuntman couldn’t manage to stay upright on the bike when it came time to shoot those scenes.

Newman ended up doing most of it himself, which turned out to look better in the film. In the end, director George Roy Hill was annoyed the studio wasted money on a stuntman. The only scene Newman didn’t do himself was the one in which the bike crashes through a fence.

Redford Actually Wanted To Do His Own Stunts

Redford Actually Wanted To Do His Own Stunts
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Robert Redford reportedly wanted to do all of his own stunts. He was particularly ambitious about performing the stunt in which Sundance jumps on top of a moving train and runs along the top of the cars as they moved. This was very upsetting to Newman.

Newman wasn’t upset because he thought Redford was trying to show off. In fact, Newman was primarily concerned about his co-star’s safety. Redford once recalled what Newman told him: “I don’t want any heroics around here. I don’t want to lose a co-star.” He ended up leaving it to the professionals.

Newman Was The Funny Man On Set

Newman Was The Funny Man On Set
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Paul Newman was known as something of a jokester on the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In fact, Newman had to see a joke through to its punchline before the cast and crew could continue working and production could commence.

“There was sort of a joke on the set. Paul Newman, I think, probably knew every joke known to man so he was always telling a joke. They’d say ‘camera ready’ and he would have to finish his joke before we could all do the scene,” Katherine Ross once recalled.

Katherine Ross Was Banned From Set

Katherine Ross Was Banned From Set
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

At the time, Katherine Ross was dating the film’s cinematographer, Conrad Hall. Ross was interested in camera work and for one shot he let her operate an obsolete camera. Director Hill was infuriated to find out an amateur was operating his cameras.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but when we got back to the hotel, the production manager came and told me that I was banned from the set except when I was working. And it became very difficult to shoot for me. In fact, it took a long time before I even wanted to see the film,” Ross admitted in an interview.

Paul Newman Was Quite The Prankster

Paul Newman Was Quite The Prankster
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Paul Newman is something of a legend throughout Hollywood when it comes to on-set pranks. When filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, director George Roy Hill was the victim of Newman’s hi-jinks. When Hill ignored Newman’s suggestions for a scene, Newman allegedly sawed the director’s desk in half.

When Hill sat down, the desk collapsed in his lap. Other sources say that Newman cut up the desk because apparently Hill “wouldn’t pay his bill for liquor which he borrowed from my office.”

Katherine Ross Liked This Scene The Most

Katherine Ross Liked This Scene The Most
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

Katherine Ross was undoubtedly affected by her ban from the set, so much so that she often didn’t feel comfortable after the incident occurred. As a result, her favorite scene to shoot was the silent bicycle riding sequence with Paul Newman.

While filming this scene, she was most at ease because it was handled by the film crew’s Second Unit and not director Hill himself. She reportedly said, “Any day away from George Roy Hill was a good one.”

There Was Something In The Water

There Was Something In The Water
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

The entire cast and crew traveled to Mexico to film all of the Bolivia scenes. While there, almost everyone suffered from what is known as Montezuma’s Revenge—a severe form of diarrhea that results from drinking the local water.

The only people who weren’t affected by this were Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katherine Ross, who refused to drink the water that catering services provided. They probably knew that Mexico’s local water was polluted, so they stuck to drinking soda and alcohol throughout the duration of their stay.

Bill The Bull Had To Have A Bit Of Encouragement

Bill The Bull Had To Have A Bit Of Encouragement
Movieclips/YouTube
Movieclips/YouTube

If you recall the bicycle scene with Butch and Etta, Butch gets chased by a bull after he crashes through a fence. The bull’s name in the film was “Bill” and he was no ordinary bull but rather, a Hollywood bull hired by the studio.

Bill was flown from Los Angeles to Utah, where the bicycle scene was shot. Apparently, Bill didn’t naturally want to go after Paul Newman, so in order to make him charge, filmmakers had to spray a special substance on his nether regions, which he reportedly didn’t mind too much.

The Real Butch Cassidy Was A Butcher

The Real Butch Cassidy Was A Butcher
Pinterest
Pinterest

The story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was based on real-life outlaws. The real Butch Cassidy was named Robert Leroy Parker, born in 1866. He was a notorious train and bank robber who became the leader of a gang of outlaws called the “Wild Bunch.”

As a teen, Parker met an outlaw named Mike Cassidy and decided to use the man’s last name. Later on, he worked as a butcher in Wyoming, which is supposedly how he came to be known as the infamous “Butch Cassidy.” As an outlaw, it was important to use an alias to hide your identity.

The Sundance Kid Adopted His Name In Jail

The Sundance Kid Adopted His Name In Jail
John Swartz/American Stock/Getty Images
John Swartz/American Stock/Getty Images

The real-life Sundance Kid was a man named Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, born in 1867 in Pennsylvania. He was only 15 years old when he traveled west with a cousin. In 1887, he was in Sundance, Wyoming when he decided to steal a gun, a horse, and a saddle from a ranch. He was eventually captured and sentenced to 18 months in jail.

It was supposedly during his time in jail that he adopted the name “Sundance Kid.” Though he tried to live life as an honest ranch hand after jail, he returned to a life of crime which is how he became associated with the Wild Bunch.

There Was A Super-Posse In Real Life

There Was A Super-Posse In Real Life
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In the film, a “super-posse” of the best lawmen team up to hunt Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as a group. The outlaws manage to stay a step ahead for much of the chase, which culminates in the scene on the cliff, where Butch and Sundance decide to jump into a river before feeling to Bolivia.

In real life, there really was a super-posse that went after the actual Butch and Sundance. But what really happened wasn’t as dramatic. As soon as the real Butch and Sundance found out who was in the super-posse, they fled to South America knowing they’d never be able to outrun the group.

The Original Cut Of The Film Was Too Funny

The Original Cut Of The Film Was Too Funny
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

After Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid premiered in 1969, it went on to become the quintessential buddy comedy of the 1970s. Despite how well it performed in theaters, critics weren’t impressed, especially since the film didn’t adhere to the standard of traditional western films. This was primarily because the movie was funny.

In fact, some felt that it was too funny for the time period it was trying to depict. Richard Zanuck has recalled that screen-test audiences found the film to be uproarious and that it had to be re-edited several times to be considered “respectable.”

Reynolds Wasn’t Sure Of This Award-Winning Pop Song

Reynolds Wasn't Sure Of This Award-Winning Pop Song
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

When Robert Reynolds first saw the bicycle scene with the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” he thought it was terrible. B.J. Thomas’ agents regretted letting the singer take the job and thought it’d ruin his career.

The song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who were pros of pop songwriting. Regardless of how anyone felt with the song in the film, it went on to pick up the 1970 Academy Award for Best Original Song and has since been used in a plethora of films and television shows.

“Most Of What Follows” May Or May Not Be True

Most Of What Follows May Or May Not Be True
© Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
© Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

There’s a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that says “Most of what follows is true,” but as it turns out, this statement could never really be confirmed. Screenwriter William Goldman was fascinated by the real-life outlaws and was surprised that no one had really written about them in the past.

Goldman was primarily a novelist before he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and because of his enchantment, he decided to just write what he knew. But he didn’t want to have to go through all the research of life in the Old West that writing a novel would require, so he wrote a movie instead.

George Roy Hill Was Given All The Credit

George Roy Hill Was Given All The Credit
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

People today might be surprised to learn that director George Roy Hill went so far as to ban Katherine Ross from the set for operating a camera. But for anyone who has worked with him, they know that Hill was just that domineering by nature.

William Goldman even once said that he couldn’t say what the producers contributed to the film because Hill garnered all the credit. “[On] a George Roy Hill film, George is the giant ape. Because of his vast talent, his skill at infighting, his personality, he runs the show,” Goldman said.

Newman’s Indiscretion Started On Set

Newman's Indiscretion Started On Set
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

Paul Newman famously said, “I have steak at home, so why should I go out for a hamburger?” in regards to his faithfulness to his wife Joanne Woodward. But apparently, it was all talk as the actor allegedly began an 18-month affair with Hollywood journalist Nancy Bacon in 1968 while filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The affair was no secret either. “Referring to his old remark, they’d say: ‘Paul may not go out for Hamburger, but he sure goes out for bacon,'” Bacon recalled to biographer Shawn Levy.

Butch Cassidy’s Real Sister Was On Set

Butch Cassidy's Real Sister Was On Set
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While making Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the cast and crew were allegedly visited by Butch Cassidy’s actual sister, Lula Parker Betenson. In between shooting, Betenson would tell stories about her brother’s escapades, which ought to have helped with accuracy in the film.

When the studio found out Betenson was there, they wanted her to endorse the film in a series of ads but she only wanted to do it on the condition that she saw the movie before its release and she genuinely liked it. They refused to let her do that but she still did the endorsements for a small fee.

Butch Cassidy Still Has The Most BAFTAs

Butch Cassidy Still Has The Most BAFTAs
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As it stands, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holds the record for the most BAFTA awards to its name. Butch Cassidy has nine BAFTAs and no other film in history has yet surpassed that feat.

At the British Academy Film Awards, Butch Cassidy won Best Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor for Robert Redford, Best Actress for Katharine Ross, and others. Paul Newman was also nominated for Best Actor at the time but was probably pleased to see his colleague win.

A Friend Confirmed Their Deaths In 1908

A Friend Confirmed Their Deaths In 1908
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

The character of Percy Garris was based on a real-life person named Percy Seibert. Seibert was a mining engineer from Maryland who worked for the real Butch Cassidy in Antofagasta, Chile. Even though Garris dies in the film, Seibert was actually still alive when the real-life Butch and Sundance were reported dead.

In fact, Seibert served as a coroner’s witness for his friends, which confirmed their deaths in 1908. Conspiracy theorists who believed that Butch and Sundance were still out there believe that Seibert lied so that they could start a new life.

Paul Newman Founded The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp

Paul Newman Founded The Hole In The Wall Gang Camp
KMazur/WireImage
KMazur/WireImage

Though the Hole in the Wall Gang was up to no good in the film, in real life Paul Newman sought to make sure the name was associated with something better. In 1988, he founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with serious illnesses.

The camp was created to look like a kid-sized version of the Old West seen in Butch Cassidy. Kids with physical and medical limitations were allowed the opportunity to participate in many activities that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

The River Jump Was Filmed In Two Places

The River Jump Was Filmed In Two Places
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

One of the most momentous scenes is when Butch and Sundance jump into the river to evade the super posse. This scene took a lot of work, so much so that it was filmed in two different places! Newman and Redford start the jump, which was filmed in Colorado, but they only land on a mattress.

The shots of them making a dive into the river was filmed by stuntmen in Malibu, California at Century Ranch. Stuntmen jump from a construction crane, which was hidden by a matte painting of the cliffs.