Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Big Difference in Books and Movies by Ginger Simpson

Just as we take creative license with our books, I believe movies and TV programs do the same, although editors and publishers always stress how important, as authors, our historical facts must be true and accurate.  The same doesn't seem to apply to movies.

Borrowed from Wikipedia
For example:  I watched one of my old favorite westerns while camping, Buffalo Girls.  In the movie, Wild Bill is played by Sam Elliott. (Yum...or used to be yum)  He and Calamity Jane Canary had a brief fling which resulted in the birth of a baby girl.  However, they weren't married in the movie and there is no historical mention of a marriage between the two, but in researching Wild Bill, I discovered  Jane Canary claims to have married and divorced Bill Hickok so he could wed Agnes Lake.  However, as I mentioned, there are no records to support Jane's marriage claim, but Bill did marry Agnes Thather Lake.  I found no record of offspring which makes sense since they married in March 1876 and Hickok died August 2, 1876.

Wild Bill had a colorful background.  A notable marksman at a young age, he meandered in and out of positions upholding the law.  Tall and thin, he earned derisive (according to Wikipedia) nicknames such as "Duck Bill" and "Shanghai Bill," and it wasn't until he grew a moustache in 1861 that he began calling himself "Wild Bill."  It's no wonder.  *smile*

During the Indian wars, he scouted for Custer's 7th Calvary, but then moved to Niagara Falls to try his hand at acting.  After he should no talent in that area, he return to what he knew best....being a lawman.  However, in one of his many shootouts, he accidentally shot and killed a deputy who was coming to his aid and was relieved of his duties in Abilene.

Wild Bill's colorful life came to an end in a saloon Deadwood in the Black Hills of Dakota.  He made it a habit to sit with his back to the wall while gambling, but this particular time, arrived late for the game and his seat was already taken by someone who refused to relinquish it.  A former buffalo hunter named, Jack McCall (AKA Crooked Nose Jack), entered unnoticed by Hickok, drew his pistol and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head, killing him instantly.  Another player was struck in the wrist by the bullet as it exited Hickok's right cheek.  The hand he was holding was sure to be a winner, two aces and two eights of spades;  now known as the "Dead Man's Hand."  The fifth card had yet to be revealed.

By the time of his death, Hickok had killed thirty-six men.  The motive for his own murder remains a mystery.  Some claim the shooter might have been paid to do the deed, other's claim it was payback for the way Wild Bill had embarrassed him the previous day, after McCall had lost all his money, Hickok gave him money for breakfast.  The most logical is the shooting was in retribution for the killing of McCall's brother, although there is really nothing to prove he was related to "Lew McCall," who was reportedly killed by the law in Abilene.

Taken From Google Images
McCall was acquitted (HUH?) and left for Wyoming, where he bragged about what he'd done and was rearrested and tried again.  This time, he was hung (March 1877.)

Times have really changed.  Double Jeopardy didn't exist in that time period because Wyoming was not yet recognized by the U.S. In the movie, Buffalo Gals, Calamity, along with her new baby and an old Indian, came to the Abilene where Wild Bill was killed and found they had just hanged someone.  Guess Who?  That's not true to history.

 Although some allege Calamity tried to organize a mob and threatened McCall with hanging, historical records reveal she was actually being held by the military at the time.  So much for historical accuracy in movies.  You can bet if we write about a novel about Wild Bill, it will be historically correct.

No baby, no marriage, no divorce, just the facts we can find that are historically accurate.  I guess the romantic part of Jane giving up her child because the father was dead and she couldn't care for the little girl, given the mother's lifestyle, just added appeal to being a Buffalo Gal.

If you would like to know more about the story of Wild Bill Hickok.  I just watched Legends and Lies based on Bill O'Reilly's book.  I enjoyed finding out the TRUE story, and those wanting to know more about Hickok's years enforcing the law and his shootouts...visit Wikipedia's page on Wild Bill.
BTW...O'Reilly's book was written by David Fisher, the author of more than a dozen bestsellers.  He has also written extensively for national magzines and newspapers.   Bill likes to brag about his'd think he wrote them.  *lol*
Wikipedia Picture


Paty Jager said...

Interesting post, Ginger. I agree, TV and movies don't seem to care if they give the facts. They just want to embellish to make a good story.

Jacquie Rogers said...

As a NYT Best-selling Author told me when I asked if she changed her story to fit the facts: "No, that's what an Author's Note is for."

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

I used an author's note once, but it wasn't to defend historical accuracy. Editors have drummed the importance of being "right on" into my brain, so I can't imagine anything different. I guess in Mainstream you can get away with a lot more. I know thhey meet word count in a lot of instances by adding uninteresting or unnecessary facts or scenes. *lol*

Caroline Clemmons said...

I think the worst case of this was when the novel THE SCARLET LETTER was altered by Hollywood to make the villain (the minister) the hero in the movie. But Hollywood and TV take great liberties with fact to create a story. I wish they'd label the movie as fiction instead of purporting it to be fact. Many people believe the fictional version and never learn the true story.