In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movie: Jobs, The Pacific, and Tombstone.
Events from This Week in History
- Jobs | History of the word “Podcasting” on Podnews.net
- The Pacific | BOATS Series on The Pacific
- The Fellowship of the Ring | BOATS Series on The Lord of the Rings
- Tombstone | BOATS #142 | Marshall Trimble on Tombstone’s Wyatt Earp III
Birthdays from This Week in History
Movies Released This Week in History
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
October 23, 2001. Cupertino, California.
Our first movie this week opens with text on the screen to let us know we’re at the Apple Town Hall Staff Meeting in 2001.
The camera is following a man walking down some stairs. He’s being watched by a line of people along the stairs. There are some illuminated photographs framed along the staircase, too. The camera doesn’t really focus on them, but one of the photos looks like Gandhi. The photo at the end of the staircase is clearly visible as Albert Einstein. There are double doors open on the right side at the bottom of the staircase. There are a few people standing there, too, and they’re watching as the man reaches the bottom and turns right to go through the open doors.
The camera continues to follow him through the doors, and a stagehand pulls back the curtain just as the man walks through to the stage on the other side. There’s a room full of people watching as he walks onto the stage.
Then, the camera cuts to a view from the seats so we can see the full stage now. In the center of the frame is a huge Apple logo. For the first time, we can see the man’s face so we know this is Steve Jobs. He’s played by Ashton Kutcher in the movie.
As Jobs steps onto the stage wearing blue jeans and a black turtleneck with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows, the audience stands and cheers. The clapping continues as Jobs stands in front of them, staring into the bright spotlight coming from the back of the room to illuminate him on stage.
After a moment, the audience stops clapping and sit down. Jobs starts to address the audience by saying he’s excited to be there because we have something really special to share with you today.
He goes on to tell the audience that they’ve sold over three million iMac and PowerBooks this year. The audience applauds this news, but Jobs raises his hands as if that’s just the start. “That’s it,” Jobs says, initiating a laugh from the audience as he smiles at his own joke. Raising his finger, Jobs says maybe there’s one more thing.
The smile lingers on his face as he continues to say he’s about to show something that no one else in the world has seen yet. He says that Jony, himself, and a small team have been working on a secret project. As he says this the camera cuts to a man in the audience, Giles Matthey’s version of Jonathan Ive.
Jobs goes on, saying the device he’s about to introduce will revolutionize an entire industry.
It’s a music playing device.
The camera cuts to members of the audience. They don’t make any noise at the announcement of a music playing device, but they’re listening intently.
Jobs says it’s a tool for the heart and, if I do say so myself, it’s insanely cool. Scattered laughter can be heard among the audience.
He says it’s a music player. It’s a thousand songs in your pocket. Then, he reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out a small, white device. As he does, he holds it up and tells the audience, “.”
At this, the audience stands and cheers even louder than before.
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Jobs
That sequence comes from the 2013 biopic about Steve Jobs that is simply called Jobs. The event it’s depicting is when Apple first announced the iPod, which happened this week in history on October 23rd, 2001.
While the movie’s version of the dialogue, audience reaction, and announcement overall is obviously dramatized, the basic gist is true.
There were also some little bits of truth in there, like when Ashton Kutcher’s version of Steve Jobs mentions the name Jony.
The real Jonathan Ive worked closely with Steve Jobs to design the iPod—and also the iMac, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and many more things, even the Apple Stores.
But, of course, there’s more to the story of the iPod than we see in the movie.
Let’s start by clarifying that the iPod was not the first digital music player. That was actually back in 1979 with a device called the IXI, which was created by a British inventor named Kane Kramer. That was probably too far ahead of its time, though, because it wasn’t really until the late 1990s that they started to get more popular. The MPMAN F10 in 1998 from Elger Labs, for example, as well as the Diamond Rio PMP300.
The PMP300 was what started to pick up the most traction for MP3 players, but neither of them had much storage—both at 32 or 64 MB.
That changed around the turn of the century when the Remote Solutions Personal Jukebox was introduced with a whopping 4.8 GB of space for a hefty $800. Soon after, the Creative Nomad Jukebox topped that with 6 GB for only $500.
While those were both technically portable, realistically, they weren’t very portable, haha! They were big and bulky. Other players entered the space, and for a while it became a balance of storage space vs cost and portability.
Then, in 2001, Apple launched the iPod. It came with 5 GB of space, cost $400, and was actually portable. So, while Apple may not have been the first MP3 player out there, the movie was still correct to suggest through Steve Jobs’ dialogue that the iPod was what revolutionized them.
In fact, it revolutionized more than the MP3 player devices themselves. The term “podcast” itself comes from the iPod even though, just like the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, the first time an audio file was published through an RSS feed—the basic concept of what we consider a podcast today—that happened before the iPod was launched.
According to an article from the podcast industry news service Podnews.net that tracks the history of the term podcasts, the first audio in an RSS feed was published by Dave Winer on January 20th, 2001. So, obviously before the iPod was launched in October of 2001.
That was just a test, of course, but as the popularity of MP3 players increased thanks in large part to the iPod, more people started figuring out how to distribute audio files through RSS feeds that others could then download to play on their MP3 players—usually an iPod.
According to the same article on Podnews, the medium’s founders, Adam Curry and the aforementioned Dave Winer, have both attributed the term “podcast” to a listener named Dannie Gregoire. It was quickly picked up by Winer, Curry, and others who started to report about the new process of delivering audio along the internet for people to listen to on their iPods.
On May 10th, 2022, Apple officially discontinued the iPod as its features have all been integrated into the iPhone.
If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, that is how the 2013 movie Jobs starts. And if you want to learn more about the history of the term podcasting, I’ll include a link in the show notes for the article on Podnews that I mentioned.
October 24, 1942. Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.
Our next show starts establishing the time and place. We just did that, but in the show, we can see a map to help with the geography of where Guadalcanal is located. Highlighted in red is Japan, and we can see the Japanese occupation is spreading far and wide, around much of the islands in the South Pacific.
The map zooms into the southern edge of the Japanese-occupied zone, near New Guinea, and just north of the Coral Sea—which, itself, is just north of Australia. As the map continues to get closer to the Solomon Islands, the name of one of the islands appears in red: Guadalcanal. On the northern edge of the island, we can see the name Henderson Field appear along with the month and year: October 1942.
Fast forward a few minutes into the show, and we can see American soldiers digging through the dirt. The night before, they endured a barrage of artillery fire that forced them into foxholes. Now, it’s daytime and the Marines are digging out their comrades from the debris and dirt that filled in some of the foxholes. We can see a couple of the Marines pulling someone out of a hole on a stretcher.
One of the Marines, Jacob Pitt’s character, Private Bill Smith—he goes by the nickname Hoosier—crawls out of his foxhole with a dog. Another Marine, Private Robert Leckie, catches eye contact with his friend. They don’t talk to each other, but the look between Leckie and Hoosier says they’re both happy to make it out alive.
Oh, and Leckie is played by James Badge Dale.
Not everyone was as fortunate as Leckie and Hoosier. The camera shifts to some other Marines who are looking down into another foxhole. Inside, there’s nothing but body parts where the Marines inside used to be.
The three Marines looking down on their fallen comrades are Sgt. Manuel Rodriguez, Sgt. J.P. Morgan, and Sgt. John Basilone. Rodriguez is played by Jon Bernthal in the series, while Morgan is played by Joshua Bitton, and Basilone is played by Jon Seda.
Sgt. Morgan whispers what everyone is thinking: “Direct hit.”
Just then, Adam Booth’s character, Sgt. Ralph Briggs, walks up to talk to the three men. As he gets closer, he looks down at the foxhole and pauses for a moment. Basilone has to break him out of the trance, asking Briggs what he wants. Still looking at the remains in the foxhole, Briggs tells the three NCOs that Lt. Col. Lewis Puller wants them at the command post. Puller’s nickname is “Chesty,” and he’s played by William Sadler.
The scene shifts now as Chesty is giving the NCOs the day’s mission. They’re to take a position south of the airfield. That must be Henderson Field we saw on the map earlier. Chesty goes on to say that, should the Japanese retake the airfield, their orders are to fall back into the jungle and turn to guerilla fighting. But, he insists, that’s not going to happen. The soldiers agree. Not if they can help it.
After the orders are given, Chesty asks Basilone and Rodriguez to stay behind while the other soldiers go about their work. Chesty says he needs a runner and asks Basilone if he can spare Rodriguez. Basilone jokes that his men are sick of Rodriguez anyway; the two good friends share a smile.
In the next shot, we see Basilone and other Marines digging in behind sandbags camouflaged with dead palm fronds they must’ve found lying around the jungle. The men are working to set up machine gun nests to defend their position. They’re also setting up phone lines. One of the Marines asks about it, and the reply is that Chesty wants all the gun-pits to be on a party line with someone listening at all times so they’re all in constant communication.
Behind one of the machine guns, Basilone checks the sights on the huge gun as Marines on the other side continuing to set up things like barbed wire and other traps meant to slow an enemy attack.
As nightfall seeps into the jungle, along come the rains. The camera cuts to Chesty, who takes a call from Henry Nixon’s character, 2nd Lt. Hugh Corrigan. Corrigan informs Chesty the Japanese are headed his way. Since it’s a party line, everyone else can hear this, too, as Chesty gives orders to hold fire for as long as possible. But, he knows the attack is inevitable. He tells Sgt. Rodriguez to run as much ammo to the guns as he can, and Rodriguez rushes out of the tent to do exactly that.
The camera cuts to Basilone’s position just as he puts the phone down. He turns to the men around him to deliver the bad news: They’re coming right at us. Then, Basilone mans the machine gun while the other Marines ready their weapons for what’s about to happen.
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the TV series The Pacific
That sequence comes from the 2010 miniseries from HBO called The Pacific. The event it’s depicting is the Battle for Henderson Field during the Pacific Theater of World War II, which started this week in history on October 23rd, 1942.
We started our segment with the date of October 24th, though, and there’s a specific reason for that. Simply put, during the night of the 24th and early morning hours of the 25th is when John Basilone and the men under his command managed to hold off the attack from about 3,000 Japanese soldiers. It was an action that would lead to Basilone receiving a Medal of Honor.
When we ended the show’s depiction, though, the attack hadn’t happened yet so I didn’t describe how the series shows what Basilone did. The reason for that is because a little while ago, I had a chat with historian Marty Morgan—who was involved in the production of The Pacific—about that series. So, here is a clip from episode #190 of Based on a True Story where I outlined basically the events that happened right after where we left off a moment ago.
Dan LeFebvre: There is a huge moment in episode number two. I want to ask you about, it gets repeated throughout pretty much the rest of the series and it’s why the episode is called Basilone, right? It happens, this vicious battle one night, John Basilone is a machine gunner, and he’s part of the Marines forming a line of defense against a Japanese attack.
They withstand the first wave of attack, then there’s another wave he decides they need to move to another part of the line, so he picks up his machine gun with bare hands, gets Third degree burns on his hands in the process, run through the jungle on the way he literally runs into some Japanese soldiers that he shoots with his now handheld machine gun before rescuing a couple other soldiers with him who are engaged in some hand to hand combat.
And then after moving, he continues pretty much doing whatever is necessary, running back and forth from Line to get ammo for machine guns. During one of those trips, he runs into another Marine named Manny Rodriguez actually knocks Barcelona down and then shoots a few Japanese soldiers behind him, saving his life, allowing him to continue delivering ammo to the line.
And in the end, the Marines are able to hold off the Japanese attack. Thanks in no small part to his actions and the next day he finds the body of his friend Rodriguez who seems like he was shot somewhere near where he saved that someone’s life. And according to the show, this event would ultimately lead to him being awarded the Medal of Honor and simultaneously being tormented with this guilt for being, getting this medal and being awarded this.
When his friend died, how well did the show do depicting this event?
Marty Morgan: It depicted it very well. And it depicted with, I think some excellent acting too. Basilone’s tormented, and I think the series explains it. I’m getting ahead of where we’re going in episode, but after becoming a recipient of the medal of honor, Basilone is taken back home. It’s depicted in these. We’re just talking about the first four episodes here. And so this is part of what we’re covering and I’m stepping ahead a little bit though, when I point out that when he goes home to provide a very useful function in the form of helping to raise money for the war loan.
Barcelona is tormented by the fact that. He has brother Marines who are out still in the fight and he’s not there. They will ultimately go on, 1st Marine Division will ultimately go on to participate in landings at Cape Gloucester the day after Christmas, 1943. And they’ll fight at Cape Gloucester in one of the, in a grueling battle for over three months.
In the meantime, has gone home. And he has become a face and a voice for the United States government in the war alone, where he is, where what he is doing is extremely important because this war was not simply just a mobilization of the American people. It required a mobilization of American industry.
And in order to mobilize American industry, you had to mobilize the American economy. And in order for us to be able to pay for everything, the government had to have money, and it had to have money from the people that came in the form of war bonds that were purchased by the people that were ultimately paid back in the aftermath of the war.
And in order to keep the money flowing, the United States government had to make this. The series of campaigns that became a number of different war loan initiatives, it was incredibly important for the government to reach people effectively. The people ended up knowing a lot about what happened to the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal during the period from August 7th until the division was ultimately relieved from, removed from the island in early December.
And it was, that was headline news. That was, everyone in the country knew about what the First Marine Division went through on Guadalcanal, and they ultimately would read about the heroism of the men who held off repeated Japanese attacks during the course of the First Marine Division’s time on the island.
And Basilone ultimately becomes one of the celebrities of the First Marine Division. I hate to use that word, but that is exactly what he was. He was a household name. And he could therefore contribute more importantly to the war loan. Then his contribution would be more valuable pressing the war loan than it would be if he was continuing to function as a machine gun section leader, because as machine gun section leader, he might just get himself killed, which is precisely what ends up happening to him.
And so bass alone staying in five star hotels being wined and dined back home. No one’s shooting at him He is never spending a night. Outside under the open sky. He’s never getting rained on. He’s never walking in the mud He’s living the it’s the ideal post in many ways and he’s completely miserable and it’s because he’s a warrior and his It’s not even just the fact that he’s a warrior that wants to be out there doing what he can It’s also because He understood he was living off of borrowed time and that borrowed time began when his life should have ended that night at the mouth of Alligator Creek.
On in August of 42 and his life was instead saved by another Marie who that very night ended up losing his life that weighs heavily on people that’s such a, an obvious statement. That’s the greatest understatement that could ever be made. But I was raised by someone that experienced the psychological disorder that’s called survivor’s deal.
My father was in Vietnam and my father had survived. A critical moment in Vietnam and to know him on just a social level, you would never have guessed that it was something that traumatized him and troubled him all the way through the end of his life. But it was only by being an intimate, being around him and being a family member that saw him constantly, it was only then that you could realize the extent to which it haunted him.
And. I believe that John Basilone in the very same way, John Basilone just couldn’t accept the fact that he was chosen for reasons known but to fate to be the one that gets to go and sell war bonds to the American people. And he was not okay with it. Because he wanted to be in the field. He wanted to be leading Marines in combat because he was good at it.
A point I find myself making all the time is that the American nation that fought the second world war is quite a bit different than the one that we have now, and that between today and 1942, a lot has happened and something that now characterizes us in a way that I don’t believe that it did, yeah, almost 80 years ago, is that cynicism, pessimism.
And disenchantment were no longer dominant ideas for us. They’re dominant ideas for us now, particularly pessimism and suspicion. And. It’s only when I think you can figure out what it’s only when you can create a mathematical way of removing pessimism, suspicion, cynicism, and you can remove those from your mind, you can only do that by doing a lot of reading and imagining a world where those things were, those forces were not as powerful to a national identity.
It’s only when you can do that you can imagine how I think John Basilone was haunted. Because there was a sense of duty, a sense of optimism, and a sense of courage that characterized what he did. And for him to have been removed from it and be back home had to have been torture. Because He was being called to the battlefield.
There’s been a great deal of writing recently, too, that has indicated the way that warriors experience combat and how they’re called on to engage something that’s in our animal side. Because we’re still just animals. We still have all of these animalistic behaviors, but then we also have this back here and this back here.
We have a lower cortex and we have a frontal cortex and that makes us different. We are thinking animals, but we’re still also animals. And there is a tribalism that can characterize the way that we interact in social settings. And humankind, we are social. We’re very social. And some of the most recent writing has indicated that men who experience combat with one another develop a bond that’s different than anything else that you can or will ever develop.
It’s different than the bond that you’ll develop with your wife. It’s different than the bond that you’ll develop with your father or your brother. And yet it is as powerful and although I haven’t experienced it I was raised by somebody who did, and I watched the way that 30 and 40 and 50 years later, he would interact with men he had served with, and it told me that this is something serious, and this is something extremely powerful.
This is John Basilone, who had been in the, and who had been in uniform for quite a long time up to this point. He had been in the army for years before he entered the Marine Corps, and Basilone had served with a lot of people, and he had served in uniform. And the Philippines, and now here he is wearing green uniform, and he’s in combat in the Pacific, in the Solomon Islands, and he experiences combat with people, and right toward the beginning of that combat and the moment that will ultimately make him a household name, the night right there at Alligator Creek, when he engages in the actions that will ultimately result in him being awarded the Medal of Honor, he also sees someone save his life, and then that person is immediately killed, and it traumatizes him.
Because that’s what trauma looks like. These people, what we asked them to go do during the course of that war was go out and dance with all of this complicated psychology, and he fascinates me. Bass alone fascinates me, because all he wanted was to get back. To his machine gun section, all he wanted to do was lead Marie to combat.
And that says something so fascinating. And it, that’s why I’m so glad that ultimately the series makes Bass alone and him a central character. Because he’s, first of all, he’s very tragic, but he’s also somebody that’s extremely admirable because he presents qualities to us. That I think we all want to imagine because what I think we want to imagine is that there’s a nobility inside of us and that we have a dedication to something and that dedication is to country and comrades, and that, although I don’t believe John Basilone was some Puritan, but his, the trajectory of his life sent him down a different path and that trajectory imbued him with This torture, this haunting of what happened to him that night, what happened to him in the nights that followed on Guadalcanal, the things that he survived, the friends that he saw lose their lives.
And it just, it wasn’t enough. He could not tolerate the idea of being the sociopath that separates himself from those men who are still out there fighting the enemy. He couldn’t individualize. And that fascinates me. He couldn’t just be like, too bad for you guys. He was a man who was capable of these complex feelings.
And that’s why I think he’s so amazing. Because he obviously had a deep feeling of love, which is ultimately expressed in his marriage, which we will ultimately learn more about as the series moves on. I’m mentioning it only because I want to call emphasis to the fact that there was a higher calling at work in John Bacillan’s mind and that higher calling, I think, was forged on Guadalcanal and it began from the landings and I feel like it was set in motion in the most powerful way of all during the Tenerife River battle on Alligator Creek on August 21st, 1942, when he’s almost, I don’t want to say single handedly, but his, certainly his leadership was instrumental in guaranteeing that that his company or his section would not be overrun, that 1 7 would hold the line and would prevent the enemy from overrunning the airfield and recapturing.
And It makes his story so much more compelling and that’s why I’ll, I don’t mean to rush into it, but eventually I’m involved in that, which comes out as a companion book to the series. And this represents a big departure from what ultimately happened in that there was a team that was researching it.
I was a part of that team when I was involved in the series. And then there was screenplay writing, people that were actually putting a TV series together. And we ultimately departed ways under not the most entirely positive circumstances, and they made decisions that I didn’t care for. And. We advocated for things and this book they ultimately chose not to follow and they did that in favor of, we, we weren’t following Basilone, we were following other people who had stories that were equally as compelling by the way but they went with Basilone and looking back on it now, I’m glad they did because I continue to be fascinated through my career With people were like back then, because understanding John Basilone has called me down this path of recognizing that Americans thought different back then.
That Americans felt senses of a duty of honor, of optimism. And I’m not saying that it’s entirely gone now because it’s definitely still there. It’s just that I think the background noise has been turned up. The volume of the background noise is much louder. It’s. It’s distracting us from the fact that it’s during it’s during times of trial that our survival instincts as animals kick into motion.
Those survival instincts will present themselves through human behavior as loyalty and dedication. They’re the, they’re things that make us love dogs endlessly. And there are things that make us love ourselves, because when you look at John Basilone and you see that loyalty, that this man who could have just sat back and lived an opulent life in uniform and the best possible assignment ever, a man who could have been content with the amount of sacrifice he had already made and he was not content with it.
He was discontented because he was capable of doing more. And he couldn’t do more, which is what ultimately compels him to go back to the field, ultimately brings him back to the fleet Marine force. So that he can lead Marines in combat. And that is ultimately what brings his life to an early end.
Obviously, Marty was talking about more than just the event this week in history, but also some of the aftermath of that as Basilone was pulled from combat for a war bonds tour in the United States.
If you want to hear the rest of my interview with Marty, that was a 3-part series where we covered all ten episodes in The Pacific. You can find them all at basedonatruestorypodcast.com/thepacific. The first episode of the series is where we cover the episode showing John Basilone’s Medal of Honor action that happened this week in history.
October 24, 3018.
Yes, you heard that year correctly: 3018.
This will be a quick one, but it was this week that Frodo recovered from his wounds at Elrond’s house in Rivendell after the Skirmish at Weathertop—that’s when five Nazgûl attacked Aragorn and the four hobbits on Weathertop Hill in Eriador.
And now that I’ve explained that, you probably have a good indicator why the year for the event is 3018. This is, of course, from the fictional story found in The Lord of the Rings.
So, that’s why we’re not doing the normal comparison, but I just had to point out that Frodo awoke from his injuries in Rivendell on October 24th during a time known the Third Age. But, because the date of October 24th is specifically mentioned, I’ll throw in the movie’s depiction of this into our movie recommendations this week.
You can see Gandalf telling Frodo the date at about an hour and 24 minutes into 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring.
And if you do want more of a comparison with that, we actually covered the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in our own 3-part series that ran for three years in a row on April Fools Day. You can find that series over at basedonatruestorypodcast.com/thelordoftherings
October 26, 1881. Tombstone, Arizona.
The camera pans across a few men and women clad in outfits you’d expect for the late 1800s. We can only see a four or five people in the shot at any given time as the camera moves along where they’re standing on the front of the buildings, but we can see the women have on nice dresses and hats. The men, too, seem to be wearing nice clothes with suits, vests, and bowler hats.
Everyone seems to be looking at something off the frame.
When the camera cuts, we can see what they’re looking at. Four armed men are walking down the dusty road. Their long, black dusters are blowing in the wind. As they continue to walk, we can see a burning building behind them. They turn to look. After a brief moment, they continue on. Nothing can save that building.
Although we see someone run up and throw some water on the flames. That doesn’t help at all, but there are other people running this way and that—maybe they’re trying to keep the fire from spreading to other buildings in town.
With the burning building behind them, the four men continue walking toward the camera in a very cinematic moment.
The camera cuts to what looks like an empty lot between a couple of buildings. Five men are there, and it looks like one of them is tending to his horse. On the fence behind one of the men is a row of saddles.
Switching back to the four men, they continue walking. A little kid runs up to them. “Bang, bang!” he yells, pretending to shoot at the men. One of the guys jumps at the sound, but he recognizes there’s no threat as the kid runs off. A few people from building balconies overhead look down at the men continuing to walk down the street.
One of the men, Val Kilmer’s character, Doc Holliday, whistles softly and tips his hat to a bystander watching them walk by. In front of Holliday is Kurt Russell’s character, Wyatt Earp. Alongside him are his two brothers, Virgil and Morgan Earp. They’re played by Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton, respectively.
A man runs up to the four men, saying he’s disarmed them. The movie doesn’t mention his name, but we can tell by looking at him that this is Terry O’Quinn’s character, Mayor John Clum. Mayor Clum tells the men that he won’t allow for any trouble. At this, Wyatt Earp holsters his pistol. But they all keep walking, and the mayor makes his way into a nearby building. The camera cuts to inside the building where we can see someone taking a photograph. The mayor doesn’t pay attention to this, he looks out the window to continue watching the four men from the safety of indoors.
Now the four men are nearing their destination and Holliday raises up the shotgun he’s holding. The five men don’t seem to notice the four men at first. The camera shows the four men passing by the photography studio toward the open lot. Now the five men notice them—oh wait, now that the camera angle has changed we can see there are six men and not five.
All six men are walking toward the approaching Earp brothers, along with Holliday. After taking a few steps, the six men end up in a staggered line that basically amounts to four men up front and two in back.
Sam Elliot’s version of Virgil Earp speaks first, announcing to the six men that they’re there to disarm them. He orders them to throw up their hands.
The camera cuts close to a holstered pistol and we can see a hand grab it. Then, another cut to another pistol being grabbed. The camera is too close to see who it is, but the clothing is brightly colored and the four approaching men were all wearing black dusters so it must be a couple of the six men grabbing their pistols. No one is drawing their guns yet, just putting their hands on it.
Immediately, the Earps tense up and put their hands on their own pistols. Holliday raises his shotgun to eye level. Virgil yells out to hold on—that’s not what they want! Now we can see Holliday tossing off the black duster that was just thrown around his shoulders to free up his arms a little more.
One of the six men in the back stumbles back toward a gate in the fence, then he turns and runs away. The other guy in the back row seems to have run away, too, although the camera doesn’t really show that. He’s just not visible in the frame anymore.
The camera shifts to the three Earp brothers in a line, poised and waiting. Holliday has his shotgun pointed at the men. From behind one of the Earp brothers, I think it’s Wyatt, we can see his angle looking at a man with his hand on his pistol.
No one says anything, they’re just waiting to see what the other side does. It’s the kind of tension you can cut with a knife.
Wyatt is motionless as his eyes dart around to another man just to his left, then back to the man in front of him. It’s clear he’s trying to figure out what they’re going to do next.
The camera cuts from one man to the other. A smile cracks on Holliday’s face as he keeps his shotgun trained on one of the men opposite him. The camera cuts to that man’s face now, so we can see it’s Thomas Haden Church’s character, Billy Clanton. A closeup of another of the men and we can see it’s Stephen Lang’s character, Ike Clanton. Neither of the Clanton brothers are moving, seemingly frozen in place.
Identifying the other men from the actors playing them, we can see there’s also Frank McLaury, who is played by Robert Burke. There’s also Frank’s brother, Tom McLaury, who is played by John Philbin, as well as Billy Claiborne, who is played by Wyatt Earp.
No one is saying anything, the camera is just bouncing from one man’s face to another as they’re staring each other down.
Billy Clanton’s face looks panicked. Holliday winks at Billy, and Billy’s expression changes to a straight face. Wyatt Earp notices this and says, “Oh, my God!”
Then, all hell breaks loose into a hail of gunfire as the two sides start shooting at each other.
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Tombstone
That sequence comes from the 1993 movie called Tombstone. The event it’s depicting is what we now know as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place this week in history on October 26th, 1881.
And right away, I’ll point out that the name is a misnomer—probably one of the biggest in the history of the Old West. The gunfight didn’t happen at the O.K. Corral, but at a vacant lot near it. So, the movie was correct to show that because the photography studio we see in the movie really was the building next door. That was owned by a man named C.S. Fly, and his photography studio was on Fremont Street—that’s the name of the street we see the four men walking down in the movie. Next to it was a vacant lot; that’s where the gunfight took place.
The O.K. Corral was facing the other direction, on Allen Street, but what we’re seeing in the movie is the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral with horse stalls facing Fremont Street.
The people we see involved in the movie were correct, too. On one side were the three Earp brothers along with their friend, John Henry Holliday, who went by the nickname “Doc.” Although the part of the movie we talked about today doesn’t show it, Virgil Earp—that was Sam Elliot’s character—was the Marshal. His brothers Morgan and Wyatt were also lawmen in town, as was Doc Holliday.
On the other side were a group of outlaws known simply as the Cowboys. The movie correctly shows there being two sets of brothers, Ike and Billy Clanton, as well as Tom and Frank McLaury, along with Billy Claiborne.
Oh, and maybe you noticed that I mentioned that Billy Claiborne is played by Wyatt Earp in the movie. That wasn’t a mistake. According to an explanation by Marshall Trimble, who is Arizona’s official state historian, the actor who played Billy Claiborne in the movie was Wyatt Earp III, who is a descendant of Wyatt Earp’s older half-brother Newton. None of the Earps who took part in the gunfight had any sons, so the Earp name didn’t carry on through them. But, still, the actor is still related to the Wyatt Earp from history.
I’ll throw a link to Marshall’s article in the show notes for this episode if you want to check it out.
So, what about the gunfight itself?
To help us understand how well the movie portrayed what really happened, let’s go back to another episode of Based on a True Story, because I had a chat with Chris Wimmer about the movie Tombstone back on episode #142. Chris is the producer and host of two very popular podcasts, Legends of the Old West and Infamous America.
Here’s an excerpt from my chat with Chris to separate fact from fiction in Tombstone’s depiction of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral:
Dan LeFebvre: Since the gunfight at the O. K. Corral was, and probably is, one of the most popular gunfights in the Old West today, I thought it would be interesting to do a little bit of a quick fire fact check on it. I know you go into a lot more detail on your show, but just some of the overview of what happens in the movie.
I’ll explain what happens in the movie, and then if you could just let us know. If that really happened or not, and you can go into as much depth as you want to, I’ll leave that up to you if you just want to keep it surface level and kind of an overview of that. The first one here is, like you mentioned they, they walk down, down the streets of Tombstone, but then they, these, there’s these two sides, and there’s this, a tense calm in the air, some tension there, where you see two sides of armed men staring each other down.
And then the camera cuts in on Doc Holliday, and he winks at one of the cowboys. And that’s the initiation of, okay, we know that something’s going to happen. Do we know if it was a Doc Holliday wink or Doc Holliday at all that was the final straw, so to speak, of the actual gunfight itself?
Chris Wimmer: I don’t think anyone could probably say 100%, but I think the odds would be pretty strong against Doc Holliday winking. That seems to be much, much more of a Hollywood moment and a great moment for Val Kilmer playing the wonderful, his wonderful version of Doc Holliday. The rest of it is, though very similar.
Initially, before the gunfight, Doc Holliday did have this walking stick, this cane that he exchanged for a shotgun with Virgil Earp. That did happen. And, So Virgil Earp is carrying Doc’s cane, Doc does have a shotgun. When the four, when the three Earps and Doc Holliday arrive at the lot, they’re not in a, a straight line like that, actually, there’s a little more staggered to it and I won’t get into too much detail there, but Doc has the shotgun, he, in the movie, you will see Doc Holliday shrug off his coat and raise the shotgun, according to the reports, that part did happen, but we don’t, I think there’s probably very little evidence to show that he actually winked and that’s how it all began, but, Again, as you see in the movie, Virgil Earp raises up that black cane with the silver top on it that he had taken from Doc and he yells, something like, Hold, I don’t want that.
I don’t want, we’re not here for a shootout. And that part really did happen. That, that was basically the last moment before the shooting started.
Dan LeFebvre: Wow. All things considered, it sounds like they did a pretty decent job. Again, going back to, of course, it’s, at the end of the day, it’s entertainment.
So it’s not going to be 100 percent accurate, of course. The next shot that we see in the gunfight is really the first angle that we see where somebody pulls up a gun, you see a gun leaving its holster, and it’s a close up of a cowboy, that’s the one that Doc Holliday winked at. Do we know who drew their guns first?
Chris Wimmer: Yeah, again, you there’s varying reports. I think the common wisdom now, the most agreed upon version now is that Wyatt Earp and Frank McClowry pulled their guns at almost the same time. When the Earps and Doc Holliday arrive Billy Clanton and Tom McClowry the two Clantons, Billy and Ike, are in the lot.
And the two McClowys, Frank and Tom, are in the lot. I believe it’s Billy Clanton and Frank McClowy who start reaching for their guns as the Earps come up. So that’s, that starts to establish the tension. Then Virgil yells, hold, I don’t want that. And then almost right after that, Frank and Wyatt pull their guns at about the same time.
Wyatt shoots Frank McClowy in the stomach. Frank’s shot goes wide. And then the next gunshot comes from Billy Clanton, I believe. So frank and frank mclaury and wider pull and fire almost at the same time to start the whole thing off
Dan LeFebvre: Okay. Yeah, that was going to be one of my next questions because in the movie we see why it shoot first they’re drawing you see the cowboy drawing and then Why it as well, of course, is why it seems to be a faster, faster draw.
So he’s the one that actually shot first. So it seems like they got it pretty close there as far as that aspect of it is concerned. Yeah, it’s,
Chris Wimmer: it’s very similar in, in, in the milliseconds that were involved. It’s probably hard to tell who actually fired their gun first or maybe began to draw first.
It does. I think by Wyatt’s own, by Wyatt’s own account, he does draw and fire very early. So if not right before Frank McClowry, he pulls almost at the same time. Maybe with the second he sees Frank McClowry this thing is going to now escalate into a gunfight, Wyatt pulls and begins to fire. And as you probably have seen in the movie through Kurt Russell’s portrayal, from my understanding, Wyatt Earp in real life was a very cool customer.
And so it’s, he was, he was one of those guys who stayed calm during a crazy gunfight. And so part of maybe part of the idea that he might have drawn first, and I think he says he does, but either way. He lands the first shot because he’s unfazed by all of this stuff, and the cowboys are freaked out and firing more wildly than Wyatt.
So Wyatt scores a hit, if you want to say it that way, and so maybe that helps generate the idea that he actually drew and fired first.
Dan LeFebvre: Okay, that makes sense. Now, in the movie, it doesn’t take long once the shooting starts for two of the four cowboys to get shot and then a third is close behind after the horse that he was using for some cover moves and then Doc Holliday shoots him with a shotgun, but then a fourth cowboy raises his hands and pleads the Earps to stop shooting.
Did the cowboys actually try to stop the gunfight partway through?
Chris Wimmer: Yes and no. I think that there are, Ike Clanton who’s really is the instigator of a lot of this stuff, is the cowboy who throws up his hands and says, I got no gun don’t shoot me and runs toward Wyatt Earp. That did actually happen.
Ike Clanton throws up his hands and says, I’ve got no gun. I don’t remember his specific words, but he throws up his hands and shows that he does not want to be a part of this and he rushes toward Wyatt Earp. And collides with Wyatt Earp, and Wyatt Earp does say to him, get to fighting or get away, the fight is commenced, either fight or get out of here.
And Ike Clanton exits the fight, and we might get into exactly what he did afterwards, but that part did happen, he did run up to Wyatt. And then gets out of the way and is not part of the gunfight. The thing you referenced previously is that, yeah, I believe it’s Tom McClowry who is next to a horse and is using the horse for cover and then eventually gets shot by the shotgun.
Which which also happens in real life, that Doc Holliday did shoot Tom McClower with a shotgun after the horse got out of the way as well.
Dan LeFebvre: As you’re talking about this, just, it’s fascinating to me that this happened so long, it’s not like we have it on video that we can go back and reenact, know what happened, this is all coming from the milliseconds.
Between different things, the fact that we’re able to break this down in this much detail is, it’s impressive. It’s surprising. Yeah.
Chris Wimmer: And luckily, because, at least on the urban doc holiday side, everyone on that side of the equation survived. And Wyatt Earp wrote a very famous handwritten diagram of how it all went down.
And there were various other people. This happened right in the middle of town, more or less. There were two, two main streets going through Tombstone, and this happened right in one of them. And I can get into exactly how it ended, literally in the middle of the street. But it but this happened in full view of everyone.
There were other witnesses. So you have a lot of different people. So we didn’t have video evidence. We had a lot of different people’s testimony to try to. Verify things, but of course, in the heat of the moment, everybody gave conflicting statements. Even though we have a generally agreed upon sequence, no one will ever be 100 percent
Dan LeFebvre: Sure. And that makes, that makes sense. That’s the way a lot of history is. In the movie, though, we see that Virgil is shot in the leg and Morgan is shot in the chest. Were they actually injured in the gunfight?
Chris Wimmer: Yeah, and this is pretty accurate. Yes Virgil was absolutely shot in the leg.
Morgan’s injury was a little more visceral, actually, and it’s, I won’t get into too much graphic detail, but he was shot in the right shoulder, and the bullet actually travels across his back and exits out of his left shoulder, so it’s a very strange it’s like someone fired at him and he spun to the side at the last second.
And the bullet just traveled along his back. So he was technically injured in both shoulders. But yeah, like he, both guys were injured. Morgan’s was just a little different than is portrayed in the movie.
Dan LeFebvre: Now, going back to the movie here, we still have a couple of things I wanted to chat about there, as far as the actual fight itself, the man that in the building he, the guy who held up his gun, he went into a building nearby.
But then he ends up shooting from that building. And so almost instantly, it seems like all of a sudden the Yerps and Doc Holiday are it seems like they’re surrounded almost for a time where they have the Cowboys on one side and then this guy. We thought was out of the gunfight kind of reenters that where they actually shot at from a nearby building like that.
Chris Wimmer: No, this is a little bit of dramatic license that yes the, in the movie, that’s Ike Clanton again, who has rushed up to Wyatt Earp and said he has no gun and he’s supposed to run away from the fight in real life. He did run away from the fight. He was not, he was no longer involved in it.
In the movie, his character circles around into Fly’s boarding house slash Photoshop. And grabs a gun and begins firing through a window, and that’s just a little dramatic license for entertainment value.
Dan LeFebvre: Okay. Okay. Now I want to talk about the duration of it because I timed this, and in the movie, that scene lasts 1 minute and 29 seconds from that first shot until the last shot.
So how long was the actual gunfight at O.
Chris Wimmer: K. Corral? Yeah, here’s some great little nuggets about the fight. I love talking about these. So that’s not too far off. The actual gunfight, I believe the most common number you’ll see associated with it is it lasted about 27 seconds. Oh, wow. In that 27 seconds.
So yeah, the gunfight in the movie is only about a minute longer than it actually lasted in real life. Now, of course, that would have felt like an eternity, but… It’s less than 30 seconds in real life. And during that time period, there were somewhere around 30 shots fired. So almost, you’re talking about a ton of shooting and the most interesting thing that certainly if you’re, if your listeners haven’t done.
So I hope this spurs them to go check it out. You can find a photo online. If memory serves, that someone took of the vacant lot where the gunfight took place a couple years after the fact, before, the town changed and it was demolished. So you can see just how narrow this is. And so the mistaken, the biggest misnomer maybe in the history of the West is the gunfight at the OK Corral.
The gunfight did not actually happen at the OK Corral. It happened at a vacant lot. that backed up against the OK Corral so you could walk through this vacant lot and into the back of the OK Corral. So that’s how the sequence started. The cowboys were near the OK Corral and they just walked through this empty space in this town block and ended up at this vacant lot next to Fly’s boarding house.
And that’s where they were finally found and confronted by the Earps. So this lot is really narrow. If you’re listeners… Anyone has a two car garage, it’s about that wide. So if you picture four guys standing just outside the door of the garage with weapons drawn, and four guys inside the garage, one of those guys inside runs away, and now there’s seven guys firing at each other.
In this tiny space for 30 seconds with bullets flying everywhere, and one of them is Doc Holliday with a shotgun. So it was, it must have just been mayhem there for 30 seconds. That,
Dan LeFebvre: That, that really paints a picture, and it really makes me, in the movie at the end, we see Virgil and Morgan are injured, we talked about that, and then there’s three dead cowboys, and one escaped, but it, when you paint the picture like that, it really would surprise me that anybody would survive.
What was the actual end result of the gunfight?
Chris Wimmer: Yeah you got it right. And that’s, that was when I did the research on it, that was one of the startling revelations to me too. Cause I, I’d seen the movie tombstone and I loved it. And I assumed that was basically how it all worked. And for the most part it was.
So yes, three cowboys were killed. The three cowboys who stayed in the fight, Frank McClowry, Tom McClowry, and Billy Clinton all died. They didn’t necessarily die immediately in the gunfight. Billy and Tom. lingered a couple more hours before they died of their wounds, but all three men did die as a result of the gunfight.
Virgil and Morgan were injured, more or less the way in the movie. Doc Holliday had a ti like a minor scratch on his hip, a bullet grazed him, it cut through his coat. And he initially thought he was much more badly injured than he was when they finally looked at it, it was just a minor scratch.
And then the kind of miraculous part is that Wyatt Earp, who was right in the middle, right in the forefront, in the thick of the whole thing. He was never scratched. He never received a wound and that was the miracle of Wyatt Earp’s life in everything he did. He was never sustained an injury. He was never shot.
He’s never sustained any kind of severe blow of any, really any kind. So It’s, he was just one of those guys, just, the bullets seem to miss him every time.
Dan LeFebvre: It’s a guy to have on your side, that’s for sure.
Chris Wimmer: Yeah.
If you want to learn about the historical accuracy of the rest of the movie, you can find the full interview with Chris by scrolling back to episode #142 of Based on a True Story. Or if you want to watch the event as it’s shown in the 1993 movie Tombstone, we started our segment today about an hour and ten minutes into the movie.