Monday, June 25, 2012


For years, BBC America has brought a mix of British programming stateside, but starting on Sunday, August 19th, they will begin presenting their very first, very own dramatic series, COPPER. 

Kevin Ryan and Tom Weston-Jones

It’s an Eastern rather than a Western, set in New York City in the 1860s, and focuses on Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) a tough Irish-American cop working the city’s notorious Five Points district. Corcoran must balance his work, his ethics and his quest to learn the truth about the disappearance of his wife and the death of his daughter. A Civil War vet, two compatriots from the battlefield -- Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), the wayward son of a wealthy industrialist, and Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), a black physician -- expose him to both New York society, and the black community of Harlem.  They further share a battlefield secret that inextricably links their lives. Corcoran's closest friend is his partner at the 6th Precinct, Detective Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan).

Among the female characters in the tale are in Eva Heissen (Franka Potente), the madame of Eva’s Paradise and Molly Stuart(Tanya Fischer), the ambitious courtesan at Eva’s brothel.  The uptown girl is beautiful and sophisticated Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith).   Sara Freeman (Tessa Thompson) is the wife of Dr. Matthew Freeman.

Franka Potente and Weston-Jones

In the back-story, Dr. Freeman went to war not to fight, but to serve as Robert Morehouse’s valet.  Morehouse has returned from the war minus a leg, and too restless to settle down as his father’s business partner.  And while Dr. Freeman uses his scientific skills to assist Corcoran in his investigations, his contributions are kept secret: Corcoran’s superiors, already dubious about science, would never seriously consider evidence provided by a black man.

Many in the cast come from across the pond, and are not particularly familiar faces here, but there are exceptions.  Franka Potente made a splash as the title character in RUN, LOLA, RUN, and co-starred opposite Matt Damon in two BOURNE movies.  Anastasia Griffith first gained attention in DAMAGES and can currently be seen in ONCE UPON A TIME. Kyle Schmid was so liked as a vampire in the series BLOOD TIES that he’s playing another vampire on the current Syfy series BEING HUMAN.  (I guess if the audience doesn’t quickly warm to COPPER, they can take a cue from how the DARK SHADOWS soap was saved, and have him bite Kevin Corcoran.)   

Ato Essandoh, Kyle Schmid, Weston-Jones

The series, shot in Canada, and with a ten-episode first season, was created and co-written by Tom Fontana of BORGIA, OZ, HOMICIDE and ST, ELSEWHERE fame.  Working with him is Oscar-nominated (for MONTERS BALL) Will Rokos and Oscar winner (for directing RAIN MAN) Barry Levinson.  Cineflix Studios’ President, Christina Wayne, was in charge at AMC when they produced BROKEN TRAIL and MAD MEN. 


Author Peter Sherayko

“I’m going into a meeting with a producer, and he slaps this book down on the table in front of me, and says, ‘This book tells you how to make a Western.  Have you read it?’

“Have I read it?” Peter repeated, incredulously.  “I wrote it.”

Buck Taylor,Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Peter Sherayko

I’ve long suspected that all the things I don’t know about making a historically accurate Western could fill a book.  Peter Sherayko has filled two books with that knowledge.  The first, TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND THE GEAR, an updated edition of his 2004 original, tells and illustrates what went into the making of the most beloved and influential Western of the last two decades.  The second book, THE FRINGE OF HOLLYWOOD, tells how to make a historically accurate Western, even on a low budget.  With the ever-growing knowledge of detail and history on the part of the Western fan, as a direct result of TOMBSTONE, I would say reading both books before you make your Western film is more than just a good idea:  making a Western today, without the benefit of first reading TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND GEAR and THE FRINGE OF HOLLYWOOD, would be foolhardy.

Old Man Clanton's .45s

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of being on a number of Western movie and TV sets with Peter Sherayko, and been exposed first-hand to his encyclopedic knowledge of the American West in 19th and early 20th centuries, and his enthusiasm in sharing that knowledge.  It’s no surprise that he and Kevin Jarre, who wrote, and was the original director of TOMBSTONE, were fast friends.  It was their mission to do as meticulously detailed and historically accurate a telling of the O.K. Corral gunfight as could be imagined, and they succeeded so well that it forever changed audiences’ expectations of accuracy in weaponry, art direction and costuming in the Western movie.  Also as part of the process, Peter organized The Buckaroos, a group of historically knowledgeable re-enactors who have all the period Western skills, in and out of the saddle, to add to every scene a patina of authenticity.

Virgil Earp's (Sam Elliot's) rig

Poring over historical documents and photographs, they not only got the events right, they found out what kind of weapons each man was known to possess at that time in their lives.  And instead of the drab brown wardrobe movies have traditionally assigned to Western characters, their research revealed the gaudy and colorful clothes these dapper Victorian men wore.  In the extravagantly photo-illustrated TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND THE GEAR, you’ll not only see every rifle, shotgun, sidearm and knife that each major character in the film had, you’ll see the same for the minor characters, the riding extras, characters whose scenes were cut out, and characters whose scenes were never even shot!  The same is true of rigs (holsters to us non-pros), saddles, hats, shirts, boots, and every sort of hand prop.  And the choice for each, based on personality, known wardrobe preference or logical deduction, is explained in detail. 

Doc's knife with retractable blade

Also in the book, entitled ‘A Brief Tombstone Timeline,’ is the most succinct telling of events from 1872 to 1903 that I have ever read.  And Peter states what so few have the courage to even utter: that Doc Holliday was believed to be involved in a series of stagecoach hold-ups.  The book opens with an introduction by gun expert George J. Layman, the original forward by writer-director John Milius, and a new forward by John Fasano, the writer who script-doctored  TOMBSTONE when Kevin Jarre was fired, and who provides fascinating details on how the movie was made.  If you love TOMBSTONE, owning TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND GEAR is an absolute must. 

Sherman McMasters 1878 Double Action Colt

Following the popularity of TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND THE GEAR, THE FRINGE OF HOLLYWOOD was written to teach how to make accurate Westerns, even on a tiny budget.  What could be a dry recitation of rules – don’t use this gun before this year, don’t use that kind of saddle – is instead entertaining, engaging and informative because, again, Peter Sherayko knows his subject so well.  For instance, he could just have said that the most oft-seen gun-rig of movies and TV since the 1940s, the low-on-the-hip holster known as the buscadero gun belt, is wrong.  Instead, he tells us why.  It was developed in Texas at the turn of the century for a lawman who found the traditional, higher-worn rig uncomfortable when driving his Model-T Ford!  And the leather that used to cover the side of the gun up to the grips was cut away, exposing the trigger guard not for lawmen, but for 20th Century quick-draw competitors – the same reason the round-the-thigh strap was added, and the leather loop over the hammer! 

Similarly, the clothes of the cowboy in movies, from the jeans to the hats with the bent-up side brims are not from the Old West but the fashion of modern rodeo-riders.  And the saddles – don’t get Peter started on the saddles!  But again, rather than just saying that almost all the saddles seen in Westerns are much too modern, he explains the economic realities of the wrangler’s job that makes them tend to flat-out lie to producers about what is correct-to-period, and what is not.  His heaviest criticisms are for wranglers and weapon suppliers.  “The majority of Western films have depicted two firearms which, to the uneducated, appear to be the only guns in existence: the 1873 Colt Single Action and the 1892 Winchester carbine.  The icon John Wayne used these guns in virtually all his Westerns from 1939’s STAGECOACH to 1976’s THE SHOOTIST.  He used them in THE COMANCHEROS taking place in the 1840s, THE SEARCHERS 1868 and TRUE GRIT mid-1870s, all historical times when those guns simply did not exist.” 

As he points out, those movies were made at a time when good reproductions of the correct firearms were not available, and originals were costly and hard to come by.  Happily, things have improved, and the wide array of proper repros makes it possible to have a wide range of weaponry, and still keeps things accurate. 

Sheriff Behan's gear

Actors also come in for serious drubbing, when they dishonestly claim to be good on horseback.  Still, wranglers don’t trust them with horses, and armorers don’t trust them with guns, so they need to be proactive if they’re going to get the experience they need. 

With sections devoted to proper saddles, ropes, whips, hobbles, scabbards, canteens, bedrolls, bridles, bits, spurs, and saddlebags, you’ll find not only a wealth of information, but perusing the material can frequently provide inspiration as well.  Both books are available from Amazon and wherever fine books are sold.  



The Andres Pico Adobe at10940 Sepulveda Blvd., at the corner of Brand, in Mission Hills, is the headquarters of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society.  On Thursday, June 28th at 7 p.m., they’ll present a program where several Historical Society members will be presenting their collections, including Civil War uniforms and weapons, and John Brooks’ collection of percussion revolvers, followed by a screening of SAN FERNANDO VALLEY (1944), starring Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers. 

I’d not been aware of the Andres Pico Adobe before this, but it sounds fascinating.  It’s the second oldest home in Los Angeles, its oldest portion being built by former San Fernando Mission Indians in 1834.  It was the headquarters of Don Andres Pico in 1945 when he leased the entire San Fernando Valley to run cattle – he was already running his cattle in the entire Antelope Valley, but the steers were complaining about feeling cramped!  Andres brother, incidentally, was Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican California. 


I just came back from a magnificent performance by Glen Campbell at the Hollywood Bowl.  Part of his GOODBYE TOUR, so-named because his Alzheimer's probably won't allow him to perform much longer, he was in wonderful voice as he performed many of his hits, including, of course, RHINESTONE COWBOY and TRUE GRIT.  A virtuoso guitarist who was a hugely successful session player before he began making his own records, he demonstrated skill with a guitar that I can only compare to THE WHO's Pete Townshend.  His band includes a son on drums and another on guitar, and Glen and his daughter Ashley brought down the house with a tremendous rendition of DUELING BANJOS.

For a show whose second half was excellent, the first half, the 'tribute' section, was astonishingly poor.  After a decent, brief set by the band DAWES, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, late of the DANDY WARHOLS, took the stage and sang a pair of MONKEES songs that Campbell had played guitar on -- and sang them in bass, and was so horribly flat that I assumed for a while that it was a joke, and he would be revealed to be Ray Romano or someone.  No such luck.  He was followed by Lucinda Williams, who was also flat, listless, and slurred her words.  The iconic Kris Kristofferson followed, and tried, but was not in good form.  You could feel the growing anxiety throughout the Bowl when Jenny Lewis took the stage, and actually sang!  Identifiable words and notes!  We didn't want to let her go, but happily she was followed by Jackson Browne, who was in fine form, and led all the others back on stage for a fine rendition of VIVA LAS VEGAS before intermission.

Have a great week, folks!


All Original Contents Copyright June 2012  by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. I've had my eye on "TOMBSTONE: THE GUNS AND THE GEAR" for a looooooooong time, but it is a little expensive for me. Perhaps someday.