Everyone loves or at least greatly respects Tombstone, the 1993 cult western with Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Bill Paxton and Sam Elliott. And many of the more ardent fans have probably watched the Disney Home Video Director’s Cut DVD, which came out in January ’02. Now it turns out there’s an ironic element contained on that nearly five-year-old disc — ironic bordering on comedic, I’d say — by way of the commentary track by director George V. Cosmatos, who died in April 2005.
The Cosmatos rap will seem like a mild hoot to anyone reading this recent piece by Henry Cabot Beck in the October edition of True West magazine. That’s because it reveals/contends/proposes that the guy who ghost-directed Tombstone, who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this much-loved western, and who certainly should have recorded the DVD commentary nearly five years ago is none other than Kurt Russell.
Cosmatos, no offense, was never anything but an amiable hack — a guy who did the shots, got the lighting right, etc. This is more or less acknowledged in the article by Russell, who swore to Cosmatos he would never tell the truth about their deal behind the making of Tombstone while he was alive.
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Boiled down, Russell tells Beck that (a) it was he, Russell, who went out and raised the production dough through biking pal Andy Vajna, (b) that after Tombstone‘s original director Kevin Jarre was canned Russell decided to “ghost” direct Tombstone by hiring Cosmatos to shoot it like he was told to and nothing beyond that.
It also explains (c) how Kevin Costner, who was working with Larry Kasdan on Wyatt Earp at the time, pulled strings all over town to keep Tombstone from getting a distribution deal with anyone with Disney, (d) how Vajna wanted Richard Gere to play moustachioed lawman Wyatt Earp and (e) how Jarre wanted Willem Dafoe to play Doc Holliday but was forced to accept Val Kilmer in the role — which turned out to be a good thing because Kilmer was exceptional.
Beck got the goods from Russell while speaking with him at a Beverly Hills Poseidon junket four or five months ago.
“I mentioned to him that I write for True West and suggested we talk about Tombstone sometime,” Beck relates, “and then Russell went straight into it, pulling the lid off the can of worms and giving me an extra 20 interview minutes of unheard skinny — how he put the project together, how he ghost-directed the picture, Costner’s involvement, Jarre’s firing, casting issues…really loaded with good material.
Beck thereafter sent two messages to Russell through CAA agent Rick Nicita “thanking [Russell], letting him know I intended using the stuff, and requesting follow-ups, but when I heard nothing back I ran with what I had, especially since none of it was off the record and because the 125th anniversary of the Gunfight at The OK Corral is coming at the end of October and all the scholars and academics and buffs are converging in Tombstone and this was hot poop.
“When CAA finally noticed I was running a story, they called Russell, literally one week before the True West issue hit the stands (8.28 or 8.29) and the next thing I knew I had Russell calling me from the set of Quentin Tarantino‘s “Death Proof” short (which is part of Grind House) in Austin. He wasn’t all that happy, although he did admit he would have likely done the same thing in my shoes. I had some copies sent and called his hotel but I’ve heard nothing — I’m guessing he’s steamed for several reasons.
“There are two stories here — the story of Tombstone, and the story of the story. Things I think are most fun are Russell admitting he directed the picture but promising he’d keep mum for Cosmatos, Costner’s hardball, and the Gere/Dafoe casting business.
“Pity, really, that Russell was kept in the dark and then got pissed, because I really wanted to follow up, and I still think there’s a book here.”