… when a gentleman dressed as Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp stops by to chat at my book table, it is a thrill.
Yesterday, I spent seven hours in the bookstore and gift shop at the O.K. Corral, while hundreds of people shuffled through, buying souvenirs and tickets to the gunfight reenactment done 2-3 times a day. The management of the shop made a quick and gracious decision to set me up at a table with their stock of DOCs, and we sold a respectable number of copies, given that there was no opportunity for publicity and that books are heavy to lug around in the heat.
About half the people in town are in period dress, so it’s not unusual to see cowboys walk past you, but then suddenly, it’s Doc Holliday, and damn if it didn’t feel real.
I had met Stephen Keith in character as Doc two nights earlier at a Vendetta ride dinner, but he was understandably wary of anyone who also feels proprietary about a character that he himself inhabits seven days a week, year-round, with the occasional Sunday or Christmas off. So it was lovely of him to remember me (in a town crammed with thousands of tourists who all know Doc) and then to stop at my table on his way through to the corral and the reenactment. I received a crooked grin, a tip of a black slouch hat, and “You’re with me, darlin’.” So I got to see the show as Doc’s guest, twice.
Mr. Keith is the author of the gunfight reenactment script and I admired the emphasis he gave to the McLaurys and the Clantons and Billy Claiborne — men who are usually reduced to cardboard bad guys who exist to get killed, wearing the “Tombstone” cowboys’ red sashes instead of Star Trek’s red shirts. He has distilled the diverse elements of the Tombstone conflict down to a few quick and cogent lines. He plays Doc more as a drunk than a man dying of consumption, but you can’t fake a bad cough day after day without wrecking your vocal cords and it’s a defensible decision for an actor whose voice is his living.
And he lets Doc deliver some moving poetry at the end, reminding spectators that real men really died that day — “thrust, untimely, into eternity.” It is a quiet moment that has the same punch as when Maximus in “Gladiator” shouts at the crowd, “Are you not entertained?”
After the 5 PM performance, we had a chance to talk — he knows now that “we are not headed in the same direction” with our developing Tombstone novels, which is Writer Code for “Oh, good. We can be friends!” He invited me to see the Faro performance he does in the evenings but I was too whipped to stay awake another hour and told him I’d see him in a few months.
After the Vendetta ride, I doubt that I will ever again be tempted to get into a saddle. I am glad I did it, but I’ve had all the fun I can stand. That said, I’m looking forward to coming back to Tombstone next March after the Tuscon Book Festival. I suspect it’ll feel like a visit home after spending such an intensely memorable week here.