Thursday, August 4, 2011

For Gosh Sakes, Bones, Pick A Side and Stick With It!!!!!!

I’ve listened to a number of You Are There OTR episodes recently. I’ve always liked the premise to that series—plop modern news reporters into the middle of an historical event and have them broadcast that event while scoring interviews with the participants. The whole concept is played straight—radio reporters at Gettysburg or the trial of Socrates or wherever are just accepted as normal, while the actual events play out as they did in real life.

Anyway, I got curious to see the TV version produced in the 1950s. I remember seeing a few in reruns when I was a kid, but didn’t remember much about them.

I Netflixed a disc that included an episode about the gunfight at the OK Corral (broadcast in November 1955). It wasn’t bad, though not quite as historically accurate as an educational show should be. It also suffers a little from the dramatic need to shift camera angles, which is probably necessary to tell the story well, but distracts from the conceit that we’re watching a “live” news broadcast. Still, over all, it was pretty good.

One of its strengths is the casting. Barry Atwater, for instance, does a really effective menacing stare as Doc Holliday. And playing Ike Clanton, the arch enemy of the Earps and Holliday, is DeForest Kelley—the future Leonard “Bones” McCoy.

Now follow along closely. Kelley (who did a lot of Western roles in his pre-Star Trek days) plays Ike Clanton, a member of the gang that fights the Earps in the famous gunfight.

A couple of years later, Kelley plays Morgan Earp in the Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas movie Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957). So now he’s on the other side.

Gunfight, by the way, makes no pretensions at all towards historical accuracy, though it’s still a good, solid western with a fine cast.  Lancaster and Douglas always play well off of each other whenever they did a movie together.

Now we jump ahead a decade or so to October 1968, when the Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun” airs. In this episode (far from the series best), Kirk and his crew are forced by all-powerful aliens to relive the gunfight while playing the parts of the Clanton gang. This is the method of execution used to do away with the Enterprise’s command crew,  who got on the aliens’ bad side.

So this time, Kelley is back on the side of the Clantons. This time around, he’s one of the two McLaury brothers, who were present with Ike and Billy Clanton at the battle. 

It's actually kind of interesting that it's Kirk who recognizes where and when they've been set. I keep thinking that McCoy should have immediately shouted out "HEY! I recognize this place! I've been here before!"

So DeForest Kelly participates in the gunfight at the OK Corral on three different occasions during his acting career, but kept switching sides every darn time he did so. Gee whiz, it’s amazing Kirk ever let Bones near him with that medical scanner thing he was always waving around. You apparently can’t trust the guy at all!


  1. Why wasn't he ever Doc Holiday?
    "Dammit Wyatt, I'm a dentist not a gunfighter."

  2. I must have been asleep at the switch when you posted this. Just a great essay and especially fun for fans of DeForest Kelly and of the whole Gunfight at the OK Corral saga and legend. I love the Lancaster-Douglas film (with Frankie laine songs). Okay, I admit it: "Spectre of the Gun" is a guilty pleasure and one of my favorite third season episodes. PS: Just to add another Trek third season connection: Steve Ihnat--Lord Garth of "Whom Gods Destroy"--was in a 1967 OK Corral-related movie called "Hour of the Gun" that's well worth seeing (the cast also boasts Trek alumni William Windom and William Schallert).

    1. When I was a kid, the minimalist sets in "Spectre of the Gun" bothered the heck out of me and I disliked the episode because of this. As I got older, I realized those sets fit the conceit of the whole thing being an illusion. There was no attempt to fool Kirk & Co. into thinking it was real--it was just a complex method of executing them. So I grew to like the episode better because of this and it's a guilty pleasure for me as well among the mostly weak 3rd season episodes. I hadn't made the connection to Hour of the Gun--it is a great movie, but I haven't seen it in years. I'll have to re-visit it. Thanks as always for your great comments.


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