“Tombstone” was very nearly not the way it was pitched. There were different actors in mind to play those now-iconic roles. Doc Holliday, which was eventually played by Val Kilmer, was initially intended for Willem Dafoe. There was some controversy around Dafoe as he had recently played a role in “The Last Temptation of Christ”. Buena Vista, who was the production company of “Tombstone” said they would not distribute the film if he had a part in it, and so the casting team was left with no choice but to offer the role to Val Kilmer.
This was not the only switch in the casting. Mickey Rourke was rumored to have been offered the role of Johnny Ringo but it was eventually played by Michael Biehn. Glenn Ford, who was well known for his roles in Western genre movies was meant to play Marshall White but couldn’t take the part because of his health, and it was eventually given to Harry Carey Jr. George Cosmatos was also not the only name in the running for the role of director. John Carpenter, who is best known for his horror films including “Escape from New York, Vampires, and Prince of Darkness” almost signed on to be the director.
Where Was Robert Mitchum?
Robert Mitchum was one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors and was featured in "Tombstone" as the narrator. But how did this come about? Surely an actor of his ability could have been featured in the movie. After all, he played the role of Max Cady in the original "Cape Fear". The same role was later performed by the great Robert De Niro.
It was intended that Robert Mitchum would play the role of Old Man Clanton, but on his first day on set, he had an accident while riding a horse. It was decided that, due to his age, (he was in his late 70s) that his character, Old Man Clanton, be removed entirely from the script. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to have Robert Mitchum involved in the movie, he was cast as the narrator, and so his voice can be heard throughout the film.
Billy Claiborne and the Real-Life Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp is not only the name of one of the characters in "Tombstone" but of another actor who famously played roles including Billy Claiborne, another famous outlaw of the Wild West. In a crazy coincidence, Wyatt Earp the actor is, in fact, a distant relative of the original Wyatt Earp. Perhaps his parents knew they were related and so named him after his famous cousin.
Billy Claiborne was also present at the O.K. Corral gunfight, but when things got dangerous, he decided to run away and flee the scene as he was unarmed. Unfortunately, Claiborne passed away at the young age of 22 when he got into a brawl with the infamous “Buckskin” Frank Leslie. Conversely, the actor Wyatt Earp has had a long and successful career doing a variety of acting and voice-over work.
A Journey Through Costumes
Kevin Jarre, who wrote the script and was very much the creative vision behind "Tombstone" was also supposed to be the director of the movie. One part of his vision was to ensure that everything is as authentic as possible, including the costumes. Val Kilmer said he remembered how important it was to Kevin Jarre and that it was his vision that brought the movie to life. The authenticity of the costumes went to the smallest of details.
Jarre wanted to convince viewers that they were watching a Western movie from the Western era in the ’40s, not a remake in the ’90s. This means that he insisted all the costumes were to be made out of real wool, just as the men at the time would have worn. The movie was shot during the heat of the summer in the middle of Arizona so you can imagine how uncomfortable it would have been for the actors. Val Kilmer recalled shooting the scene in the Birdcage Theater, and there was a thermometer there that read 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
Real-Life O.K. Corral Gunfight
A good example of Kevin Jarre’s attempt at authenticity was the scene of the O.K. Corral Shooting. Jarre wanted to use the actual dialogue between the men at the time. Doc Holliday says at the end of the scene, “You’re a daisy if you do!” which is a direct quote from the actual event.
Doc Holliday reportedly said that line to a cowboy who told him, “I got you now Doc, you *expletive*!” This exchange was apparently so famous that it made it into the local "Tombstone" newspaper. Of course, with everything, there has to be some artistic license, so there was one small change to this scene. In the movie, Ike Clanton runs away in the middle of the fight, but we already know that this was actually Billy Claiborne who was unarmed and scared for his life.