Cheers, Kirk. I doubt I’ll watch the Oscars tonight and I gave up beer-drinking 35 years ago, but I still watch your movies and I’ll bet your Hollywood mates will be toasting you on TV. I’m toasting you here.
Kirk Douglas, a Star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Dies at 103 — New York Times, Feb. 5, 2020.
My favorite Kirk Douglas movies are “Lonely Are the Brave” and “Ace in the Hole,” both great ones, I submit, and both filmed in New Mexico.
The actual “Lonely Are the Brave” Movie Trail — where Walter Matthau, the almost-sympathetic sheriff tracking the jail-breaking cowboy Jack Burns uttered the words, “I haven’t got enough spit left to wet a stick of gum”– is just over the Rincon from my home in Placitas.
I still remember walking up to the El Paseo movie theater on West San Francisco Street in Santa Fe in 1962, when the movie came out. I remember the the marquee looming large — “Lonely Are the Brave.” — and the posters at eye level.
It was much later, during my newspaper career, that I saw the earlier made-in -New Mexico movie, “Ace in the Hole,” released in 1951.
I won’t review the movies here, except to say I would never attempt to take a horse up the west face of the Sandias. Someone should have told Jack Burns about Las Huertas Canyon, although I guess he still would have run into State Road 14. Meanwhile, this photo of Burns and Whiskey on what I think might be Second Street in the North Valley says a lot about how I feel driving through the newish roundabout at the north end of Fourth Street.
And I’ll just say I can no longer watch the ending of “Lonely Are the Brave.” My favorite scenes are Kirk, aka Jack Burns, breaking camp near the beginning and Sheriff Morey Johnson, Walter Matthau, staring up the craggy face of the mountain and telling his deputy to toss him a canteen.
It might be forgotten that the reason Jack Burns got himself thrown in jail in the first place was trying to rescue an old friend, who had been arrested for trying to help “illegal immigrants.” And let us not forget that the movie is a Dalton Trumbo script from the novel “The Brave Cowboy” by the late University of New Mexico bachelor’s and master’s degree student Edward Abbey
For all of the good parts, I forgive the movie-makers for dyeing Whiskey’s coat and mane: It’s almost worse than the president’s tan.
“Ace in the Hole” is too complicated a subject to tackle here, partly because I’m a 40-year veteran of the newspaper business, most of them in Albuquerque. I think a lot more of the real-life Albuquerque Journal and the late Albuquerque Tribune than the movie’s takes on the corrupt, underbelly of journalism, but I am fond of this exchange between the cynical Kirk Douglas character and the earnest editor of the fictional Albuquerque paper:
Charles Tatum: Mr. Boot, I was passing through Albuquerque; had breakfast here. I read your paper and thought you might be interested in my reaction.
Jacob Q. Boot: Indeed, I am.
Charles Tatum: Well, to be honest, it made me throw up. I don’t mean to tell you I was expecting the New York Times, but even for Albuquerque, this is pretty Albuquerque.
Jacob Q. Boot: Alright, here’s your nickel back.
Editor Boot’s response always reminds me of my first editor in New Mexico, John Bott of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Before arriving on East Marcy Street, he was city editor of the New York Post and had worked there for several decades, when the price of the paper was a nickel.
Years later in the Santa Fe newsroom, when frustrated by bewildering reader complaints, he occasionally would mutter, still chewing on his cigar, “Whadda they want for 25 cents?”
Bott, one of my mythical cowboys, like Kirk, was a good guy, too.