“It was because of my great interest in the West,” wrote Buffalo Bill, “and my belief that its development would be assisted by the interest I could awaken in others, that I decided to bring the West to the East through the medium of the Wild West Show.”
So successful was the theatrical extravaganza William F. Cody debuted in the 1880’s – replete with reenactments of Custer’s last stand, Pony Express relay races, sharpshooter contests, bronco riders and “authentic” Indians – that for the next 30 years it either encouraged spectators to relocate westward for a new life of daring frontier adventures or safely stay home and not have to worry about putting one’s wagons in a circle every night.
For many people, the West of yesteryear represents a correlation to the romance of Medieval times. Instead of jousting knights, it’s white hats versus black hats. Instead of a castle, it’s the fervent defense of a fort, a town or a homestead. Instead of a damsel locked in a tower, it’s a schoolmarm being wooed from her classroom. And instead of a king’s treasure, it’s all about Mother Nature’s bountiful lure of gold, silver, copper and oil. Is it any wonder that, even today, westerns remain one of the film industry’s most enduring – and endearing – genres.
FOLLOWING IN DUKE’S BOOTS
John Wayne is considered one of the most, if not the most, iconic star of western films. You have been asked to do the casting for a remake of one of his most memorable westerns.
Your assignment: Pick one of his famous westerns from any era and write a one-page memo to the executive producer on what current actor you would pick to play the part Wayne played in the film. Identify the film you selected and what aspects of Wayne’s original character caused you to decide who you recommended for the remake.
SERIOUSLY MISTAKEN IDENTITY
In “Back to the Future Part III,” Marty goes back to 1885 to rescue his friend and mentor, Doc Brown. While Marty tries to dress the part, he clearly has a problem fitting in. Time travel is an often used medium in films of all genres. Usually this comes with the admonition never to do anything that alters events in the past for fear of changing the present.
Your assignment: Your protagonist has been tasked, as part of a project in the future, with observing the Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona Territory in 1881. While an observer, he must not be observed. Unfortunately, neither he nor his colleagues noticed that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Ringo, a compatriot of the Clantons. He arrives in Tombstone the night before and is settling in when he suddenly finds himself face to face with the town Marshall, Wyatt Earp. Write a two-page scene where he tries to convince Earp that he isn’t Johnny Ringo.
“Blazing Saddles” (1974) and “Shanghai Noon” (2000) are two films that sought to parody the Old West through comedy and sharp modern-day social commentary. Generally, however, western films and televisions series such as “Gunsmoke” (1955) and “Deadwood” (2004) have been serious - and sometimes dark - dramas with plenty of gunplay, good guys, and bad guys. Sacramento had just become the capitol of California, the Gold Rush was still in full force, and progress was making its way to the West. Fortune seekers, politicians, and wealthy businessmen, such as Leland Stanford, are all part of the diverse cast. There was plenty of drama at the time – but can you make it funny?
Your assignment: Write a one-page treatment for a sitcom set in Sacramento, California in 1855.
A FISTFUL OF FISTICUFFS
Clint Eastwood created an iconic character of his own as the “Man with No Name” in the “Dollars Trilogy” directed by Sergio Leone in the mid-1960s. These so-called “spaghetti westerns” because of their largely Italian cast made Eastwood a star. The brooding, anonymous character often seeking revenge (while nominally a “good guy”) appeared in other Eastwood films such as “Pale Rider” (1985).
Your assignment: Write a one-page synopsis for a modern-day action/suspense movie where the hero is modeled after the famous western anti-hero.
The era of Western Expansion was an important part of American history. In 1848, the United States and Mexico went to war. The resulting treaty, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, ceded to the United States most of what we consider the western and southwestern lands of the nation. But by 1853, wanting a southern railroad route, the United States was back at the table with a cash-strapped Mexican government. The result was the Gadsden Purchase that brought modern-day Tucson, Arizona into the United States.
Your assignment: Write two pages of dialogue for a family in Tucson learning of the Treaty and what their thoughts are about no longer being part of Mexico. (Starting reference: http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/mexico/gadsden-purchase.htm)
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at [email protected] or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 31 books, 157 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.