Jeremiah Johnson and Billy the Kid: Stranger than Fiction?

7 Sep

Jeremiah Johnson and Billy the Kid: Stranger than Fiction?

I doubt many care – or even that it’s all that important – but Robert Redford doesn’t look much like the real Jeremiah Johnson.

JOHNSON … REDFORD

However …  in most Westerns, it don’t really seem to matter whether the actor looks like the actual person – or not. There’s plenty of examples: Kris Kristofferson as Billy the Kid in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Kristofferson was too good looking for ‘the Kid’ – and was also in his 30′s. While the ‘Kid’ was … well … an ugly cuss  (if I can tell by the famous photo) and was about 20 years old … almost ‘a kid’. But, James Coburn didn’t look a whole lot like Pat Garrett … I better stop here. Great movie though.

So if likeness’ is a casting necessity … ?

Hell, maybe it’s just too darn hard to find anybody that ugly who can act.

A young Henry Silva actually looks a lot like ‘the Kid”.

SILVA … THE ‘KID’

In most other movie biographies though, likeness is important. For instance, If you’re playing Winston Churchill … Redford wouldn’t get the job … and also (hopefully) the chance to murder an English accent.

And I do admit that Redford’s ‘matinée idol’ looks did initially grate on me a bit when I first watched Jeremiah Johnson. I figured they should have cast somebody a bit more (or a lot more?) rugged looking than Redford. Someone like Tom Selleck maybe, or Lee Marvin. Bronson? (Trivia says that this movie was initially to star Clint Eastwood as Johnson – and be directed by Sam Peckinpah … WOW! … that would have been a different movie … punk) We didn’t get lucky.

Director Sydney Pollock, however, had a very simple philosophy about making a movie: Employ Stars. Star Power guarantees success. And Pollock surely knew Redford’s Star Power -  Directing him in seven movies.

And all in all … Redford did a great job: one of My Favorite Westerns.

The other beef I had with the movie was that the actual (supposed) true story about Jeremiah Johnson seemed more interesting than the movie version.

I suspect, however, that some of these ‘facts’ about Johnson pushed a few credibility buttons … and was hardly the stuff of ‘Heros’. “Liver Eating Johnson”?! Some believe Johnson actually did this. It’s said that the Crow believed that unless a body was intact that the spirit could not pass over. So Johnson removed the liver and … yet it’s also said that Johnson confessed once that this story was a story he propagated (to scare or anger the Crow?) But if you were a cannibal, would you admit it?

Possible. Probable? Believable?

I figure some of these ‘details’ were kept out of the movie because not only do they seem implausible, but they made the character – our Hero – a lot less of a Goodguy.

As the Crow flies …

Then there’s the story that Johnson killed over 300 Crow braves. 300?!! That’s a hell of a lot of empty Teepees. Let’s see … if the Crow sent only one brave at a time (as the movie suggests)… and Johnson killed one brave a month … it would take 25 years to kill 300 Crow. That’s almost as hard to swallow as liver. 30 would be impressive enough … and believable. But 300 … ??? You have to question it.

But who’s counting?

Johnson? The Crow? (I might believe their count). But Johnson’s …

Yet … maybe it’s true.

Billy the Kid’s myth labours under similar suspicious history. Some claim ‘The Kid” really only killed about 4 people … though folklore and myth claim about 20 … or more.

So … the truth is … we really don’t know the truth.

Yet again … sometimes the truth IS indeed ‘stranger than fiction’.

9 Responses to “Jeremiah Johnson and Billy the Kid: Stranger than Fiction?”

  1. ROSE KROHMER September 16, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    Hi, thanks for all your updates. You are putting a lot of work into it. Very interesting too. Love, Rose

    • jcalberta November 2, 2012 at 2:25 am #

      thanks Rose … appreciated … Love you.

  2. dorman nelson November 3, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Great site…..update:I am finishing up on the bio on Liver Eating Johnston, and, while he is no Robert Redford, he did a lot in his life and has remained in the news since the 1870s.
    I found in Johnston’s ancestry that one of the first relatives that came to America–Daniel–had a granddaughter who married…an EASTWOOD….and down that line, Clint Eastwood appeared….so they are related, although distantly.
    See my site….www.johnlivereatingjohnston.com
    Dorman Nelson, Biographer

    • jcalberta January 19, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

      wow … interesting stuff. thanks for that.
      you know … i think most things are ‘linked’ at some point. i don’t believe in coincidence.
      thanks for the heads up on your site … as i said, you know a heck of lot more about Johnson than i do. i’m just passing by …

  3. david huxtable January 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Im from england its very impressive interesting gleaning true facts of jeremiah but still more we dont know about him than do!?

    • david huxtable January 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

      So were the eastwoods and johnsons from england your mother nation and tongue? My dearest colonists!?
      Goes to show how good stock cant be kept down or back good breeding.wins through in the ends!?
      Aristocratic english titters ensue!? No but would be interesting to trace his ancestry arrivals to usa from these shores like john muir scottish heritages as a pastors son got to know walk across america found all the natl parks with g rooslevets

      • david huxtable January 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

        Rooslevelt oops typing error as he was a president better get it right?!

      • jcalberta January 19, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

        we all have English and Scotch first names in our family.

    • jcalberta January 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      welcome David. me mum wuz English so that’s a big chunk of our ancestry. there are folks who specialize in lore about Johnson. try this: http://www.johnlivereatingjohnston.com
      i’m just a Western movie fan and don’t pretend any expertise on the fella.

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