It’s long been debated who deserves credit for directing Tombstone, the 1993 Western hit that surprised everyone, including its studio, with its quality. Starring Kurt Russell as the rugged and slightly amoral Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as the scene-stealing and violent gun fighter, Doc Holliday, the movie opened at the end of 1993, and sucked all the attention from the following year’s much more expensive Kevin Costner-headlined Wyatt Earp. In fact, many speculate that Kilmer could have competed (and maybe even won) an Oscar for Best Supporting actor if the studio had known what they had on their hands.
But that is a pretty hard thing to predict considering that about after a month of production, the film’s initial director, Kevin Jarre, was replaced mid-production. Jarre, who also wrote the screenplay, was primarily a writer whose credits include 1989’s poignant Glory. However, he and Russell did not apparently hit it off on the Tombstone set, and Jarre was eventually let go after falling behind schedule. Thus First Blood: Part II director George P. Cosmatos came aboard with less than a week of prep.
And now, Val Kilmer has taken to his blog to illuminate what came next. After being asked yet again whether the rumours are true that Kurt Russell actually directed Tombstone while Cosmatos focused on the action scenes, Kilmer gave an in-depth dive of his memories on the production. While he stops short of saying Russell technically should have a directorial credit on the movie, he states repeatedly that “Kurt is solely responsible for Tombstone’s success, no question.”
Here is the bulk of Kilmer’s recollections on Russell’s work on the picture:
“I was there every minute and although Kurt’s version differs slightly from mine, the one thing he’s totally correct about is, how hard he worked the day before, for the next day’s shot list, and tremendous effort he and I both put into editing, as the studio wouldn’t give us any extra time to make up for the whole month we lost with the first director.
We lost our first director after a month of shooting and I watched Kurt sacrifice his own role and energy to devote himself as a storyteller, even going so far as to draw up shot lists to help our replacement director, George Cosmatos, who came in with only two days prep.
I was very clear and outspoken about what I wanted to do with my role, and actors like Powers Boothe, who we just lost, and Bill Paxton, were always 100% supportive, even in the blistering heat and sometimes as the day would fade, at the possible expense of their own screen time.
Kurt did this for the film virtually every hour.
I would even go up to him and whisper, ‘Go for another…’ meaning another take when I thought he could go further, but in the interest of the schedule, he would pound on. Very Wyatt-like come to think of it”
Kilmer even relayed that he and Russell more or less lived together while working on the script every morning, with the lead actor of the picture graciously sacrificing his role and giving Kilmer more and more of the spotlight.
“He and I worked so hard I eventually moved in with him and slept on the sofa when Goldie wasn’t in town, so we could use the extra 20 minutes writing or going over schedule etc. And I got all the best lines and he knew it and still laughed and joked every single day”
Kilmer also rather diplomatically complimented Dennis Quaid’s underrated take on Doc Holliday in the following year’s Wyatt Earp – even though he clearly did not think much else about the picture. “Then Kevin Costner had all the dough and distribution money and stars, and couldn’t make a dent in our popularity. (Although I liked Dennis Quaid, and my first girlfriend is also in it which was super weird – Mare Winningham)”, he wrote.
You can read Kilmer’s complete remembrances of Tombstone, as well as Bill Paxton and Powers Boothe, by clicking right here.