So, What’s Missing?
Movie viewers who watch movies to excess sooner or later come to hunger for the Hollywood backstory of a movie.
What’s missing from Jesse James and the Movies is the backstory of the James family’s sorry relationship with Hollywood, with movie producers, with movie financiers, and with big movie dreams and broken promises.
Also missing is the misery, havoc, and devastation the movie industry has wreaked upon the Jesse James family. While the movies turned Jesse James from historical icon into nothing more than an entertainment figure, Hollywood sabotaged the true identity and historical meaning of Jesse James at the expense of devastating his family.
Savor now some Johnny Boggs’ Good & Plenty. “As far as Jesse is concerned, most movies fail to capture the essence of the man.”
One continual sore spot has lingered with the Jesse James family ever since movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox Studios failed to hold true to his promise to produce a movie about Jesse James that was accurate and true. The James family has always asked the question. Why do Jesse James movies continually fail to capture the essence of Jesse James? This question is what began the James family’s war with Hollywood in the first place.
The James Family War with Hollywood
Glimpses into the James family’s war with Hollywood already have appeared here in the webpages of Stray Leaves. They appear also in our movie reviews of Jesse James movies like American Outlaws and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, as well as in associated publicity events and historical movie background stories.
More sightings, however, can be found in the James family’s own written history, Jesse James Soul Liberty. The story of Jesse’s first cousin, Daniel Lewis James Sr. is one such hot flashpoint.
Simply called D.L. by his family, D.L. James wrote play after play that repeatedly attempted to discover and reveal if Jesse James was truly a criminal. His results were not too different than Hollywood’s experiments to bring the outlaw to the movie screen.
Among all his plays, D.L. James never did resolve if his protagonist was a sinner, or sinned against.
In the Depression era, another impression was produced by D.L.’s son, Daniel Lewis James Jr. Simply called Dan by his family, Dan James engaged in civil disobedience in Kansas City with the Young Marxist League. His vigorous social and political protest landed Dan in jail.
D.L. suggested Dan commit his political activity less violently to writing instead. When co-writing a new talkie movie for his Hollywood neighbor Charlie Chaplin, Dan James articulated for Chaplin the distinctive American voice that Chaplin from Great Britain could not express. It could be argued that the outcome was even more violent.
After those words articulated by Dan James and spoken by Charlie Chaplin appeared in movie houses, the U.S. Government sought to persecute both Dan James and Charlie Chaplin.
Called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), both Chaplin and James were cast out and made pariah in America. Hollywood banished both from the film industry. Chaplin chose exile in Europe. Dan James was driven underground in America. For movie goers in England, Dan wrote violent allegorical B-movies under the pseudonym of Daniel Hyatt.
Jesse and the James Family Driven to the Depths of B-Movies
The B-movies made about Jesse James by Hollywood reveal little, if anything at all, about Jesse James and his personal confrontation with authority or society. The metaphorical B-movies written by Dan James, however, reveal much about the James family’s soul and its fundamental sense of humanity. Dan’s mythic monsters of the deep dramatically conflict with society around social issues that are gigantic. The conflicts also are disturbing and violent.
For the British market, Dan James scripted the film The Giant Behemoth. Released in 1959, the movie shows a biologist who warns about the devastating effect of nuclear radiation upon nature. A sea monster, dying of radiation, invades London. Nature strikes back against the destruction of the environment by man.
Dan re-scripted the movie for the American market. Gorgo, released in 1961, finds another sea monster, destroying London while trying to save her baby from unsympathetic humans. In the end, the two monsters return to the sea and nature, triumphant over society and civilization.
A War With No End
Financial ruin & family disintegration
No two-bit movie ticket will ever compensate the Jesse James family for the mental and physical collapse the movies caused Jesse James Jr. and his family.
Goaded by movie producers to help finance a Jesse James movie, Jesse Jr. solicited his family, friends, and business colleagues for investment and contributions. When the box office failed to support the production and vice versa, the catastrophic failure sent Jesse Jr. to a mental sanitarium.
Jesse Jr. never recovered from his collapse. His wife was left without support. His daughters lived in trailer housing and fell prey to wealthy hunters of trophy wives. Even his grandson, James Randall Ross, who was stricken with polio when a boy, was forced to sell newspapers on the street every day to support the family of Jesse James Jr.
Relentless Myth, Folk Tales, & Legend
Outside of a bucket load of popcorn, what Jesse James movies deliver best are myths, folk tales, and the Jesse James legend.
Only the James family and a few reputable historians are left as the guardians of the factual and true Jesse James. Among movie audiences, there are fewer followers of the factual and true Jesse James than there are of the Hollywood Jesse James found in movies.
When the movie American Outlaws premiered in 2001, Jesse’s great grandson pronounced that the truth is more exciting than the movie. Judge James R. Ross then listed the movie myths that disappointed.
Historians have joined the James family as the backbone of defense against the Jesse James mythology Hollywood promotes. A former historian for James Farm & Museum in Kearney, Missouri disputed a number of myths to be found in the legend of Jesse James.
Movie Conflict Survives in Television Tension
For decades, the Jesse James family has been at war with Hollywood. Today, the war even has spilled over into the television medium. Especially today’s reality TV shows. Television programming today focus solely on manufactured fictional hunts for imaginary hidden or lost treasure from Jesse’s outlaw days, treasure that never existed in the first place.
Jesse James Movies Remain a Treasure of Guilty Pleasures
Movies are the movies. Johnny D. Boggs is an unabashed and unapologetic cinephile. Were the two not so, Boggs could never have assembled such an impressive history about Jesse James in the movies.
Despite the Jesse James family’s constant war against fictive Hollywood productions and relentless assaults against treasure hunting television programming, the legend of Jesse James that these media fabricate and promote is undeniable. Never will the manufactured legend of Jesse James go away.
There is no doubt that Boggs, the James family, and Jesse James followers everywhere, still await the day when Hollywood will deliver that one definitive movie that reveals the man himself and what he was up to. Historians and Jesse James fans alike tell us Brad Pitt’s movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford comes very close. Until that day does come when we finally see that unambiguous movie about Jesse James on the silver screen, there’s Johnny D. Boggs’ treasure book of guilty pleasures to enjoy.
Somewhere in the heavens, film critic and obsessive movie fan Roger Ebert sits in a celestial cinema. At his side is a dog-eared copy of Jesse James and the Movies. Ebert removed the book from Ebert’s trusted bookshelf where he keeps his other favorite tome of guilty pleasures, Russ Meyer Movie Reviews & Film Summaries.
Despite what’s missing from Jesse James And The Movies, the Jesse James family has placed Johnny D. Boggs’ book on its treasured bookshelf of Jesse James guilty pleasures. So, should you.