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The tuberculosis of "Doc" Holliday in the cinema. My Darling Clementine (1946) and Gunfight at the O. K. Corral (1957)

José Elías García Sánchez, 1María Lucila Merino Marcos and Enrique García Sánchez

Departamento de Medicina Preventiva, Salud Pública y Microbiología Médica. Facultad de Medicina. Universidad de Salamanca. 1Departamento de Pediatría del Hospital Universitario de Salamanca  (Spain).

Correspondence: José Elías García Sánchez. Facultad de Medicina. Alfonso X El Sabio s/n. 37007 Salamanca (Spain).

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Received 26 May 2005; accepted 12 September 2005


My Darling Clementine (1946), directed by John Ford, and Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), directed by John Sturges, narrate two different stories that converge on the famous duel that was fought in the OK Corral. Both movies reflect the pulmonary tuberculosis of “Doc” Holliday, its main co-star. The illness is presented as a progressive clinical condition of bad prognosis, mainly manifested by cough, and usually as recurring episodes of dry cough.

Keywords: Tuberculosis, Cough, Dentist, Doctor, Surgeon.

“Doc” Holliday is a true character who existed in the past and who later became part of the mythology of the North American Far West. Together with Wyatt Earp, he took part in the now famous duel at the OK Corral. His name was John Henry and although “Doc” was his nickname, he was not a physician but a dentist. He suffered from tuberculosis from which he died1. His character has repeatedly appeared in the cinema, usually as Wyatt´s partner, playing an important part that was complimentary to that of the famous marshal of Dodge City, who used to play the main character. ¨Doc’s tuberculosis is clearly reflected in six of these movies: My Darling Clementine (1946), directed by John Ford; Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), directed by John Sturges, Hour of the Gun (1967), again by John Sturges; Doc (1971), directed by Frank Perry; Tombstone (1993), directed by George P. Cosmatos, and Wyatt Earp (1994), directed by Lawrence Kasdan. The stories narrated in these films tell have a true background; their accuracy, however, is variable, as is also the vision that the different directors offer from the different characters, from their function, and from their characterization and from the settings where the plots take place. The first two movies analyze the character of "Doc" Holliday and his tuberculosis.

My Darling Clementine

Technical details

Original Title: My Darling Clementine

Country: USA

Year: 1946

Director: John Ford

Music: Cyril J. Mockridge

Screenwriter: Samuel G. Engel and Winston Millar. It was based on a story by Sam Hellman from the novel Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall by Stuart N. Lake.

Cast: Henry Fonda, Linda Darnell, Victor Mature, Cathy Downs, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt, Ward Bond, Alan Mowbray, John Ireland, Roy Roberts, Jane Darwell, Grant Withers, J. Farrell MacDonald and Russell Simpson.

Color: black and white

Runtime: 97 minutes

Genre: western

Production Companies: 20th Century Fox

Synopsis: After the murder of his youngest brother and the robbery of his cattle, Wyatt Earp decides to accept the position as marshal of Tombstone with his two brothers as assistants. Once they have discovered who were actually responsible, they decide to confront them at the O.K. Corral, relying on the help of “Doc” Holliday.

Directed by John Ford, the film was released on December 3 rd., 1946. While later movies including this character were in colour, this was filmed in black and white. According to the credits, the script was written by Samuel G. Engel and Winston Miller, who adapted a story by Sam Hellman, based on the book Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal by Stuart N. Lake. This book was taken to the cinema in 1934 and 1939 with the title: Frontier Marshal. Only the first movie debuted in Spain with the title: El alguacil de la frontera. The 1939 version of the script, written by Sam Hellman, is the story that inspired the scriptwriters of My Darling Clementine. The script was actually written by Winston Miller2. The soundtrack includes the popular song: ¨My Darling Clementine¨ which provides the title for the movie. The executive producer, Darryl F. Zanuck, participated in the final result of the movie2.

In Cheyenne Autumn (1964) Ford again introduces the presence of Wyatt (James Stewart) and “Doc” (Arthur Kennedy), but only with a very brief participation of the latter. The vision Ford gives of them in this film is quite different from that of My Darling Clementine and is closer to the true original story.  In the short appearance of “Doc” no indication leading to the tuberculosis he developed can be found.

The plot

The action takes place in Tombstone and surroundings. In many of his westerns, Ford used to make use of one of his favourite landscapes: Monument Valley (Arizona and Utah). This is a spirally evolving story, with no interruptions, that unfailingly leads to a tragic end, where good overcomes evil. The film ends with a final and delicate sequence where Wyatt says farewell to Clementine. Many  characteristic elements of this director such as the shooting planes, illumination, political and religious values -perhaps more emphasized because the movie was filmed in the year following the end of WWII -, sequences of daily life, and fine humour, etc, were introduced into this spiral. It is a story about good and evil, the former being represented by the Earps while the latter by the Clantons.  While the credits are being shown, where one can listen to the ballad My Darling Clementine for the first time, the four Earp brothers make their appearance in the proximities of Tombstone. While driving the cattle to California in order to sell them they happenstance meet the Clantons. The patriarch (Walter Brennan) and his eldest son Ike try to buy the cattle at a ridiculous price, 5 dollars a head, an amount far less than what they paid for them in Mexico. Evidently, the offer is rejected.

By the evening, after dinner, the three older brothers joke about the youngest of the Earp brothers buying a cross for his girlfriend. They later leave him watching over the cattle as they go to the city to the barber’s and have a few drinks.

Wyatt (Henry Fonda), Virgil (Tim Holt) and Morgan Earp (Ward Bond), like the rest of the population of Tombstone, are victims of the violence of a native Indian drunk, a conflict that Wyatt skilfully solves by making use of the offer of the marshal’s post, which he finally does not accept. During the course of the action one sees that the previous marshal resigns from fear.  In this scene, the citizens become aware that they are standing in front of the famous former city marshal of Dodge City.

The action speeds up events rush in. As they return to the camp under stormy weather, a scene that increases the dramatic tension, they become aware that the cattle have been stolen and that Wyatt’s youngest brother has been murdered.  This sparks their immediate return to the city, the acceptance of the marshal’s post, and the designation of the brothers as assistants.  It continues to raining and Wyatt eventually runs into the patriarch of the Clanton family and his sons at the hotel. He accuses them of stealing his cattle and let’s them know that he will be staying in town as marshal.

On the following day, while standing before his brother's tomb, Wyatt makes it clear what his plan will be. On the gravestone it is written that he died in 1882 (1864-1882) but actually the action took place in 1881.

In the course of a card game, Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), "Doc"’s sensual girlfriend makes her appearance. She is a saloon singer of Indian/Mexican origin (figure 1). The first meeting with Wyatt could not be worse because the girl is seen making signals to one of the gamblers about the cards the sheriff is holding and earns herself a bath in the water trough. In the following scene, "Doc" Holliday (Victor Mature) makes his appearance as he walks to the table where Wyatt is sitting .He reminds the gambler that he has been branded a cheat and that he is supposed to have left the city. He then hits him and forces him to leave.

Wyatt stands up from the table and goes to the other side of the bar where "Doc" is standing thus providing the opportunity for the first verbal contact between both characters (figure 2). Undoubtedly, they did not know each other but although both have mutual references about each other Wyatt’s ideas about the gambler are not precisely the best.  The meeting starts with champagne, continues with a confrontation, and finishes in a relaxed atmosphere with a generalized invitation by "Doc". When he tries the whisky he undergoes an intense attack of coughing, thereby demonstrating for the first time his very poor state of health.

An actor from a travelling theatre company arrives in the city and ¨Doc¨ invites Wyatt to the show.  The actor cannot be found when the representation is supposed to be starting and in order to avoid any problems Wyatt and ¨Doc” decide to go after him. Having been retained by one of the Clanton, he is found on top of a bar table reciting Hamlet. The scene gives a glimpse of how cultivated and sensitive "Doc" is, since he was able to continue the actor’s speech in a setting where tobacco smoke generates beautiful images. It also stresses his poor health and shows how violent the patriarch of the Clanton can be, as he whips his sons for having allowed themselves to be controlled by the marshal’s weapons.

Soon after a stagecoach arrives in the city and a lady of delicate appearance- Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs)- steps down from it. She is looking for "Doc" but she finds Earp (figure 3). This is when the melody of My Darling Clementine can be heard. The marshal accompanies her to the hotel and in the evening witnesses her meeting "Doc". The face of the doctor changes as he sees his old girlfriend and Boston nurse. The meeting ends with a dilemma: either she returns to the East on the following day or he leaves the city.  The doctor’s violence is unleashed as he breaks the glass of his diploma he has in his room and drinks a huge amount of alcohol, and when he returns to the saloon he continues drinking and dismisses Chihuahua..

In the morning, Wyatt leaves the barber’s, handsome, and smelling like orange blossom; this is the first of a series of humorous sequences that end when he meets Clementine as she is taking her suitcases down to take the stagecoach.  There is a discontinuity in this relaxed tone when Chihuahua visits Clementine, a scene where she stresses that she (Chihuahua) “Doc"’s girlfriend.

Since the stagecoach leaves at noon and it is a Sunday, the nurse proposes to the marshal that they might to go to the religious service. They arrive at the end of the service and then join in the dancing. These are scenes of great aesthetic value, with more anecdotes, and they also highlight the values that Ford defends, as exemplified by the appearance of flags rippling over a church under construction (figure 4). As they were eating together, “Doc” arrives; however, since he notices that Clementine has not yet left the city, he abandons the city with anger as an assistant to the driver of the Tucson stagecoach (Arizona).

Chihuahua goes to Clementine’s room and reproaches her for not having left the city yet thus meaning that the doctor has not fulfilled his plans to marry her.  Wyatt arrives and sees the cross that his murdered brother had bought around Chihuahua’s neck.  To his surprise, the Mexican girl assures him that it is a gift that was given to her by ¨Doc¨.  Wyatt goes out in search of the doctor and when he reaches the stagecoach he stops it and they both return to Tombstone. Chihuahua breaks down in the presence of “Doc” and confesses that the cross had been given to her as a gift by Billy Clanton (John Ireland).  She had met with him when, after Clementine´s arrival, ¨Doc¨ left her.  At that moment there is a gunshot and the girl collapses, severely wounded.  Meanwhile, Virgil goes after Billy, who is the one who fired the shot, Wyatt forces “Doc” to operate on Chihuahua with the assistance of Clementine (figure 5).

Virgil wounds Billy and when he arrives at the Clanton’s ranch after the chase he finds him already dead. As Virgil leaves the house, the patriarch kills him with a shot in the back. Chihuahua’s surgery was successful, but while ”Doc” was finishing the operation, the Clanton arrive back in  Tombstone. They throw Virgil´s body down and tell Wyatt that they will be waiting for him at the OK Corral. “Doc” joins the Earp brothers because despite the initial success of the surgery, Chihuahua eventually dies. At dawn, they walk to the place where the duel is to take place. After the confrontation the only survivors are the two Earps and the oldest Clanton (figure 6). Wyatt spares his life and wishes that he may live 100 years so that he can suffer as much as his own father did. While leaving, however, the patriarch treacherously tries to kill him, obliging Morgan to shoot him dead. Though very much in love, Earp and Clementine break up.  He is to go to see his father and she is to stay in Tombstone as a teacher.  They say farewell to each other with a chaste kiss of Wyatt’s to her cheek and we are left with the possibility of his returning some day an unknown. All ends as it began, with the impressive images of Monument Valley.

"Doc" Holliday and his Tuberculosis

Ford mentioned that the duel at the OK Corral was filmed according to what Wyatt himself had commented to him2. This may be partially true in many aspects; however, Holliday really did die of tuberculosis1. In the movie, he dies of a gun shot received in the final duel. Nevertheless, Ford links his death to tuberculosis.  An attack of coughing allows his enemies to detect his whereabouts and he lost the concentration required at the time he was shot.

Ford also introduces other fictitious facts related to "Doc". Thus, for instance, he presents him as a physician whereas in fact he was a dentist. When standing in front of the degree title that "Doc" has hanging in his room, Clementine also says "Actually, he is a good surgeon". However, Wyatt’s opinion of this is “I haven’t been able to appreciate that”. Dentists do have surgical duties, but they are not surgeons!

"Doc" Holliday meets Wyatt for the first time once the plot is in a fairly advanced stage. However, after the murder of his brother, when Wyatt asks for the post of marshal, the comment was that the one who controls gambling in Tombstone is Doctor Holliday. Therefore the gambler is the doctor, although he has never been seen playing. The Fordian "Doc" is a heavy drinker, and indeed an alcoholic. He is not a smoker. His violence, impulsiveness and anger reactions are present throughout the plot. He does not like representatives of the law. ¨Doc¨ is serious and bitter, characteristics that match the face of Victor Mature perfectly: tragic and self-destructive. Though quick with his trigger finger, he is by no means as fast as Wyatt, a circumstance that became apparent while he was being detained on his way to Tucson as the shotgun rider of the stagecoach.  However, thug that he was he was indeed skilled in the use of guns and was famous for it. Wyatt tells him that his fingerprints can be followed from one cemetery to another. He always carried his gun. He was of Bostonian origin or, at least, he worked there as a surgeon. Although he did not actually practice medicine, he had not yet forgotten his professional skills and probably longed to practice. His title is still hanging in his room and also keeps all of his surgical instruments.

Still in love with Clementine, he keeps her picture. Did he avoid her because of his tuberculosis? Chihuahua is just a female companion. 

Chihuahua’s operation, although not seen in the movie, is interesting. It is carried out at night under the light of several lamps.  The illumination is less spectacular than that seen in another famous nocturnal surgical procedure: Young Tom Edison (1940) by Norman Taurog. "Doc" disinfects his hands with liquor, perhaps whisky, and no anaesthesia is available. The success of his intervention somehow changes him and begins to treat Clementine somewhat peevishly, as happens in traditional images of successful surgeons as regards their assistants.

Coughing is the only manifestation of “Doc” Holliday’s  pulmonary tuberculosis (figure 7). It is that the scene where he recites Hamlet could have been reflecting haemoptysis, for the handkerchief with which he covers his mouth appears bloodstained (figure 8).  This phenomenon presents abruptly, either as attacks or as an isolated form, and according to the sound in the movie it might not have been productive.  When it does appear “Doc” usually covers his mouth with a handkerchief.  It is a manifest cough that leads the spectator to unconsciously become aware that the character is sick and that he is suffering from tuberculosis, although the name of the condition is never mentioned.  It appears at key moments, such as the first meeting with Wyatt; when he is reciting Hamlet; when Clementine arrives, and right before he receives the deadly shot. On occasions, his coughing is triggered by the consumption of alcohol.  Liquor is considered to be an aggravating factor of the illness. Mac (J. Farrell MacDonald), the bartender, says to ¨Doc¨: "This is what is killing you" and even Wyatt indirectly suggests upon his arrival that he should abandon it, receiving a rough answer: "That is none of your business." The dry reply was: “Just keep on doing like that and it will become your burier’s business”.

In his first meeting with Clementine we can infer that he must have abandoned Boston and his girlfriend because of his illness and that this is becoming worse and worse over time.  Tuberculosis is a millstone in his life, and his ex-girlfriend says: "Now I know why you don’t have any fondness of life."  Right after the meeting with his girlfriend, “Doc” returns to his room and throws a glass at the glass covering his credentials. His illness has destroyed everything he ever might have loved.

The actor who interpreted Holliday, Victor Mature, had a very different physical constitution to that of a tuberculosis patient.  He afforded an image of someone with tuberculosis with a healthy and rather stout aspect.  He was characterized without the moustache he used to have. Clementine mentions that he really did have it while he was practising medicine in Boston.  The actor was almost the same age as the character he played at the time filming: that is,  about thirty years old.


Technical details

Original Title: Gunfight at the OK Corral

Country: USA

Year: 1957

Director: John Sturges

Music: Cyril J. Dimitri Tiomkin

Screenwriter: Leon Uris produced based on the article The Killer by George Scullin.

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland, Lyle Bettger, Frank Faylen, Earl Holliman, Ted de Corsia, Dennis Hopper, Whit Bissell, George Mathews, John Hudson, DeForest Kelly, Martin Milner, Kenneth Tobey, Lee Van Cleef, Joan Camden, Olive Carey, Brian Hutton, Nelson Leigh, Jack Elam and Don Castle.

Color: color

Runtime: 122 minutes

Genre: western

Production Companies: Paramount Pictures

Synopsis: This is the story of the hunt for Ike Clanton by Wyatt Earp that ends with the duel at the OK Corral.

Directed by John Sturges, the film was shown for the first time on May 20th., 1957. Leon Uris produced the script based on the article “The Killer”, written by George Scullin. The music was by Dimitri Tiomkin. The soundtrack includes the theme song ¨Gunfight at the OK Corral¨, whose lyrics was written by Ned Washington and interpreted by Frankie Laine. Ten years later, the same main characters that Ford had introduced in his movie were brought back by Sturges in his movie Hour of the Gun (1967).  Unlike what the Irish director did “Doc”, was now the main character and Holliday had tuberculosis.

The Plot

This is a story about the persecution of a criminal.  The action takes place in three successive episodes that span three different localizations: Fort Griffith (Texas), Dodge City (Kansas), and Tombstone (Arizona).  Each one of them begins with images of the respective cemeteries of these towns.  It is a clearly “urban” movie, where most of the action takes place in a populated town.

The main characters of the film: "Doc” Holliday (Kirk Douglas) and Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) are presented in the first narrative segment. The scene shows how Wyatt and Earp meet again, ten years after ¨Doc¨ removed one of Wyatt’s teeth. Unlike Ford’s film, both clearly end up as friends. Furthermore, these initial scenes present the thread of the plot, the persecution and harassment of Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger) by Wyatt, the marshal of Dodge City, a situation that ends up with the famous duel at the OK Corral.

While the song, ¨Gunfight at the OK Corral¨ is being played, three riders arrive at Fort Griffith. They are looking for ¨Doc¨ Holliday (Kirk Douglas).  They want to avenge themselves of the death of the boss´s brother, Ed Bailey (Lee Van Cleef).  "Doc" had killed him while drunk, because after being cheated in a game of cards, he had threatened him with a gun. "Doc"’s girlfriend Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet), (figure 9) warns ¨Doc¨ about their arrival and tries to persuade him to leave because everyone in town is against him.  Also, the girl discovers that he might be sick; he has a "bloody cough."  At the same time, Wyatt Earp arrives in the city in pursuit of Ike Clanton. To his surprise when he goes to see the County Sheriff Wilson (Frank Faylen) he realises that Wilson has not arrested Ike upon his arrival with Johnny Ringo (John Ireland).  In the saloon he discovers that Ike and Ringo have been playing cards with ¨Doc¨ and he notices that Ed Bailey carries a revolver hidden in his left boot.  He goes to see "Doc" (figure 10) in search for information about the man he is searching for but though he warns him about Ed’s hidden weapon, he refuses to supply any information. When he arrives in the saloon, "Doc" kills Ed with a knife self defence and despite this extenuating circumstance he is arrested by the sheriff.  Kate begs Wyatt to help "Doc" escape, but he only agrees to this when he realises that “Doc” is going to be lynched.  Under the suspicion that Ike might be hiding in Tombstone, Wyatt sends a telegram to his brother Virgil (John Hudson) the Tombstone marshal.  Back in Dodge City, "Doc" gratefully acknowledges his debt to Wyatt. He also informs him that, despite Wyatt’s counsel, he intends to go to his city.

The second narrative segment takes place in Dodge City and has three purposes: to further explore the relationship between both main characters; to present Wyatt’s falling in love, and to show the breaking-up of the relation between Kate and "Doc".

This section begins with the arrival of Laura Denbow (Rhonda Fleming) in the city. She is a beautiful professional gambler with whom Wyatt ends up falling in love. At first, however, he introduces all types of pitfalls aimed at hindering her professional activities, including putting her under arrest. At the same time we learn that ¨Doc¨ and Kate are in the city.  The marshal attempts to prevent "Doc" from staying in Dodge City but, as in the case of Laura, he not only consents to it but even asks him to help. Together they go out in search of some bank robbers. On the way back, “Doc” whose health is now severely impaired, realises that Kate has abandoned him and left town with Johnny Ringo. In a later sequence he helps Wyatt again in controlling the misdemeanours of Shangai Pierce (Ted De Corsia) and his cowboys, for whom Ringo is now working. "Doc" now considers that he has settled his debt with Earp.

After these events, Wyatt’s aim is to move on to California with Laura, buy a ranch, and marry her.  When he is just about to do this, thereby rejecting the offer of a post as a federal marshal, he receives a telegram from his brother Virgil asking him for help. He therefore decides to go to Tombstone, but Laura will not accompany him because she is desperate to leave this kind of lifestyle.  At the same time, Katy wants to go back to “Doc”, but he rejects her.

The third narrative section takes place in Tombstone, where the friendship between both main characters reaches its peak. The final encounter with Ike Clanton and his men who perish in the duel at the OK Corral is also portrayed

Wyatt leaves Dodge City in a buggy heading for Tombstone.  On the way, "Doc" joins him. Their friendship evolves to a closer relationship, although Wyatt later denies this in the presence of his brothers. Upon his arrival he meets up with three of his brothers: Virgil, Morgan, (DeForest Kelley) and Jimmy (Martin Milner), who are in the company of Betty (Joan Camden), Virgil´s wife, and their son.  They inform him that Ike is in his father’s ranch and that he has been executed for being a horse thief, as later confirmed by his widow. They tell Wyatt that Ike intends to bring the cattle he had stolen in Mexico through the city in order to sell it.  Ike tries to bribe Wyatt to allow him to drive the steers through the city with the compliance of the district sheriff, Wilson, but he refuses.

"Doc" sets up in the city and one day, while he is playing cards, Kate arrives accompanied by Ringo, who is now working for Ike.

The Earp family has become a problem to Ike and his followers, especially after Wyatt’s posting as a federal marshal. Ike and his band, in the presence of Kate, make plans to eliminate him while he is on his last night patrol. That night, however, Jimmy asks Wyatt if he might substitute him and is mistakenly taken and murdered in his place.

"Doc" recommends Wyatt to remain within the law and that he should not convert the conflict into something personal, leaving later in order to interrogate Katy. She acknowledges that Ike and his followers have planned the murder in her presence and when “Doc” tries to attack her; he undergoes a further decline in his health.  The youngest of the Clantons himself tells Wyatt that his brothers together with the McLowry brothers and Ringo will be waiting for him on the following day at the OK Corral for a duel to the death.  Wyatt goes to see "Doc" to ask him if he is prepared to join the Earp brothers, but he finds sick and drunk, and Kate asks whether he cannot see that “Doc” is dying. Despite Kate´s objections, the following morning Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp, and ¨Doc¨, walk to the OK Corral.  Upon their arrival a shoot-out takes place between the two groups; all their enemies die in the confrontation, and his brothers and ¨Doc¨ are wounded (figure 11). The former marshal of Dodge City says farewell to the gambler because he intends to go to California and meet up with Laura while ¨Doc¨ remains in the city.

The Character and His Tuberculosis

“Doc” Holliday, who shares the main role with Wyatt Earp, is presented in the first sequence of the movie.  He is presented as a professional gambler; a former dentist probably of southern origin.  He is a drinker and a smoker and has a violent nature.  He is cold-blooded but does have a sense of humor, although he can be cynical.  “Doc” is skilled with guns and has little respect for the representatives of the law.  He has tuberculosis pulmonale. 

His way of earning his life is clearly depicted at the beginning of the movie, when he appears playing solitaire while drinking. Throughout the movie, his condition as a gambler is repeatedly underscored. Katy makes the following comment about his true profession: "…your family made many sacrifices after the war so that you could finish your career and become a dentist…".  Thanks to her, "Doc" meets Wyatt, whom he become acquainted with ten years previously as he drew one of Wyatt’s teeth. As he himself confesses, he abandoned his career because of his tuberculosis, "…the patients could not stand my coughing" (here, tuberculosis has a professional impact). This undoubtedly causes a perception of failure. "Doc" starts drinking from the beginning of the action and continues to do so until he is completely in his cups. He even jokingly comments that drinking is supposedly a remedy for his illness.  Kate is the object of his explosions of anger (between them there is a love/hate relationship, of reciprocal necessity and a certain spitefulness. (He tells Kate: "I have been very sick and I have been needing you" while, at the same time, she occasionally asks him for money. He might be a cold-blooded person but at times he can also be grateful, loyal, and emotional, although with a certain dose of cynicism and bitterness.  His skill with firearms as well as with the knife is repeatedly portrayed along the movie, although, on many occasions he is seen carrying no guns. Ringo, his competitor in love, fell to his bullets. On several occasions, other people, among them the Earp brothers, consider him a thug and a killer.

No mention can be found about Doc´s suffering from tuberculosis pulmonale, but the images speak for themselves.  Since Kirk Douglas’ constitutional type was slightly asthenic, his aspect fits is fairly well with the classical image of a person suffering from tuberculosis. When he played the role he was forty-one; ten years older than "Doc" at the time of the duel. 

What are “Doc’s” manifestations of the tuberculosis. The condition minly manifests itself in his cough. (figure 12). His coughing cannot only be seen but the characters repeatedly refer to it, with nuances to the effect that his cough is something special.  “Doc”s coughing is at first isolated and dry but as the action develops it becomes worse; it increases in frequency as well as in intensity and duration.  Thus, while in Tombstone to interrogate Kate about the murder of Wyatt's brother, he undergoes a new bout of coughing that almost makes him faint and gives him dyspnoea  (figure 13).  The attack is of such intensity that his former girlfriend even suspects that he might be dead (figure 14).  His coughing even appears in the middle of the duel at the OK Corral and it is also evidently heard in "Doc"’s  last appearance in the film.

After the confrontation with some bandits who had robbed a bank, he feels so bad that he wants to return to Dodge. After his return, he asks for Kate, but she is no longer there because she has left him. Charlie (Earl Holliman), Wyatt's assistant, asks him if he would like him to go to find the doctor.  In these scenes we are given the impression that "Doc" has a fever (figure 15). 

Along the action a clear deterioration in Doc´s health is seen. This leads Wyatt to comment that if "Doc" does not get out of the surroundings he has been frequenting he is unlikely to live for more than two more months. This and other previous remarks allow us to conclude that his tuberculosis was in an advanced stage and that it had a poor prognosis.  Even in his first meeting with Kate and Ringo, "Doc" can be seen to have depressed eyes and a thin nose in a pinched face.  All of this reinforced by reinforced by the contained anger brought out in him by the situation..

The environment of the saloons, loaded with tobacco smoke and propitious to the consumption of alcohol, is considered nefarious for Doc's sickness, and on several occasions his friend Wyatt bring this up. I n contrast, the dry, clean environments are considered adequate for his treatment. At the beginning, Kate urges him to go to Denver (Colorado) "…so that you will be cured forever from that damn cough".  She comments about the climate in Tombstone (the surroundings of the city plagued by enormous cacti) and in the end, when “Doc” is coughing and drinking, Wyatt tells him: “Why don’t you pay any attention to what I am telling you? Why don’t you go to a hospital in Denver?  If you continue like this you will not be living more than two months".

But what can one do with such a character, who calls the giver of advice a "preacher" and says that he does not want to die of old age.

Comparative study between My Darling Clementine and Gunfight at the OK Corral

The coincidences in the plots of both movies are merely restricted to details, such as the duel at the OK Corral, the presence of some of the Clantons, the participation of the four Earp brothers, and the intervention of a tuberculosis-stricken "Doc".  In the duel, not even the same characters are included and the ones who die are also different.  The reason why the Earps arrive or are already in Tombstone does not coincide either.  The characters that die, and indeed when they do, are also different. Jimmy Earp, for instance, who in My Darling Clementine was murdered at the beginning of the action, has a small but important participation due to the cross he had bought for his girlfriend. In Gunfight at the OK Corral, however, they kill him at the end of the plot. The "bad baddie" in the movie by Ford is the Clanton patriarch while in Sturges’ movie it is Ike, the eldest son. Clantons’ father had been previously executed but this is only mentioned in passing.  In the first movie, the marshal of Tombstone is Wyatt while in the second one it is Virgil.  The ex-marshal of Dodge City arrives at the city at his request. Wyatt is single and in each movie he has a girlfriend: Clementine and Laura.  The marital state of his brothers is not mentioned in My Darling Clementine while in Gunfight at the OK Corral both Virgil and Morgan are married and the wife and son of the former make their appearance.  The action of the movie by Ford takes place in Tombstone while in that of Sturges, it also takes place in Fort Griffith and in Dodge City. 

In “My Darling Clementine” “Doc” meets Wyatt for the first time in the city of Tombstone. In “Gunfight at the OK Corral”, however, they had already met before and now they reacquaint themselves at Fort Griffith.  The reasons why they maintain their relationship are quite different in both movies and, in the latter, they become good friends.  Many of "Doc"’s traits are similar in both films. And it is the actors who make the differences: while Mature gives off a sad, bitter persona, Douglas is a cheerful but cynical type.  The first is a doctor while the second is a dentist.  One is killed in the duel and the other one does die in the course of the action.  Furthermore, the reasons that lead “Doc” to take part in the duel are also different in the two films.

His “girls”, Chihuahua and Kate, are also different and they both look for and find substitutes for Holliday in other people.  Chihuahua, who is a singer and whom “Doc” considers marrying, dies.  Kate leaves “Doc” not only because he pays little attention to her but also out of spite; however, she always tries to go back to him and, indeed, she is the one who asks him to marry her.  The Fordian “Doc” dresses in black and has no moustache; Sturges’ “Doc” dresses elegantly and does have a mustache.

My Darling Clementine” and “Gunfight at the OK Corral”, in that order, are considered to be the best movies ever filmed about these characters.  From the point of view of Holliday’s pulmonary tuberculosis, the second movie offers more clinical aspects of the disease, such as fever?, dyspnoea, and malaise. There also are some comments about the therapeutic alternatives existing at the time, tuberculosis sanitoria and suitable dry and arid climates.  In “My Darling Clementine”, it is possible that “Doc” could have had hemoptysis (figure 8). Unlike later remakes, the illness remains limited to a manifest chronic cough, with a progressive evolution and a poor prognosis, (table 1).

Table 1 “Doc” Holliday’s tuberculosis

Movie My Darling Clementine Gunfight at the OK Corral
Recurring episodes of dry cough Yes Yes*
Hemoptysis Probably No
Fever No Apparent
Dyspnoea No Evident
Malaise No On two occasions
Physical deterioration No (it is mentioned) Evident
Participation of a physician No No
Tuberculosis sanitoria No Mentioned
Death Not of tuberculosis No
Aggravating factors Alcoholism Alcoholism, tobacco use

*Sometimes it is presented in an isolated form

Finally, this and many other differences and much fiction about a true story reflect what is usually portrayed in biographic movies.


  1. Myers, J. Doc Holliday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 1973.
  2. McBride J. I am a director of westerns. In McBride J, editor. Searching for John Ford. A Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press; 2001. p. 416-519.


International Studies Abroad (I.S.A.)


Translated by: Meg Zarlengo

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Figure 1: Chihuahua, “Doc”s girlfriend

Figure 2: “Doc” Holliday and Wyatt Earp in their first encounter

Figure 3: Clementine, “Doc”s former girlfriend

Figure 4: The values that John Ford defended

Figure 5: The intervention of Chihuahua

Figure 6: The death of “Doc”

Figure 7: The cough of “Doc”

Figure 8: The hemoptysis of “Doc”?

Figure 9: Kate, “Doc”’s girlfriend

Figure 10: “Doc” Holliday and Wyatt Earp in their first meeting

Figure 11: “Doc” in the duel at the OK Corral

Figure 12: Doc´s cough

Figure 13: Succession of cough attacks followed by dyspnoea

Figure 14: “Doc” general poor state of health

Figure 15: Cough with a sensation of fever