Sunday, October 14, 2007

Of Outlaws, Artifacts and Anecdotes

James Gang DescendantTry as I might to control my fate, the daily assignments come fast, furious and inexplicably without reason. For every target-rich environment I stumble upon, two other such cornucopias get covered by cross-town competitors and in house colleagues alike. ’Tis the nature of the beast and the veteran news-chaser cannot dwell on the ones that got away. That’s why serendipity was in the air as I rolled into Eden last week to rendezvous with Bob Buckley and instead found Jesse James. Well, a descendant of his famous gang at least. Ralph Ganis, great-grand something of outlaw Mome Diggs, looked up from his artifacts when I entered the room while his wife kept sorting through boxes of weapons, clothing and accoutrements of the world’s most famous train robbing gang. It was all I could do not to swoon.

Why, exactly? For the past week I’ve been totally taken with
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ron Hansen’s novelized account of the doomed outlaw’s undoing. I don’t normally go for novels, but the lyrical depiction of the ex-Confederate and his mutinous lackeys had held me thoroughly enthralled - and that was before I learned it was coming to a theater near me! None other than Brad Pitt stars as the gregarious Jesse; the film’s in limited release and I haven’t been so excited by a Mr. Angelina Jolie performance since dude’s turn as a clueless stoner in the much underrated True Romance. But I digress. This post is about history, happenstance and hirsute brutes staring back at yours truly through dusty picture frames. How cool is that?

Don’t bother answering, just know I was in a state of reader nirvana as I wandered through Ralph Gannis’ exhibit in the making. Having grown up listening to family lore about told uncle Mome, Ralph began researching and confirmed his ancestor did in fact ride with Jesse James. This led to a life of collecting James gang material - from old movie posters to an actual holster once worn by the notorious gang leader. When Hollywood began kicking the tires of this gunslinging legend, they wisely hired Ganis as an artifacts consultant to their film. I didn’t ply him for on-set details though. Instead I quizzed him about myths and misconceptions as I looked into the long-dead faces of men whose names had merely been characters on a page. The post-mortem fun didn't even stop when Buckley finally showed up and trotted out his oft-told tale of going to college with one Brad Pitt.

For once, it almost seemed relevant. Almost.

No comments: