- Doc Holliday in Film and Literature by Shirley Ayn Linder
In her debut book, Shirley Ayn Linder transforms her doctoral dissertation into a compact snapshot of Doc Holliday. From the first page she eloquently examines how his story made its torturous journey into the minds and heart of the American public. Her goal is simple: to shed light on the man, the myth, and the Hollywood legend.
The book opens with a brief history of Holliday. Linder takes the traditional idea of him as a murderer and thief and flips it on its head, sending even the most fanatic Holliday historian into unfamiliar territory. Instead of launching her discussion with a comment on his criminal background, she focuses on his illness and the ramifications of moving to Texas in response to a doctor’s orders. In the introduction, she poses a thought-provoking question: “Did Doc Holliday really have such a strong desire to live, or was he making the most concerted of efforts to die with his boots on?” (5). According to her, Holliday was not an infamous criminal but a dentist simply looking to make a name for himself before disease put him six feet under. Linder illustrates this point with rich historical texts and firsthand accounts, painting a brilliant picture of the historical Doc Holliday.
Once enraptured by the twist and turns of Holliday’s deadly deeds in Texas, Linder takes a sharp left turn as she refocuses the conversation to the Holliday myth as seen through film. For the next nine chapters the reader is taken on a film odyssey that spans from soon after Holliday’s mysterious death in 1887 to the present day. As expected, Hollywood turned a short, relatively uneventful life into a compelling Old West myth. Holliday has been portrayed by a multitude of actors, each drawing out aspects of the dentist-turned-cowboy to suit their own personal needs and the needs of the American public. Directors have distorted and exaggerated the facts, thus turning fact into fiction and leaving the chore of discovering the truth to the viewers.
Interestingly enough, the book does not end with the normal platitude that wraps the Holliday story up with a bow. Instead Linder leaves the reader with the feeling that the true power of the Holliday legend is that he continues to inspire as many people in the twenty-first century as he did at the turn of the twentieth. Doc Holliday in Film and Literature is an excellent insight into the making of a legend. Through ten chapters of film history the reader is exposed to a well-written and well-researched discussion of the effect of the creative liberties of Hollywood. The book illustrates both fact and fiction concerning Holliday’s escapades and inspires the modern reader to dream about the wonders of the Wild West. [End Page 328]