The recent press release from Warner Bros. sounds innocent enough: ”Kevin Costner to Star in Western Film About Wyatt Earp Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Principal photography is slated to begin in May, 1993.” But to screenwriter (Glory) and would-be director Kevin Jarre, 36, who was hoping to start his Wyatt Earp film, Tombstone, in the spring for Universal, the announcement sounds like a declaration of war. And since Costner’s powerful agency, CAA, seems to be steering talent away from Tombstone, Hollywood is asking, Is this town big enough for two Earp movies?
The duel over the gunfighter’s story — which has already been the subject of films like My Darling Clementine (1946) and Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), and a memorable ABC series (1955-61) starring Hugh O’Brian — started out right friendly. Costner had originally planned his Earp version as a six-hour miniseries for pay-per-view cable. Through a mutual friend (Robin Hood director Kevin Reynolds), Jarre says, he showed Costner his Tombstone script, which details the story behind the OK Corral gunfight. At the time, last July, Costner said he wasn’t interested in junking his miniseries idea, which is more of a full-fledged biopic. But by November, Costner had decided to turn his Earp into a feature, and he called Jarre to reassure him that neither he nor CAA would do anything to impede Tombstone‘s progress.
Now Jarre — whose script for Dracula was shelved by Universal as soon as Francis Ford Coppola signed on to make a rival version — isn’t so sure about Costner’s promise. He’s calling the actor’s untitled film ”an attempt to crush my picture.” Warner denies this. Costner’s producer and partner, Jim Wilson, insists he sees no competition between the two movies.
Jarre’s smoking gun is Brad Pitt. The hot young CAA actor was once enthusiastic about starring in Tombstone, but once Costner’s movie was announced, Pitt suddenly cooled. ”CAA is telling people our movie won’t happen,” says Tombstone producer James Jacks. Even Wilson admits that trying to cast Tombstone with CAA clients probably won’t work. He notes, ”There are a zillion other agencies besides CAA.”
The Tombstone filmmakers, who, unlike Costner, have a finished script, are wooing several stars, including ICM’s Nick Nolte and William Morris’ Patrick Swayze, hoping that Universal will green-light the picture for a spring start. ”There’s no race,” Wilson says. ”But because of the asinine mentality in this town, they won’t let two pictures about Earp go forward. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet Tombstone doesn’t go ahead.”