January 15, 2008
New Information on film
The Girl Alaska,
Back in November Friends
member, Paul Quinzi, a big fan of Soapy, promised a synopsis of the
1919 film, The Girl Alaska which he had the opportunity to view at the
Library of Congress. You may recall that this film was seen by Soapy's
wife Mary and son at a local theater in the city where they lived. The
son, Jefferson Randolph Smith III, started legal proceedings to have
the film edited due to some derogatory remarks. Jeff owns some of the
orginal documents of the proceeding and he says other members of the
family probably have more as Mary and son saved everything related to
their family. Knowing that a copy of this film exists is very exciting.
Happy New Year to you and the rest of the Smith
family! I wrote you in November of my impending trip to the Library of
Congress to watch The Girl Alaska,
and I have some news that I think you will find interesting. Here's a
synopsis first, then my thoughts on the Soapy connection.
THE GIRL ALASKA (1919)
The film is the story of a girl called Molly McCrea, "daughter of one
of the lost gold seekers of Alaska." After having been abandoned by
her father at a young age, Molly decides to travel to Alaska herself
after reading in the newspaper of "great opportunities for young men in
the north." Disguised by a pair of overalls and a cap, Molly passes
herself off as a boy, stows away on a ship and adopts the slightly more
masculine name "Alaska." On the ship, Alaska meets Phil Hadley, who is
also seeking his fortune, and the two "boys" become best buds.
The two arrive in Skagway and meet an "old
sourdough" who shows them around the town. They soon hook up with a
native who offers to lead them to a good stake. On the way, a huge ice
cliff falls on their canoe, killing their guide, leaving Phil and
Alaska to their own devices. (No CGI of course; the prelude to the film
alludes to the actors "missing death by a narrow margin" in this
scene). They eventually find the stake, but there's no gold to be
found. They wander around some more and Phil becomes ill. Alaska
saves him by discovering, luckily within a few hundred yards, an old
prospector's cabin. Lo and behold, it's the old sourdough from
Skagway! He takes them in and offers to let them stay and help work
Alaska seems to be slowly falling for Phil, who
constantly pines for Lorraine, his sweetie back home, a socialite who
writes him occasionally. Of course, thinking Alaska is a dude, Phil is
totally oblivious to her feelings. One day Alaska, Phil and the
sourdough go into Fairbanks, the nearest town, for supplies. Alaska
and Phil go into a saloon, where someone tries to rob Phil at the faro
table. A great bar fight ensues, in which Phil is roundly beaten and
falls out into the street. Alaska rushes to his side, whispers "I love
you" and kisses the unconscious Phil. Then the sourdough collects them
and they make a swift exit from Fairbanks. They continue to work the
stake, Phil missing Lorraine, Alaska lamenting her unrequited love for
Phil. The old sourdough falls ill, and on his death bed asks Alaska to
take his share of the claim back to the States and give it to his
little girl, Molly!!! Alaska removes her cap, revealing her curls, and
no sooner are father and daughter reunited than they are separated by
Phil decides it's time to head back home to Lorraine, and leaves his
buddy Alaska to work the claim. He is thrown from his sled and is left
alone in the wintry wilderness. The next morning, Alaska wakes to the
jingling bells of the returning pilotless dogsled, and goes out to save
Phil, which she does, although admittedly still bitter about his having
left her for Lorraine.
Spring comes, and one day Phil spies Alaska secretly frolicking by the
lake, naked as the day she was born, highlighting the fact that she's a
she (no CGI here, either, but shot from far away). Later that day, some
prospectors happen by the cabin and leave off some newspapers from the
States. Phil picks up one only to read, "Prominent socialite Lorraine
Dower weds New York millionaire." Next morning, Phil takes Alaska to
Fairbanks, ostensibly to file a new claim. Instead, he takes her
directly to the chapel (pastored by the Rev. U.R. Blest), whereupon he
announces that they want to be married, to which Alaska coyly
consents. THE END.
SO WHAT ABOUT SOAPY?
Of course, the reason I wanted to see this film in the first place
was to see the first on-screen portrayal of Soapy Smith. My
understanding of the connection to Soapy was that his son was so
embarrassed and offended by the film that he threatened to sue the
producer for libel if he did not remove the objectionable scenes. I
have concluded that either he succeeded, or that the lawsuit itself may
have been Soapy's last con - from beyond the grave.
First, there is no Soapy character, or even a character loosely based on Soapy (a la Candy Johnson in Honky Tonk, Sheriff Gannon in The Far Country) in the film. The only mention of Soapy is an approximately 15-second scene when Phil and Alaska arrive in
Skagway. The entire part plays exactly like this:
Slide: The old sourdough takes Alaska and Phil to the grave of the notorious gunman, Soapy Smith.
Screen: [Shows Soapy's tombstone, circa 1919, tattooed with graffiti] Jefferson R. Smith, died July 8, 1898, aged 38 years.
Slide: "This fellow tried to shoot up Skagway. They buried him with his boots on."
That's it. That's the libelous content that was the basis of the
lawsuit alleging mental anguish. It seems to me that this is one of
the most innocuous things ever recorded about Soapy. Could it be that
the newspaperman's indignation and threat of a libel suit was a ruse to
extort money out of the filmmaker? That Soapy Smith had one con left,
and the talents of the father were revisited in the son? Or is there
some particular ignominy about being buried with his boots on that is
lost on someone of my generation? I guess "tr[ying] to shoot up
Skagway" makes him sound like a kind of terrorist, but it's certainly
not the extensive character assassination I was expecting.
Of course, it's possible that some original version had a somehow more
sinister depiction of Soapy and after being threatened with a lawsuit,
the director removed it, leaving only the cut I saw. But the film is
set in 1919, so it's unlikely that there would have ever been a Soapy
character included in it.
the other hand, far be it from
me to presume to know what genuinely offends someones sensibilities. I
don't have any famous (or infamous, for that matter) relatives that I
know of, so I don't pretend to know how it feels to have one's name
attached to such a reference. And also on the other hand, the part
about Soapy is a complete throwaway; it does absolutely nothing to
advance the story and is almost conspicuously out of place. The
producer's offer to cut the scene involving Soapy was hardly even a
concession; it seems like he went out of his way in even mentioning
him, in an unflattering, but still relatively harmless reference. Maybe
the fact that the reference was so capricious was what set Jeff
I am really interested to know your thoughts, as the only information I
have about the lawsuit comes from your website and your Wikipedia
I asked the librarian about the possibility of
getting a copy, and am still awaiting a response. If I can get one, I
will get two, and donate the other to the trust. I had hoped to get it
to you in time for Xmas, but here we are. Just let me know where to
By the way, I'm not sure if you've ever seen Honky Tonk, but I have a copy of it with Portuguese subtitles that I bought on
eBay. I would be happy to donate it to the trust as well if you don't have one.
I hope you have found this at least moderately interesting. It was a
fun errand for me, as a film buff and Soapy fan. I can't quite explain
the attraction, other than the sheer prolificity of his craft, and as a
criminal defense attorney, he's my kind of guy! I have told everyone
who will listen of his exploits. I have read everything about Soapy
that I can get my hands on, and particularly like to see how he has
been portrayed on film. Of course, no portrayal can beat the picture I
have built up in my own mind, someone with the charm of Doc Holliday in
Tombstone, with the ruthlessness of Al Swearingen on Deadwood.
I can't wait to read your bio, and would be honored if there's anything
I can do to help. I live about 60 miles from Temple and 30 miles from
Round Rock, so if there's ever anything about the Smith family I can
research over here, please consider me your man in central Texas. I'm
hoping to swing a trip to Denver later this year, maybe even Skagway
again if the stars align just right. Will keep you posted.
Thank you very much for the detailed synopsis. I knew that the film had scenes of Skagway and of the grave marker. I
am very curious as to which grave marker it is. I am guessing it is the second
marker, the one I possess.
From the documents between my
grandfather's attorneys and the film production company I can say with
certainty that he was not after any monetary compensation. In fact,
none of the suits my grandfather started asked for any compensation. He
only asked for changes to be made and from the documents I am inclined
to think they were possibly made, but I am not certain. I believe there
were actually two versions of the film showing but there is no way at
this time to know which copy the Library of Congress has.
I am very much looking forward to seeing the film. I do have a VHS copy of Honky Tonk. That
is a great little film. However I do wish my grandfather would have let
them use the name. Soapy would no doubt be a better known name today if
I like your Holliday/Swearingen blend; If that don't hit
the nail on the head...I hope I am around to see a well done movie on
his exploits, a mix of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid & The Sting.
Sincerely in soap,
January 13, 2008
2007 Soapy Smith Award
that time of year again. Time for the Anchorage Daily News to pick the
recipient of 2007. This award is given to the most deserving bad
Alaskan politician (hey we can't expect it to go to someone good!)
(Drum roll please) The winner is...Convicted lobbyist Bill Allen, who was caught on FBI tape boasting to former House Speaker Pete Knott, "I own your ass."
You can read the entire article here.
December 31, 2007
"New" Mural found hidden in a wall.
(Click on painting to enlarge)
Restoration of a gold rush era building recently sold uncovered a mural this last October. After paneling was
removed from the walls of Moe’s Frontier Bar, a mural by Bea O’Daniel (now Lingle)
completed in May 1951 was revealed. The painting stretches around the
perimeter of the main bar room and includes a detailed panoramic scene
of Skagway in 1900 and separate pieces showing gold seekers ascending
the Chilkoot Trail’s Golden Staircase and a Canadian Mountie on
horseback atop a mountain. The above portion shows the Soapy Smith/Frank Reid gunfight.
The mural was covered up in the late 1960s or early 1970s. There are currently no plans to salvage it.
The image above has found a good home here on our Gunfight Art page.
December 23, 2007
More on a pistol
December 11, 2007 we introduced a "new" pistol that supposedly belonged
to Soapy. Michael from the website wrote Jeff about what he knew of the
history on it.
I haven't been able to find out any more info about the gun
since we communicated last. I can't remember how much I told you about
it before. I got it from a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in Nanaimo,
British Columbia. He got it from a lady who's husband was a gun collector in
that town. The lady told him there once was a photograph of Jefferson Smith
with the gun but she couldn't find it. The story she told him was it belonged to
Soapy Smith. I contacted the Skagway Museum, The Juneau Museum and the Archives
here in Victoria. I got a lot of response and interest back. I even found
someone who worked at an auction house in Nanaimo who remembered the gun being
sold at auction there as Jefferson Smith's revolver. I sent away to Colt and got
a factory letter which I believe said it was shipped to Salt Lake City in around
1888 ( I could let you know for sure if you are interested). It has been so long
now and the people who use to own the gun are gone. I don't think I
could prove the association with Jefferson but it has been a fun ride.
My theoretical conclusion is
after reading all the accounts of the shooting and obtaining copies of both
Jefferson's and Frank Reid's will is it could have been the gun Frank Reid used
to shoot Smith with??? Again how can one prove it? Correct me if I am wrong but
most "eye-witness" accounts indicate Reid used a Colt in .38 caliber. This gun
is in a rare .38 Colt caliber - coincidence - maybe. I have a copy of Frank
Reid's will and he left a Colt revolver in his will - so did Jefferson Smith.
The only other lead, however slight, I have to tie it to Frank Reid is that I
read somewhere he was from Vancouver, British Columbia a hour and a half ferry
ride from Nanaimo.
I spent some time getting
information on Smith but I haven't pursued the Reid theory. The trouble is Reid
is a very common name in Vancouver and Nanaimo - as is Smith.
Anyway like I said it would be
hard to prove either way but when I have the time and inclination I will try and
follow the Frank Reid trail a little more. You have rekindled my interest
in this gun again and maybe I'll just try and see if I can find out a little
more about it.
So at the moment you
are correct in your Authenticity
None to Slight. As far as "some association" with either Smith or Reid I am
leaning more to at least Slight!
If I find out any more about the
gun I will surely let you know. As they say "if that old gun could only talk".
Let me know if you get up to Victoria we will have to get together!
you for responding. However, I honestly have no record of hearing from
you in the past. Please forgive me if I am mistaken.
To answer some of you questions, none
of the "eye-witnesses" accounts indicated what type of pistol Reid
used. His gun just seemed to disappear. It was Martin Itjen in the
1930s who first published the idea that Reid's weapon was a Colt's .38
Frank Reid was not from
Vancouver, British Columbia. Actually he lived in the state of Oregon
in the US. It was there that he is known to have been aquitted of
shooting an unarmed man.
I very much look forward to any more information you might come across on this fascinating pistol. Thank you.
December 17, 2007
Clark Gable as Soapy Smith
By Douglas Churchill Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.
Calif., April 28, 1940--Clark Gable will play the lead in "Soapy
Smith," which Pandro S. Berman will produce for Metro, the studio
announced. The story, based on "The Reign of Soapy Smith," by Edwin
Victor Westrate and William Ross Collier, deals with the ...
ANGELES TIMES, April 29, 1940--Clark Gable will be the star in one of
the earliest pictures produced by Pandro Berman for the M.G.M. studio.
The film scheduled for this star features Soapy Smith, one of the
characters celebrated in early Colorado history. "The Reign of Soapy
Smith," written by William Ross Collier and Edwin Victor Westgate, has
been purchased by the studio and will be transcribed into a cinema play
by Ann Lee Whitmore and Tom Sellers, two of the younger writers at the
above movie plans turned into the 1941 MGM film, Honky Tonk. Jeff said
he had heard the stories about howJefferson R. Smith III (Soapy's son)
had threaten to sue MGM for using his father's name, of which he still
retained rights to. Jeff said he was never 100% sure that Gable was
actually playing Soapy, until now.
You can read more about this film and others that pertain to Soapy HERE
December 11, 2007
Another Soapy pistol
"The Spirit of the West pistol"
found another pistol reported to be Soapy's. This is the sixth known
pistol. The other weapons supposedly belonging to Soapy can be viewed HERE.
Jeff has sent a request for more information but has not received a
replay as of yet. The pistols is named after the website it was found
on. The write-up on the gun was as follows:
“Civilian Model - Single action .38 Colt caliber centerfire.
6 shots. 5 1/2 inch round barrel. Barrel address " COLT'S PT. F.A. MFG. CO. HARTFORD, CT. U.S.A.+ Fluted cylinder. Frame marked in
three lines "PAT. SEPT. 19. 1871. / "" JULY.
2. -72. / ''' JAN. 19.-75" Caliber designation on left side, front
bow of trigger guard. Blue or nickel plated. This gun has
historiacal association with Jefferson "Soapy" Smith. This gun was
made in 1888.”
December 8, 2007
(click photo to enlarge)
telegraph swindle is perhaps the most comical scam he pulled on the
gullible nimwits who landed on the beach of the new camp of Skagway,
Alaska. You can read more about the con HERE.
The humor in the whole affair is that it took place in late 1897 -
early 1898 and telegraph lines did not reach Juneau until November 9,
1901. Now you have to admit that is funny!
December 5, 2007
Guest book down...and out. We
are sad to announce that the GUEST BOOK is not working... again. It
will not recognize the protective number code posters type in. We doubt
we will try it again. Thank you to all those who left messages and
The good news is that we all can still leave comments
and talk about Soapy and/or other topics related to Soapy and the old
west at our new OLD WEST ROGUES discussion board
November 28, 2007
New videos We have three videos from THE REAL HUSTLER in our game room
that show the way modern day people still fall for the games of 150
years ago. The shell game, three-card Monte and a set-up poker game.
video below is a 6-1/2 minute expose on three-card Monte, which
includes the bent card scam and pick pockets to boot! This is a fun one
and the end
Skaguay News, 8/3/1898
has several of the old issues of the Skaguay News brought home by
Soapy's wife Mary and son, Jefferson Smith III. Modern day Jeff thought
it a coincidence that two ads representing the beginning and the end of
Soapy's career in Skagway, Alaska would be one on top of the other in
an August 3, 1898 edition.
The top ad being the First Bank of
Skaguay in which their first location was sold to Soapy and became Jeff
Smith's Parlor, his saloon. The bottom ad being Peoples undertaker who
prepared performed the burial duties on Soapy's body.
November 19, 2007
New discussion forum
The Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith have a new home to discuss the history of Soapy as well as "The outlaws, bunco artists, gamblers,
thieves, misfits, political and social gangsters and all around bad
men, women and places that made up the best and worst that the west had
to offer." It is called the OLD WEST ROGUES discussion board. It is easy and quick to use. We hope to see you there!
November 17, 2007
Creede's first piano.
Click image to enlarge
Soapy saved many newspaper articles which still remain in the Smith family collections. In Jeff's collection is an issue of the Police Illustrated News,
April 9, 1892. In that issue is a story of Creede, Colorado and their
first piano. Obviously from the drawing above this was big news in the
new camp. Below is the accompanying article.
CREEDE'S FIRST PIANO.
piano came into the new Colorado boom city of Creede a fortnight ago,
the "advance courier," as the Daily Crusher declared in a column
article on the subject the next day, "of a long line of musical
instruments which will make these mountain fastnesses ring with melody,
and create a symphonous accompaniment to the everlasting music of the
resonant steel discs of the saw mill up Poverty Gulch. The piano has
come to stay. It is set up in a dance hall, where its tired strings are
nightly hammered by a long-haired virtouso, who sweeps out the corks in
the early dawn, places the ''dead drunks' tenderly under the wooden
bunks in the retiring rooms, and acts as tout for his rendezvous when
the stage whirls in in the afternoon."
There is much of open violation of law in Creede, and as the
Crusher's rival, the Prospector, stated in its issue, "the midnight air
is rasped by the assassin's bullet. Shootings are common enough, and
there is not much of police protection. There is, however, an
association of bearded, reputable, determined men, who never fail to
receive respect from desperadoes when they find themselves compelled to
resort to the vigilantes' ultimatum. Invitations to leave the camp are
promptly compelled with. 'you have twenty-four hours in which to leave
town,' wrote a committee of this kind once in Cheyenne's active days.
'Gentlemen,' came the brief and scholarly response, in fine Italian
hand, 'gentlemen, if my mule doesn't buck I'll not need more than
tweenty-four minutes.' An intimation of a public desire here is
sufficient to meet with prompt obedience."
November 16, 2007
"You have made a great mistake." Jeff was playing around and created Soapy as he might have tried to convince his captors that they had made a mistake.
a close look at the detail of the eyes, etc., there is a lot of detail
for such a simple program. I took a drawing of Soapy's face and typed
in some text, the program at RockYou did the rest.
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