“There was something very peculiar about Doc”: Disability and Queer
Friendship in Representations of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp
Dr. Alex Tankard
University of Chester
Date: Wednesday 7 December 2011
Place: Eden 109, Liverpool Hope University
Nineteenth-century representations of “consumptive” gunslinger Dr John
Henry Holliday often expressed admiration rather than censure for his
unusually intense devotion to his friends. However, even in the 1880s and
1890s, Holliday was an object of curiosity for newspaper reporters shocked
to discover that, as well as being a fearless killer, Holliday was “a
victim of consumption” – a disabled man who emphasised rather than
concealed his physical delicacy and vulnerability, in the midst of an
overwhelmingly violent, macho society. Their expressions of astonishment
may hint at an underlying discomfort about Holliday’s status as an
aberration of frontier masculinity.
The confusion would only intensify over the decades as these complex
representations were reinterpreted and rewritten ever further from their
original cultural context. In the second half of the twentieth century,
film representations of Holliday demonstrated varying degrees of anxiety
and even homophobic suspicion about his friendship with lawman Wyatt Earp.
Most films are equally clumsy in their use of Holliday’s incurable illness
to explain (and thereby “straighten”) his peculiar willingness to risk his
life for Earp, desperately denying the homoerotic possibilities of their
relationship and ignoring the more subtle and complex ways in which
Holliday’s disability might shape his interaction with other men.
Dr. Tankard will suggest that queerness and disability converge at crucial
points in their story, and will discuss the ways in which representations
of Holliday as a disabled man who loved other men were censored, rewritten
and reimagined by twentieth-century writers and film-makers.
For further information, please contact:
Dr. David Bolt
Director, Centre for Culture & Disability Studies
Editor, Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies
Lecturer and Recognised Researcher, Education
Founder, International Network of Literary & Cultural Disability Scholars
Telephone: 0151 291 3346
Office: EDEN 128
Postal address: Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Liverpool Hope
University, Liverpool, L16 9JD.