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Tom Durkin: Let it bleed?

By Tom Durkin | Columnist

Bang! Bang! Bang! You’re dead!

Almost all of us grew up playing cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians.

And if we watch our children and grandchildren at play today, we’ll see the same play acting, only with a deeply disturbing new script: cops and active shooters.

Why did we, and why do our children, role-play these kill-or-be-killed scripts?

Because that’s what we saw, and they see, on TV and in the movies. It’s what we and they read in comic books and in real books. It’s what we hear in our music.

We grew up and raised our kids in a culture that glorifies, celebrates, even worships guns. Our very language is weaponized with gun-related metaphors as we arm ourselves with an arsenal of arguments to shoot down our opponents’ ideas in the upcoming firefight over gun control.


Way back last century, when I still operated under the delusion that I was going to write the great American screenplay, I wrote 11 feature-length scripts.

As an antiwar activist and would-be conscientious objector, I wrote stories that scrupulously avoided using guns as means to my characters’ ends or solutions to their conflicts. None of my first five sold.

So, I did what almost everyone who has ever worked in Hollywood has done: I sold out. I wrote an action-adventure script called “Wild Turkey” with lots of guns and killing.

Within a month of giving it to my agent, I was having lunch with producer Dick Shepherd (“One-Eyed Jacks”) in the commissary of The Burbank Studios. I signed a contract that was, literally, thicker than my script. And I received a very nice option check that was more money than my wife made in a year at her full-time job.

I was admitted into the Writers Guild of America, west, which is sort of like making it into the NFL. The front page of The Hollywood Reporter proclaimed Steve McQueen was going to star in the movie.

Of course, like 11 out of 12 scripts under development at the major studios in the 1970s, the movie never got made. The script was optioned by several other studios, but nobody could put the deal together.

Nothing I wrote or other writers’ scripts that I doctored made it to the big screen, but for a couple years, agents and producers took me to some very nice restaurants to try to convince me to write another script just like “Wild Turkey.”

I wouldn’t do it. Full of hubris, I refused let myself be typecast as an action-adventure hack. I was a serious writer, so I proceeded to commit career suicide over the next several years by sticking to my artistic pretensions and writing scripts that producers and agents told me were “really great but just not our cup of tea.”


Anyway, 1979, I sent the last producer I worked for a cactus planter with the suggestion he sit on it and put Hollywood in my rearview mirror.


Hollywood has brought us a culture where the NRA can brazenly have a huge gun party in Houston three days after Uvalde.

Hollywood has created a love of guns that has emboldened the Republican Party to prioritize the alleged “right” of a minority of the population to own guns over the right of the majority of us to not get shot in the back while grocery shopping — or not to have to bury our children.

And don’t give me that good-guy-with-gun crap. Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Thus, we cannot use gun violence to solve our problem of gun violence.


As the TV characters Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, and Jason McCullough in the movie “Support Your Local Sheriff,” actor James Garner made a career out of using his wits and ingenuity instead of a gun to deal with dangerous situations.

I think Hollywood should abandon its dependence on violence as an easy plot device and work a little harder to make heroes out of peacemakers. Create a culture of conflict resolution through compassion and creativity, instead of shootouts and showdowns.

After all, this isn’t the Wild West anymore. Or is it?


It takes, luck, talent and hustle to make it in Hollywood. I had the luck and the talent, but I definitely did not have the hustle — nor the heart to be part of a morally bankrupt culture that has brought us a gun-crazed culture where a boy with an assault rifle can slaughter little children.


You’re dead.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer, editor and photographer in Nevada County and a member of The Union Editorial Board. He may be contacted at tjdurkin3@gmail.com.


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