Kirk Douglas as John “Doc” Holliday, hot-tempered gambler, gunslinger, and ex-dentist
Tombstone, AZ, October 1881
Film: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Release Date: May 30, 1957
Director: John Sturges
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Today would have been the 165th birthday of Doc Holliday, the irritable dentist who shot to Old West superstardom after his involvement with the Earp brothers during the infamous 1881 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, immortalized on film in the appropriately-named Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and Tombstone (1993).
Although Val Kilmer’s portrayal in Tombstone is often called the definitive Doc Holliday, today’s post will focus on Kirk Douglas’ performance which is arguably the first time that the troubled, tubercular gunfighter was accurately portrayed on screen. Douglas brought an emotional depth to a character that had been relatively mistreated and relegated to a stock character in the preceding four decades of Westerns. Although Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was still an uncomplicated film that relied more on folklore than facts, Douglas’ performance helped develop public consciousness of the bitter gunfighter whose best days were behind him and was well aware that he was living on borrowed time.
What’d He Wear?
Kirk Douglas’ Doc Holliday wears a charcoal dress suit and red brocade vest for many important scenes in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: his on-screen introduction, his knife fight with Ed Bailey, and the titular gunfight itself. The rest of the time, he wears a slightly less formal gray lounge suit – a 1950s costume variation of what a businessman might have worn in the early 1880s. Still, flamboyant Old West gambler that he is, Doc pairs the gray business suit with a similarly-styled brocade vest in green silk.
This gray semi-solid wool suit is styled similarly to his other suit. The single-breasted jacket has slim peak lapels and a high 2-button stance. The lower button is on the natural waistline, which extends around the sides of the jacket (along the top of each wide hip pocket flap) to the decorative two buttons on the back. Each of the two decorative back buttons is fastened at the top of a vent. The jacket also has straight shoulders and spaced 2-button cuffs.
The suit’s matching trousers are cut straight from the long rise to Kirk Douglas’ natural waist down to the plain-hemmed bottoms. They are flat in the front with frogmouth pockets that slant down and out from the belt line. There are no back pockets.
The trouser belt loops are somewhat anachronistic for a business suit, as these weren’t popular on men’s trousers until the 1920s; Doc wears a black leather belt with a squared steel single-claw buckle.
Rather than the dramatic red waistcoat worn with his charcoal suit, Doc always wears a rich green silk brocade vest with this gray suit. It is similarly styled to the earlier vest, with slim shawl lapels and four covered buttons tightly placed below a low-fastening V-shaped opening. The back is lined in black silk with an adjustable strap that closes through a buckle.
Doc wears his gold pocket watch in a welted pocket on the right side. As identified in the previous post (which also provides a great look at the watch itself), Doc wears a yellow gold full hunter Waltham railroad watch on a gold chain.
Other than the differently colored and styled suit and vest, Doc appears to wear everything else exactly the same between the two outfits: the same gray ruffled-front shirt, black string tie, black leather boots, and black gambler’s hat. (When he isn’t wearing the light gray shirt, he sometimes wears a non-ruffled but similarly-styled ecru shirt.)
The light gray shirt has an attached soft turndown spread collar with long points. The ruffled front bib is pleated with mother-of-pearl buttons down the placket. Each squared cuff closes with a single button as well as a button on each gauntlet, which Doc appears to leave unfastened.
The outfit is also dated by its simple black satin string tie, an icon of the Old West that is best known to today’s KFC patrons as Colonel Sanders’ preferred neckwear. As I wrote in an earlier post, Cattle Kate offers these ties for sale for only $14 with the accurate description of “one long piece of silk to tie into a floppy bow… a favorite of gamblers and gentlemen callers everywhere.” Pre-tied examples are available from Gentleman’s Emporium for $22 as the “Western Bow Tie” and, of course, Amazon for a cool $5.50.
Doc’s plain black leather boots have tall riding heels and appear to be worn with a pair of thick light gray ribbed socks.
Doc appropriately wears an all-black “gambler hat”, a more urban evolution of the low-crowned telescope hat worn by Mexican cowboys in the southwest. The low, round crown prevented hot air from accumulating inside the hat. The telescope hat also featured a wide brim to protect its wearers from the piercing sun; since gamblers spent most of their time inside, the gambler hat featured a smaller, upturned brim like Doc’s.
More comfortable as a “city dude” than many of his contemporaries, Doc channels more modern gun owners by concealing his Remington Model 1875 revolver in a low-slung brown leather shoulder holster under his left armpit, allowing for an easy draw with his right hand. The holster rig appears to be secured to his torso with a thin strap that enters through his left vest pocket and may fasten to his trouser belt.
As a flashy gentleman who takes pride in his somewhat ill-gotten material wealth, Doc wears a gold ring on the third finger of his left hand. The ring has a large oval red coral setting.
How to Get the Look
Though hardly a businessman in the traditional sense, Doc Holliday maintains a look in town that infuses elements of his flamboyant personality with conservative business dress.
- Gray semi-solid wool lounge suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with slim peak lapels, straight widely-flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and decorative 2-button back with double vents
- Flat front high-rise trousers with belt loops, frogmouth front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Green silk brocade vest with low V-shaped opening, single-breasted 4-button front, welted hip pockets, and adjustable back strap
- Light gray dress shirt with turndown collar, ruffled front placket, pleated bib, and squared button cuffs
- Black satin string bow tie
- Black leather belt with square steel single-claw buckle
- Black calf leather plain-toe boots with tall riding heels
- Light gray ribbed socks
- Black gambler hat with round crown and black ribbon
- Brown leather custom shoulder holster, worn under left arm
- Yellow gold Waltham full hunter pocket watch with dust cover, white dial (with Roman numerals and 6:00 sub-dial), and gold chain
- Gold ring with large oval red coral setting
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I don’t lose because I have nothing to lose, including my life.