Will Ghormley’s Jesse James and Charlie Prince Rigs
I had forgotten to add that a little while back I found Will Ghormley’s website and discovered he made both Jesse James’ and Charlie Prince’s rigs for the movie The Assassination of Jesse James and 3:10 to Yuma.
The content below is from a phone interview I had with Will Ghormley conducted on April 24. 2008. Mr Ghormley’s responses are not exact quotes, but are condense and paraphrased from his responses. These paraphrased responses have been reviewed and approved by Mr. Ghormely.
The Assassination of Jesse James:
How did you become involved with the Jesse James movie?
David Carrico asked me to create a design for the Jesse James rig based off images of the original holster that was retrieved by the Pinkertons on the day Jesse James was killed you could look here. I faithfully recreated the original and provided a prototype of the holster to David as well as 7 additional holsters to be used for production.
So, did you make the final pieces seen in the movie?
Yes and no. I created the design and carved the holsters. The leather, provided to me by David was thin, so David sewed in a lining and finished the holsters. David also created the money/cartridge belt for Jesse’s rig. What is seen on screen are my holsters, sewn together and lined by David, on David’s belt.
How historically accurate is the rig Brad Pitt wears?
It is fairly accurate. I believe the original holster that Jesse owned and I used as a template may not have been made for a Schofield, as seen in the movie, but more than likely a larger firearm like a LeMat or an old cap and ball. There was a lot of extra leather in that holster. I recreated Jesse’s holster for the Schofield and designed a matching holster for a Colt SAA. There is no historical evidence of a matching second holster to hold the Colt SAA.
Additionally, Jesse’s original belt had cartridge loops that were 1 ½” tall and fully covered the cartridges. This style of loop was a remnant of an earlier period when cartridges were more fragile and required more protection. The loops on the rig used in the movie aren’t as tall and don’t fully cover the cartridges.
Finally, the end of the billet on Jesse’s original belt was rounded while the billet in the movie has a ‘coffin’ end.
Did you design Jesse’s shoulder holster as well?
No. The shoulder holster was David Carrico’s creation.
Did you have involvement with Frank James’ rig as well?
Not directly. After creating Jesse’s holsters I designed and created Frank’s rig for myself, again, based off of images of the original. Historically, Frank was credited as the fastest draw in the James/Younger gang. With this in mind, I noticed that Frank had cut a notch in the front of his holster that would allow him to cock his pistol while it was still in the holster. This meant he could cock his pistol before he went into a confrontation and then could draw, aim and fire without having to cock the pistol which takes time and requires the shooter to reaim after cocking the hammer. I published this discovery on my Frank James webpage with photos of my reproductions of Frank’s rig. When Robert Ford first approached Frank James in the beginning of the movie, there is a closeup of Frank cocking his gun while it is still in the holster. Not my holster or belt, but cocking the Remington in the holster may have stemmed from my research.
3:10 to Yuma
How were you brought onboard for 3:10 to Yuma?
3:10 to Yuma was made after The Assassination of Jesse James. Thell Reed was armorer on both Jesse James and 3:10 to Yuma. As Thell was aware of my work on Jesse James, he approached me in regard to designing the rigs for 3:10 to Yuma.
What were your contributions to 3:10 to Yuma?
I designed and built the iconic rigs for Ben Wade, played by Russell Crowe, Charlie Prince, played by Ben Foster, and Campos, played by Rio Alexander. I also was commissioned to create more generic rig designs to outfit the outlaw band and posse.
How do you come up with a design?
The first major consideration is the time period in which the movie is to take place and what technology and styles were popular at that time. This helps ensure the rigs are ‘period correct.’
The second major consideration are the requirements of the production. In the case of 3:10 the armorer was looking for a period correct rigs that could be used like a modern day fast draw holster. Additionally the ris had to be colored in such a way that the dye would not rub off on the actors clothing.
There are also other considerations such as requests from the actors. For example, Rusell Crowe, at one point, wanted two crossing belts for Ben Wade. However, Thell Reed had used crossing belts on Curly Bill Brocious, played by Powers Booth, in Tombstone and expressed great concern due to the issues Booth had in keeping the belts situated correctly. Thell stated that he had to readjust Booth’s belts for every shot because they kept falling down. Based on Rusell Crowe’s requests and Thell Reed experience, I created a double belt rig in which the belts interlocked, creating a single unit that wouldn’t fall down as two individual belts would have done. Unfortunately this belt wasn’t used by Crowe as the director ultimately decided that it did not fit Ben Wade’s character. He instead decided that Ben was deadly enough that he only needed a single gun while the remainder of his posse required two guns to be as deadly as he was. [Note: a similar decision was made for the character Johnny Ringo from Tombstone, as he was initially slated to carry two guns.]
Please walk me through the process in which a rig goes from an idea to the final piece used in the film?
I first make a template and from that create a prototype that is then shipped to the armorer. The prototype is examined and revisions are noted. I then use these revisions to create the final pieces seen in the film. Sometimes there are numerous revisions and holsters get swapped from character to character or even from film to film!
For example: Russel Crowe’s 3:10 to Yuma holster started out as a prototype to be used by Ed Harris in Appaloosa! Russel Crowe’s 3:10 to Yuma prototype holster was eventually used by Tommy Darden, played by Johnny Whitworth, the member of Crowe’s posse who is shot in the neck by Crowe early in the film.
How many rigs were made for Crowe and Foster?
The director was adamant that he didn’t want the look of Crowe’s belt to change but Russell Crowe needed different sized belts for different scenes. He need one sized belt to go over his coat, another sized belt to hang loosely under his coat, and yet another sized belt to fit tightly under his coat for fast draw scenes. Ultimately I made between 15-16 belts for the Ben Wade character.
For Ben Foster we made 3 belts total. One was the original prototype belt that I still have. The second belt was given to Ben Foster. The third belt was sold on eBay after filming.
What was your inspiration for the Charlie Prince rig?
Charlie’s rig was inspired by the character as described to me by Thell Reed. In my mind I ‘type cast’ Charlie as someone who is arrogant and conceited. He would be interested in appearance and has no regard for human life. Based on this assessment of Charlie’s character, I created a prototype that included a flaming red lining in the holsters as well the red ‘Flames of Hell’ stitching outside the lining. I also added silver spots and a detailed silver buckle to represent Charlie’s arrogance and pride. Finally I gave the billet a ‘coffin’ style end.
How did the final design of Charlie’s rig change from the prototype?
The prototype holsters had a very common, period correct, treatment for the throat. During the civil war, many holsters had a flap over them to protect the old ball and cap style weapons. After the war, it became common to simply cut off the flap as it greatly impeded the speed at with a shooter could draw his weapon and cartridge based weapons weren’t as delicate as their predecessors. When the flap is removed, there is often an arc of material left at the back of the holster. This became so prevalent that holster makers began to make new holsters with the arc even though it was only a remnant of the cutoff flap and served no useful purpose. I added this arc to the prototype rig because it showed off the red lining of the holster through the trigger guard. However, Thell, the armorer, felt the arched back impeded Ben Foster’s ability to draw. Ultimately the arches were removed even though they were period correct. Also the holsters on the final rig were made ‘baggier’ than the holster on the prototype so Ben could holster his pistols with less resistance. Finally, for safety reasons, a hammer thong was added so the guns wouldn’t fall out of the holsters, especially when the actors were on horseback. Hammer thongs weren’t common during the period of the film so I designed the thongs so they could be easily hidden for closeup shots to maintain a period correct look.
There was a lot of leather in 3:10 to Yuma. Did you have help?
Yes I did. Jon Watsabaugh, an award winning saddle maker helped make many of the rigs. In fact, while the designs were mine, Jon actually manufactured more of the rigs for the secondary actors than I did! I provided Jon with patterns and leather and he built them.
Thanks to Will for sharing this info!!! If you are interested in having Will make a rig foor you, please check out his website: Will Ghormley – Maker