A Word from the Founders
Basha and CuChullaine O'Reilly
No two men could be less alike than Walt Disney and Frank Hopkins.
The former was a smiling man of vision and integrity.
The latter was a stone-faced predator of the truth.
For nearly seventy years Hopkins has been on the lookout for our weaknesses. In the past he could be found swaggering with confidence across our magazines and into our books. This carnivore of honesty is still on the hunt as the new century dawns, still looking for easy prey. Only now he is about to launch himself at us via our movie screens.
Sadly, the very man we grew up trusting, Walt Disney, is being used to promote the historical fraud named Frank Hopkins. In the past we cherished films with Disney's names attached to them. Many of us now shudder at the falsity of the newest film about to be released by the movie studio that sports Walt Disney's name. Our anxiety is anchored in the realization that the new Disney film entitled "Hidalgo" will not only enshrine a villain disguised as a hero, when it reaches the world market its perverse historical message will last forever.
The stories told by Frank Hopkins are forgeries, true life adventures stolen from real life heroes and then exploited by an liar. He never starred in the Wild West Show, hunted buffalo, shot outlaws, raced across Arabia, or did any of the other fantastic things he claimed. Hopkins can be credited instead with the forging of his equestrian accomplishments, the identity theft of the real "Laramie Kid," and the slandering of such revered Americans as Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody. The tales passed down about Frank Hopkins, this construction worker in a cowboy hat, are breath-taking subversions of the truth. They revere not a hero but a devotee of deception, a pauper of true experience, and a slanderer of pharaonic dimensions.
This is not a film about an equestrian hero, it is a film about an enormous human tragedy named Frank Hopkins.
It was famed author Leon Uris who said, "Research done correctly, exhaustively if need be, tears your guts out." Yet apparently no deep research went into the making of the movie "Hidalgo."
The Walt Disney studio and its award-winning screenwriter seemed so eager to embrace Hopkins' mythology they were willing to accept pseudo-history as fact. It seems there was no trace of critical investigation, let alone a probing analysis of the claims made by Hopkins, before the screenplay was dubbed "based on the true story of Frank Hopkins." When these claims were questioned by The Long Riders' Guild, the screenwriter told the Hollywood Reporter he had twelve years' research and fifteen experts to back him up.
In contrast, it only took three telephone calls to alert The Long Riders' Guild to the fact that Frank Hopkins had been misleading the world for nearly seventy years. Four months of further research by an international team of sixty experts uncovered two overlooked "autobiographical" Hopkins manuscripts, a series of misleading articles published by Hopkins, as well as a treasure trove of letters and ephemera that exchanged hands between Hopkins' widow and a famed American biographer. For the first time in history, the Guild's study has provided the world with a polite but firm application of the facts. These facts prove that there is not a shred of historic evidence to support Frank Hopkins' claims.
Apparently the Walt Disney Studio did not get the same results when they shoved truth into the margin and paid $1.75 million for the screenplay of "Hidalgo."
Ironically, journalism careers all over the United States are now in ruins because of similar ethical dilemmas. Names like Jayson Blair, Rick Bragg and Stephen Glass have gone down in flames following scandals that derailed careers when profit and ambition outweighed ethics and scholarship. Disney paid almost two million dollars for a screenplay "based on a true story." What it got was an episode in historical amnesia.
What is even more alarming is that executives at the Disney studio don't seem to care. Apparently they think that gathering in a large audience is the only thing that matters, even if it means dynamiting the truth and enshrining a hoax like Hopkins.
Nina Heyn, Disney's Executive Director of International Publicity, sent the public a chilling message when she said, "No one here really cares about the historical aspects. Once a picture has been shot, people move on to others. We're like a factory. Its like making dolls. Once the latest doll is out we go onto the next one. if it transpires that the historical aspects are in question I don't think people would care that much. Hidalgo is a family film. It has little to do with reality."
But previous ignorance of the facts is no defense for Disney now. Frank Hopkins has been shown to be wearing the double crown of the biggest equestrian hoaxer, as well the biggest Old West liar, of all time.
The Disney studio can no longer pretend that the claims made by Frank Hopkins can be believed. There was no race across Arabia on a horse named Hidalgo. To maintain this delusion is akin to the donkey who carries the book of wisdom on his back, but does not understand its message. However the frightening message coming through right now from the Disney studio seems to be all too clear.
Money is more important than truth in Hollywood.
Are we to be blamed then for drawing the conclusion that economic self interests are taking precedence at the Walt Disney Studio over ethical considerations and historical integrity, even if this decision means a tenacious embrace of a legendary liar?
A chill wind is blowing across the horse world. A message is being sent with the trailer for "Hidalgo." Hollywood is telling us that they can and will dictate the truth. This is ironic to those of us who are Long Riders, because many of our lives are saddle-borne testaments to the horseback adventures inspired by mounted men and women in movies.
The Guild is about overcoming cultural divides, not creating them. We did our study of Historical Long Riders not for glory but for peaceful and scientific purposes. But Long Riders are by definition daring beyond their power. Hazarding our lives in the saddle has taught us not to submit to the elements, danger, hardship, or even a Hollywood Titan.
Our objective in researching Frank Hopkins has been to defend the truth and to protect the reputations of those legitimate heroes he injured. To allow Hopkins' distortion of history to go unchallenged therefore would be to abdicate our defense of the truth. We won't do that.
Most people lack the courage to turn their lives into something exceptional. Hopkins pretended to be what he wasn't, a man of the West, a man of his word, a horseman and a Long Rider. People through the ages have longed to hear a message that resonates in their mundane lives. They want vicarious romance and adventure, be it Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show or a movie called "Hidalgo." But when people become blinded by myth, historical reality gets crushed by the urge to believe. Hopkins created a cottage industry of lies that is about to become enshrined in a cinematic inaccuracy depicting horse slayers and phony heroes.
These are not carefree times. And this unworthy and inaccurate film called "Hidalgo" will only further inflame an already-divided world by pandering to falsehood and global unrest. Already the brotherhood of man is in danger of being forgotten, first between individuals and second between nations. Ironically, if "Hidalgo" should receive an Oscar it will be for its history-making ability to be anti-truth, anti-Arab and anti-American all at the same time.
Now that the evidence has been uncovered, there is no moral basis for protecting Hopkins. It is wrong to uphold falsehoods, but doubly wrong to slay the truth when confronted with such overwhelming evidence that Hopkins forged his credentials. What else can we think except that the movie is being released solely for reasons of profit and propaganda?
It's time someone at the Walt Disney Studio took a look at the facts revealed by The Guild and realized that this conman called Hopkins and his screenplay are jeopardizing the trust of the world.
Stop calling this movie true!
If not, such corporate arrogance can only contrast the Disney that was to the tomb of values it is in danger of becoming. The lamp of light, beloved gift of Walt Disney, seems to be in danger of being besmirched by the making of this cinematic misfortune. And for what? Disney's legacy is worth more than the $80 million the studio has invested in this one cinematic mistake.
History suggests that the Walt Disney Studio, like Hopkins, is in the wrong and needs to admit it. Reality suggests that to continue to evade the truth and defend Frank Hopkins is courting disaster in the public eye.
In order for a company to operate in an ethical way, its leaders need to walk in
an honorable direction.
That's what Walt Disney did during the course of his life.
That's what the Walt Disney Studio needs to do now.
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