We are Rooster. That's one of the themes behind True Gritapalooza, a grassroots campaign celebrating Fort Smith, Ark.'s connection to True Grit. The bestselling novel by Arkansas author Charles Portis was the basis for a 1969 Western starring John Wayne and a new film adaptation released nationwide December 22, 2010 starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin, and directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Real Fort Smith history inspired Charles Portis' novel, and True Grit is set in Fort Smith and Eastern Oklahoma. The area, portrayed as late 1870s Fort Smith and Indian Territory, is featured prominently throughout the new film even though actual filming was in Texas and New Mexico.
Gritapalooza is being spearheaded by the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, working with dozens of entities and hundreds of True Grit enthusiasts throughout the city. Convention & Visitors Bureau Communications Manager Jennifer Boulden is coordinating activities and spreading the word about local True Grit events, contests, news and True Grit enthusiasm through a special Facebook page, Facebook.com/Gritapalooza.
"True Grit has been beloved around the world for more than 40 years," Boulden said. "For most of that time, it has been one of the primary drivers of tourism to Fort Smith. Our whole city is tremendously proud of Fort Smith as the setting and inspiration for True Grit. We are hoping that the new film, which is getting major awards buzz, will bring this material to a new generation and bring more attention to the just as fascinating true stories of the Deputy U.S. Marshals who, like the fictional Rooster Cogburn, served the court in Fort Smith."
Rooster Cogburn is the famous fictional Deputy U.S. Marshal from True Grit made popular by John Wayne, who won his only Oscar for the role, and now by Oscar winner Jeff Bridges. The story involves Cogburn being hired by Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl from Dardanelle, Ark., to track down her father's killer and return him to Fort Smith to be hanged by Judge Parker.
"Rooster and Mattie are both incredible characters that have captured the public's imagination for decades. They have both have spirit, courage and true grit in spades, and we feel that they together perfectly illustrate the same qualities that have made Fort Smith great, both in the 1870s and today," Boulden says. "Throughout the year, tourists and groups come to Fort Smith to discover the real stories at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Fort Smith Museum of History, Miss Laura's Visitors Center and dozens of other attractions in the city and region; this is an exciting, special place and we want to help people near and far to catch that True Grit spirit."
Fort Smith is also the home of the future national U.S. Marshals Museum, currently undergoing a nationwide $50 million capital campaign. More U.S. Marshals and Deputy U.S. Marshals lost their lives serving out of Judge Parker's Court in Fort Smith than in any other area of the nation in the U.S. Marshals Services 222-year history. The majority of those Marshals were killed during and shortly after the time of True Grit, so the courage and danger portrayed in the films and novel have particular resonance in Fort Smith, and for anyone connected to the U.S. Marshals Service. The U.S. Marshals Museum site is on the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith, at approximately the place where Rooster, Mattie and Texas Ranger Labouef forge the river in True Grit and very close to the Fort Smith National Historic Site, Judge Parker's Court and the famous Fort Smith gallows.
Several official Gritapalooza events are scheduled in the next week, including a True Grit Opening Night Event at the Malco Cinema 12 in Fort Smith; a Gritapalooza Night in downtown Fort Smith on the eve of the opening; a Question & Answer time with Candyce Hinkle, a Fort Smith native who has a role in the new film; and perhaps the wildest event of all, Roosters by the Dozen, which will involve hundreds of people of all ages and genders wearing Marshals badges and eye patches at the Fort Smith National Historic Site's Gallows.
The crowd of "Roosters" will be led by Fort Smith Mayor-Elect Sandy Sanders to challenge Rooster's enemy Lucky Ned Pepper by shouting out several famous lines from the film, en masse. Boulden said the event will be documented and submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records for possible acceptance as the World's Largest Gathering of Rooster Cogburns.
"People are really excited about the chance to stop by on their lunch hour, turn into Rooster Cogburn for a few minutes, and be a part of a little whimsical Fort Smith history," Boulden said, adding that men, women and children can all be part of the free event that does contain PG-13 language featured in the film. For all Gritapalooza events, costumes are encouraged but optional.
Besides official events, Gritapalooza organizers are encouraging people to generate their own ideas for expressing their True Grit love. "We have people working on short True Grit-themed YouTube videos, talking about True Grit flash mobs, doing all sorts of silly stunts to show their support," Boulden said. "It doesn't matter to us if they've connected to the book, the John Wayne film, or the new film or all three-anyone who is proud of Fort Smith being the setting and inspiration for True Grit is welcome to join in the fun."
See the Schedule of Announced Gritapalooza Events at Facebook.com/Gritapalooza for more information.