“Deadwood proved that viewers are smarter in terms of grasping intricate dialogue than they had been given credit for” —Jim Beaver.
Before Westworld, there was Deadwood. Deadwood, an American Western series created by David Milch that aired on HBO from March 2004-August 2006, ran for 36 episodes and three seasons. The show took place in the 1870s and was set in Deadwood, South Dakota, following its outward growth.
The stories from the show mixed historical facts with fiction, and the series is now regarded as one of the greatest TV dramas of all time. Below are 42 lawless facts about the popular series.
42. Mirroring Reality
While some of the characters featured in the TV show were fictional models of people who might have lived in the real Deadwood, many of them, including Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Jack McCall, existed in real life.
41. Colorful Language
In case you were counting, the F word is used 2,980 times in the series, and 43 times in the first hour alone. That averages out to about 1.56 uses per minute, which has to be a record of some kind!
40. That One Is Taken
Garret Dillahunt, who played Jack McCall on the series, originally wanted to play the role of Seth Bullock on the show, but unfortunately for him, it already belonged to Timothy Olyphant. He was also considered for the role of George Hearst in season 2, but when the producers decided Hearst wouldn’t appear on screen until the finale, Dillahunt played his employee Francis Wolcott instead.
39. Famous Locale
The ranch in Santa Clarita Valley, California where Deadwood was filmed has previously played host to both movie and television westerns. Melody Ranch was the backdrop for Gunsmoke, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, and Django Unchained. The stories it could tell!
38. Too Al for TV
When an actor creates an iconic role, they run the risk of always being typecast in that sort of role. That is exactly what happened to Ed O’Neill, of Married with Children fame, when Milch pitched him to HBO for the role of Al Swearengen. Milch had created the role with O’Neill in mind, but the network rejected him because they just couldn’t see past Al Bundy.
37. Rigorously Researched
To make sure that the real town of Deadwood was being accurately portrayed, the series creator carefully researched its history by reading newspapers and diaries, as well as true historical accounts like Watson Parker’s Deadwood: The Golden Years.
36. What’s His Name?
At the start of the series, the character of Ellsworth didn’t have a first name. Eventually, actor Jim Beaver (who portrayed the character) settled on Whitney, after the Whitney Ellsworth who produced the Adventures of Superman TV series with George Reeves. Beaver was an enormous George Reeves fan, and even consulted on the Ben Affleck movie Hollywoodland, which was about the actor’s mysterious death.
35. Bathtub Beauty
In the opening sequence of Deadwood, there is a brief flash of a woman in a bathtub, but her face is never shown. The mysterious bather was actress Bethalyn Staples, who was one of 20 actresses cast to play the prostitutes of The Gem and The Bella Union. According to Staples, she didn’t even know she was getting into the tub until right before the shot, and the whole thing was done in just a few takes.
34. Drop in for a Pint
The real Seth Bullock was originally from Amherstburg, Canada and born to a retired British Major and his Scottish wife. The couple owned a tavern called Bullock’s Tavern, which was built in 1836 and also served as a boarding house. The building still stands today, and it operates as a restaurant called Caldwell’s Grant.
33. A Fictional Meeting
In the series, Sheriff Seth Bullock witnesses Wild Bill walk into Deadwood, but their meeting was one of the incidents that doesn’t quite line up with the facts. In reality, Bullock didn’t actually move to Deadwood until the day before Hickok was killed, so they probably never met.
32. Unexpected Delay
It has been stated multiple times that trying to sync up the schedules of all of the cast members for a possible Deadwood movie was proving a challenge, but just when it seemed like all of the stars were aligning and the script was done, the production was hit with an unforeseen delay.
In 2017, just after the script was completed, Powers Boothe passed away. Back to the drawing board! However, the film is going forward.
31. Trading Horses for Motorcycles
15 members of the Deadwood cast made appearances in the series Sons of Anarchy, including Dayton Callie, who played Charlie Utter on Deadwood and Chief Wayne Unser on Sons. Bikers and cowboys share a lot in common, so it probably wasn’t too much of a stretch!
30. Fake News!
The character of George Hearst first appeared on screen at the end of season 2 and was based on the real-life Hearst, the father of newspaper man William Randolph Hearst. At one point, he tells Merrick that he plans to start a newspaper just to tell his own version of the facts, which was a nod to the sensationalist tabloid fare that his son was credited with creating.
29. But Can You Identify?
In a 2004 interview with Milch in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Milch recalled John Hawkes’ audition for the role of Sol Star. Both the real Sol Star and his fictional counterpart were Jewish, but Hawkes is not and wanted to make that clear. In response, Milch asked him if he’s ever ‘felt shame or sadness or ostracized’, to which Hawke’s answer was “Every Day”. That was good enough for Milch, who then told him “you’re Jewish”.
28. Bad Man With a Gun
As in real life, Sol Star and Seth Bullock were pals who came to Deadwood to open a hardware store. Bullock did a lot of awesome things for the community and became the town’s first sheriff, earning him the moniker “a bad man with a gun.” This reputation endeared him to future United States President Theodore Roosevelt and Bullock helped him with his campaign.
27. A Challenging Conversation
Actress Robin Weigert, who played Calamity Jane on the series, said Milch once described a scene between herself and Molly Parker (who was playing Alma Garrett) as being like what would have happened if a Mark Twain character met a Henry James character.
26. Minimalist Wardrobe
For the entire series, Al Swearengen wore the same suit of clothes in each episode, leading some viewers to wonder whether or not he even owned any other clothes.
25. Permanent Guest Star
Jeffery Jones, who played A.W. Merrick in the series, appeared in 32 of 36 of the show’s episodes but was only listed as a guest star for the entire first season.
24. Wadaya Mean It’s Canceled?
Midway through the third season, Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant not only managed to wrangle higher pay out of HBO, but they got the network to retroactively give them back pay for the nine episodes they’d already shot. That’s why when the network canceled the series a few weeks later, it was a huge shock to the cast.
23. Another Use
In Al Swearengen’s office, there was a nude painting of a woman on a couch hanging on the door. That same painting was later used again in Boardwalk Empire.
22. Not Him!
Ian McShane’s turn as Al Swearengen is now considered to be one of the more iconic roles on television, but when he was first casting the show, Milch didn’t even want to let McShane read for the role.
He didn’t think that McShane was the right physical type for the part, and had envisioned someone who was more physically imposing. All that changed as soon as McShane set foot in the room and Milch realized that he had exactly the right essence to pull it off. And boy did he!
21. Second Choice
Believe it or not, Deadwood was not the series Mlich originally planned to write. His first idea was to write a series set in Ancient Rome, but when he learned that HBO already had one of those in development, he decided to do a Western instead. Now that would have been fun to watch!
20. Gone Too Soon
Television critics rarely all agree on anything, but aside from generally ranking Deadwood as one of the greatest TV dramas of all time, there’s one other thing they agree on: that the show was canceled too soon. Business Insider ranked it as one of the 14 most painful TV cancellations ever, and TV Guide listed it as one of 15 shows fans want to bring back.
19. Order From Chaos
One of the things that made Deadwood so successful was the central theme of bringing order from chaos. Milch’s intent with the show was to examine the way that a central symbol such as gold can bring a civilization together out of chaos, with sub-themes of race, prostitution, misogyny, violence, politics, and immigration.
Had the series been set in Ancient Rome as he originally planned, the symbol would have been the religious cross.
18. Not Quite Authentic
Deadwood’s liberal use of swear words drew a great deal of attention to the show when it was on, especially in that those particular words didn’t quite match the language of the time. The characters were originally supposed to use the slang and swear words of the time, but there was just one teensy problem. Most of the swear words at the time had religious roots, and were more blasphemous than crude, so using them would have been funny and wouldn’t have had the same effect as modern curses.
17. Uncivil Society
The Wild West wasn’t exactly known for its polite conversation, and the swearing on the show was used to remind viewers that Deadwood was a pretty lawless place, and the inhabitants were definitely not a part of civil society.
16. Not Enough Time
When HBO cancelled Deadwood, they offered Milch a shortened season of six episodes to wrap things up. Much to the dismay of the fans, Milch turned them down, explaining that with each episode being a day in the town’s life, he couldn’t do it in fewer than 12. Instead, he was to create a pair of two-hour specials to properly end the series, but when and how they would air had never been finalized.
15. Any Time, Anywhere
Don’t ask David Milch to try and fit his shows into any particular category. As he explained in an interview with Esquire, whether it be Ancient Rome, Gritty New York Cops, or the Old West, the truths of his story are universal and are not “confined by any particular setting or time frame.”
14. More to the Story
The TV version of George Hearst was framed as a terrible villain, but the real George Hearst was deeper than that. He was a self-made millionaire who was raised on a farm in Missouri and left home to join the Gold Rush of 1850. After Deadwood, he went on to purchase the San Francisco Daily Examiner, which he later handed over to his son William Randolph Hearst; now he’s what I call a villain!
13. Can’t Kill ‘Em All
Al Swearengen drank, counted money, and slit throats, and he had a simple moral philosophy: “You can’t cut the throat of every [censored] whose character it would improve.” When you consider that Deadwood was inhabited by prospectors and drunks, among other things, that actually took a lot of restraint!
12. Father-Daughter Affair
Two of the actors on the show had daughters who appeared in a handful of episodes as prostitutes. Parisse Boothe, daughter of Powers Boothe (who played Cy Tolliver) appeared as Tess in five episodes, and Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad Dourif (who played Doc Cochran) played “Chez Ami Prostitute” in three episodes.
11. Famous Fan
Jerry Cantrell, founder of the rock band Alice in Chains, was a big fan of Deadwood, and appeared in the background of a scene in the first season, alongside Pantera’s Rex Brown.
10. The Mustache Makes the Man
For his role as Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood, Keith Carradine was happy to have had the time to grow a real mustache in order to avoid gluing on a fake one each day. What he couldn’t escape were the blue contacts that he had to wear to simulate Hickok’s true eye color. They were pretty painful to wear, but helped Carradine conjure up Hickok’s temperamental nature.
9. An Unconventional Style
The show’s actors often had just a few minutes to study their lines, which was especially difficult since Milch’s dialogue was not only extremely elaborate and ornate, but a lot of it was written or re-written right before the scene was shot. Talk about flying by the seat of your pants!
8. Pretty Pricey
At the time, Deadwood was the most expensive regular series airing on television. Each episode had a budget of $6 million, most of which went toward the elaborate sets and lighting that went into creating an old West town. Realistic doesn’t come cheap.
7. It’s Like Rain on Your Wedding Day
The real Reverend Henry Watson caught Milch’s attention because of his somewhat ironic death. The preacher always claimed that the bible was his protection, yet he was murdered on his way to a neighboring town to preach.
One of the reasons for Deadwood’s cancellation was that Milch used to leave sequences, and even entire episodes, on the cutting room floor when he didn’t like them.
5. Wrapping It Up
The season three finale of Deadwood was not intended to be the end. At the very least, the producers wanted there to be a wrap-up film to tie up loose ends, but HBO felt the ratings didn’t justify the cost.
Fans of the series can now rejoice, however. The feature film follow-up is finally happening and is set to start filming in the fall of 2018. Actor W. Earl Brown, who played Dority, called the script “gut-wrenching.”
4. Exactly as She Seems
Many of the real-life figures who appeared on the show bore little to no resemblance to the real person except in name, but Calamity Jane was one character who was exactly as she seemed. In real life, Jane was absolutely the sassy drunk that she was portrayed as in the series, but she wasn’t all bad. In 1876, when quarantine tents were set up to care for the people who had been stricken with small pox, Jane played a key role in caring for the sick.
3. What Would Have Been
Even though Deadwood never got a fourth season, there were definitely plans for how certain stories would have evolved. According to Milch, had it continued, Swearengen would have rebuilt his Gem Theater after it burnt to the ground (just like real life), but he would have taken a significant hit to his influence in the town and as a result, become even more self-destructive than he already was. Milch also indicated that at some point there would have been a flood that would have affected the entire town, including Swearengen. Will these end up getting “upcycled” into the film plot? Only time will tell.
2. Nothing Heroic About Him
On Deadwood, Ian McShane’s character Al Swearengen is a fairly likeable anti-hero, but in real life, Swearengen was a pretty nasty dude. He would lure unsuspecting women to Deadwood with the promise of jobs as stage performers and housekeepers and then would quickly force them into prostitution. The girls had no choice but to obey; if they refused their duties they would be met with savage violence.
1. A Hated Town
Throughout the show, Al Swearengen frequently makes snide comments about the town of Yankton. You may be wondering what he could possibly have against an entire town, and the answer is that it was one of the few places that had any government authority in the region. Being that Deadwood was a pretty lawless town, it’s no wonder he didn’t have anything nice to say about it.