Tri-State native helms his historical production of Hatfield-McCoy feud
Tri-State native and Milton High School graduate Darrell Fetty has been in Hollywood since he graduated from Marshall University in 1970.
Name any number of 1970s and 1980s TV shows such as “Happy Days,” “CHIPS,” “The Facts of Life,” T.J. Hooker,” “Kojak,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Eight is Enough,” “Knots Landing,” “Thirtysomething” and “Hawaii Five-O,” and Fetty has been there, acted in that.
As a writer, he’s inked up episodes for “Mutant X,” “Hercules,” “Simon and Simon” and “Silk Stalkings.”
As a producer, Fetty, who produced the CBS show “Viper” (later syndicated by UPN) and a 22-episode run of “Pensacola: Wings of Gold” among other TV series, has taken on the project of a lifetime.
He is one of the producers, along with Kevin Costner, Herb Nanas and executive producer Leslie Greif, of the History network’s first epic miniseries, the six-hour “Hatfields & McCoys” set to premiere at 9 p.m. Monday, May 28, with installments airing at 9 p.m. May 29-30.
Fetty also produced a companion documentary, the two-hour “America ’s Greatest Feud: Hatfields & McCoys,” which was shot in West Virginia and Kentucky by Huntington-based Trifecta Productions. That documentary will premiere at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 2, on the History Channel. It will be seen before a re-airing of the entire six-hour miniseries beginning at 6 p.m.
I caught up with Fetty, who will be in Huntington later this week for a private event at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center. That screening will feature preview clips from both the miniseries (which also features Huntington native Jonathan Fredrick as “Jefferson McCoy”) and the documentary, which features scenes shot at Heritage Farm Museum and Village.
Here’s a Q&A with Fetty, who also plays the role of “Doc Rutherford” in the miniseries:
Lavender: I was talking to your brother Steve out at the shoot and he said you’d been wanting to do the Hatfields and McCoys story for quite a while. Tell us what it is about the story that draws you in even today?
Fetty: The first reason I was pulled in was personal. My first wife, Huntington native Carolyne McCoy, was related to both families. Her mother was a Hatfield and her father was a McCoy. Both were direct descendants of the original feuding clans. I spent some time with Carolyne’s grandfather, Allen Hatfield, who had been a police chief in Matewan in his younger days. One day in the late 1940s (1947), Allen had a confrontation with a McCoy boy. He was going to arrest the McCoy for public drunkenness, but this kid had a 22 pistol and started shooting at Allen as he was coming up the steps of a hotel where the guy had run in to. Old Man Hatfield just kept coming after him like John Wayne, got to the top of the stairs, jerked the gun away and took the drunk young McCoy to jail.
Allen had been shot three times with this little pistol. Because this guy was a Hatfield, the New York Times sent a reporter down to the backwoods to get some juice on the feud story again. Matewan’s police chief was lounging on his porch nursing his wounds, and the reporter asked, “Well, sir, what do you intend to do now?” Allen said, ‘’I reckon in a little while I will go over to the doc’s office and get these bullets out.” He never got around to it. When I knew Allen Hatfield, he was in his 80s and still had bullets in him from that little brush up. Now that is a tough man. That is John Wayne in real life.
So here is my motivation, in American folklore and frontier justice it was fact that people settled things in the 1800s with guns, mainly because there wasn’t much organized law around most of the time. That has been glamorized as a major part of the American mythology of the Old West, while the Hatfields and McCoys and anything to do with West Virginia have been branded as stupid hillbillies. I resent that very strongly. Our people were pioneers here and made out of the same stuff and fought over the same issues under similar circumstances, in sometimes tougher conditions, as the Earps and the Clantons at the OK Corral, yet one becomes respected American legend and the other backwoods tomfoolery. It’s ridiculous and the reason is that in the late 1800s you had writers, specifically New York World reporter T.C. Crawford, who came down and wrote about the feud with his big city prejudice intact.
Lavender: So, you had this deep personal interest in the story, but how did this project become a Hollywood production?
Fetty: When we finally got a handle on what the story was. You can have the general ideas, family feud, post Civil War, the Romeo and Juliet love story, and you can have these great themes but what you need is to bring in the human element. We found out that these two men, friends and neighbors Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, the two family patriarchs, were Civil War comrades. Most historians confirm this. So that gives you a starting point, what happens between two friends when disagreements build to resentment and resentment to bitterness and bitterness to hate. That is the human relatable story. It is a story of Shakespearean proportions, and basically we told that story as an American tragedy. Randall McCoy could not forgive. He started out as a righteous and holy man who always believed you’ve got to do your duty. He went to the dark side, whereas Devil Anse was more of an instinctive, live-by-your-wits man. He used to say he was a member of the “world church.” But Anse ended up being baptized and becoming a very respected member of the community. That is a pretty strong story. And you have a great subplot with a Hatfield son falling in love with a McCoy daughter. In the miniseries, everything keys on Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as Hatfield and McCoy. We see the collateral damage through these two that comes from not being able to forgive, and for being so rigid in your beliefs that you are unable to adapt. And that hate just builds and builds and spills over with the offspring, the sins of the father passed down.
Lavender: Tell us about getting so many big names like Kevin Costner, involved. (Costner co-produced, stars in the film, and his band Modern West also provides a couple of songs on the miniseries soundtrack. The band also did the entire score for the documentary, which Costner also narrates).
Fetty: Executive Producer Leslie Greif, my partner on this, was like a bulldog in getting this project to the right people to get it made. And our fellow producer, Herb Nanas was also responsible for helping to get it greenlit. Herb is a Hollywood veteran who knows everyone in town. In addition to being an experienced producer, he has managed major stars like Roseanne Barr, Gary Busey and Sylvester Stallone and still manages Albert Brooks. Herb knew that Kevin Costner is a real history buff and heard through another manager that Kevin was interested in the Hatfields and McCoys. Herb and Leslie and the History executives knew we needed iconic figures for these roles, stars who as Kevin says, “can hold the screen.” You need people you will identify with in spite of the horrible things they do. They do these things during duress and impulsively, so you can sometimes identify with a character even if they do something terrible. You think, “well, maybe in those circumstances at that time in history I might have done something like that.” While it was horrible that Devil Anse and his men executed those three McCoy boys without a trial, he had just come out of the Civil War and didn’t think he’d get justice for his murdered brother in Kentucky. So, he executed his brother’s killers for retribution that he felt was his moral and human right. That doesn’t justify it, but you are able to see those points of view. People aren’t just evil or all just good. People are a mix of emotions. There is a sculpture over at CBS a few blocks from my house that depicts the traditional Scale of Justice. On one side are all these sculpted words piled high on that scale, “Knowledge, reason, compassion” and all of these great attributes. But on the other side they are all weighed down by one word, “emotion.” So we empathize as human beings with identifiable emotions, which can sometimes cancel out all of our reason, intellect, and even our morality.”
Lavender: Tell us about shooting the miniseries in Romania (near the Carpathian Mountains where much of “Cold Mountain” was filmed).
Fetty: Well, one of the main questions I get from people back home is why didn’t we shoot in West Virginia. We wanted to, but this was such a huge production and we needed a lot of room. Romania has untouched mountains that go on for miles and miles, not that West Virginia doesn’t, but the Matewan, W.Va./Pikeville, Ky., area has grown up quite a bit over the last 120 years. There are still vast areas of Romania with no phone lines, power lines, franchise restaurants. The Romanian revolution against a stark Communist regime just ended in 1989, so it is a relatively new democratic country where they are just now opening up lots of incentives to make movies and stimulate the economy. So that was a big factor. Also, the studio we worked with over there, Castel Films, already had 19th century towns built on their backlot that we were able to redress to turn into Pikeville, Ky., and Mate Creek, W.Va., as they would have looked in the late 1880s.
This is a six hour miniseries with a couple thousand extras, dozens of horses and a cast of 78 speaking parts. These days, especially for a TV project, that is almost unheard of — with only a few months of pre-production and shooting days. So in terms of hotels, accommodations, and transportation, I honestly don’t think we could have done it in West Virginia within the time limits. We need more local film facilities and resident crew members here. State and regional film offices are working on that. I’ve discussed West Virginia’s great new incentive package with Film Commissioner Pam Haynes and others. So in the future, I’m sure more productions will be coming to West Virginia.
We were able to do that just recently with Joe Murphy and Huntington-based Trifecta Productions for the documentary. For me that was a wonderful start for local filming. With more area talent like Trifecta and other young filmmakers coming up, we can bring bigger and bigger productions here. Turning this state into a full-fledged, in-demand movie location won’t happen overnight, but I believe that a steady growth in awareness and resources will start to pay dividends. As a West Virginia native, I am a strong advocate of bringing more film production here and will continue to do my part on that front as much as I can.
Lavender: Tell us about your Hatfields & McCoys miniseries turning into a documentary project as well.
Fetty: While we were there in Romania, History execs said they’d like us to do a documentary as well, a companion piece because there are a lot of different points of view with this story. In a dramatization you have to make creative decisions, which may not always be exactly by the book historically. I’ve always said that we could go back in time with a camera and film the Hatfields and McCoys exactly the way the feud happened; that would be a very long mini series, but it would be accurate. And even if you brought that time-traveled film back and showed it, there would still be hundreds of people who’d say “that ain’t the way it happened.” History is interpreted differently with different people’s point-of-view. Two people can witness an accident and not see it the same way at all. On top of that, there was the sensationalized yellow journalism of that era which distorted the truth, as well as various family members changing the story to make themselves seem more in the right. So as the stories get passed down you get a mix of truth. That said, due to the incredible amount of research and with the help of a number of historians (notably Fredrick Armstrong, former West Virginia State historian and state archivist) we believe that our miniseries is the most accurate dramatization of the feud that’s ever been filmed.
When we did the documentary I wanted it to say this could have happened but somebody else says that it happened this way, while in a dramatization you have to make creative choices and sometimes alter timelines and consolidate characters. In the miniseries, Powers Boothe as “Wall Hatfield” is the judge at the pig trial and at the murder trial of Paris and Sam McCoy. Historically “Preacher Anse” Hatfield was actually the pig trial judge. In our story “Wall Hatfield” is the major character that we need to develop, so we consolidated those two judges. “Schindler’s List” for example, is praised as an accurate and effective historical drama. Ben Kingsley plays the accountant, a major role in the movie, however, in real life Schindler had eight accountants. You can’t have a driving compelling drama if you confuse the audience with too many characters who don’t have enough screen time for us to identify with. So you make adjustments. I think you get a greater truth by being true to human emotions. You get a greater sense of how these historic events can apply to your own life. Maybe you shouldn’t hold that resentment so long against your sister or brother or friend. Maybe I should just accept this and go on. Maybe that person will never change, but I can love them anyway. That is the higher purpose of drama, not just to entertain but so we can learn a little more about ourselves and maybe in the best of all possible worlds, grow a little bit and even become a little more enlightened.
Lavender: I know this is the first History miniseries. Do you think we will see more scripted dramas on the network?
Fetty: Absolutely. They’re already in development with several other scripted projects. My partner Leslie Greif and his company, ThinkFactory Media have produced a lot of unscripted reality for History, A&E, Lifetime, and other networks. When he found out that History was looking to get into long-form drama and do what AMC did with “Broken Trail” to become a force as well for scripted television, he said, “Have I got a project for you.” I credit Leslie with getting the deal and bringing me in as producer to work with the writers. I was then able to go on location to work with the director, actors, and the crew. It truly was an experience of a lifetime. This has been huge for me and a privilege to work with all of these major players on such a grand scale. I have to say a lot of times when you visualize a scene, and then you go out to shoot it...maybe the actor is not quite the one you wanted or this location is not what you expected or some special effect is not quite right, but on “Hatfields & McCoys” all those scenes came out better than what I had visualized. After a tough day on the set, I would ride back from the set with Leslie or the director or Kevin or one of the other stars and we’d talk about our frustrations for the day and all the challenges for the next. But, then there was always a moment when we’d stop and say, ‘but oh my God, look at what we did today. Look what we got on film’ and we would smile and feel good.
That’s what kept us going every day. Everyone worked on “Hatfields & McCoys” because they loved the material and then loved doing it. We knew we were making something good.