Is This Mrs. Wyatt Earp? A Photo Expert Takes A Closer Look.

mrs-earpIn 1914 a beautiful young woman posed for the camera in a sheer gauze peignoir. Titled “Kaloma” the photograph was produced as an art print.

The image also appeared on the cover of “Kaloma, Valse Hesitante (Hesitation Waltz)” composed by Gire Goulineaux. Kaloma became a WWI pinup and graced postcards after the war. After airbrushing darkened her peignoir, she also appeared in other popular advertising

In the 1960s, Kaloma’s image surfaced as a nostalgic icon when rock-poster designer Alton Kelley made Kaloma the centerpiece of his classic concert poster for Vanilla Fudge and The Charles Lloyd Quartet. Kelley’s poster became a popular “hippie” wall decor for years afterward (see poster, next page).

The relatively benign history of Kaloma took a dramatic turn in 1976 when Glenn Boyer used an airbrushed version as the cover illustration for I Married Wyatt Earp. Gradually interest in the image shifted from risqué nostalgia to that of Kaloma as a Western icon.

As a result of the book cover, copies of Kaloma began to sell for hundreds—then thousands—of dollars as purported portraits of Josephine Marcus Earp. Collectors, museums and auction houses used Boyer’s attribution for identification, and few questioned the legend.

Sotheby’s April 8, 1998, sale included a photograph described as a hand-tinted photograph of Josephine Marcus Earp, the one-time wife of Wyatt Earp. The photograph, estimated to be worth $3,000-$4,000, sold for $2,875, with little evidence that Kaloma and Josie Earp were the same person.

Most early Kaloma images are photogravures, produced from engraving plates on a printing press. Though the photogravure process has been used since the 1850s, its popularity surged between 1890 and 1920. The Kaloma images are associated with copyright notices. Copyright notifications have been printed on photograph mounts and occasionally on images since the 1850s. Risqué and pornographic photographs like the Kaloma image have been sold since the 1840s, but they rarely included the photographers’ credits or copyright notices, and the subjects were usually not identified.

During much of their lives, the Earps were widely known. Though few commercial portraits of them exist, if images were available while they lived, it is likely that they would have had a ready market.

C.S. Fly was known for his marketing. Thousands of  images of Geronimo’s surrender were printed and sold. Similarly, photographs of Tombstone events such as the hanging of John Heath were widely distributed. If as speculated, Fly took a salable image of Josie Earp, it is likely he would have sold copies, but no copies of the Kaloma image have been located on Fly mounts.

The Kaloma image has three stylistic elements that can be used to assign a time frame to the original.

1. Full figure vignetting was more common during the postcard era (1905-1920) than earlier.

2. The sultry interaction between the subject in Kaloma and the photographer was more common in the postcard era than in earlier images.

3. The narrow range of sharp focus in Kaloma was popularized by art photographers in Europe in the late 1880s and later in America; however, only a fraction of commercial photographers used the technique.

As this article is written, on-line sales citing the Josie tie to Kaloma have dropped under $1,000. But in spite of the overwhelming evidence against it being Josie, and given the public’s strong interest in the legends of Tombstone, there will probably always be a few diehards who simply will not abandon this tantalizing image as being the future Mrs. Wyatt Earp.

So is it Josie? Or isn’t It?

Although it breaks our hearts to tell you this, we believe the image is not Josie. Here’s why:

• We showed the photo to several photo experts who were unaware of the alleged tie to Mrs. Earp and asked them to date the image’s era. All of them pegged the photo as having been taken after the turn of the century (1900), and three narrowed the style and feel to 1910-1917. Josie Earp would have been about 53 in 1914 (the date of the known copyright on the image), and one thing’s for certain, this is not a photo of a 53-year-old woman!

• As Jeremy Rowe points out, Camillus Fly, the Tombstone photographer who allegedly took the Josie photo (if you believe Josie posed for this image in 1880), was a savvy exploiter of his photographs. He copyrighted his images of Geronimo and others and sold them for years under his name. No original Josie photo on a Fly-mounted card has ever surfaced.

• Author Glenn Boyer, the man who “found” the Josie photo, has admitted foisting other fake photos on the public (under the guise of catching bad researchers).

•Photography expert Robin Gilliam told the Phoenix New Times Weekly that Boyer’s attribution is bogus: “Everything about it suggests that it’s an early 20th-century print of an entertainer.” Gilliam goes on to say, “The vamp style, the dark-eye makeup. It’s a completely different style than what would have been considered a sexy pinup girl in the early 1880s. Even if Josephine Earp had been a pinup, she would have done it in a completely different way.”

The Motive: to sell books. Boyer needed a good image for the cover of his “I Married Wyatt Earp” book and since there are no verified photos of Josie as a young woman he put forward this popular WWI era naughty postcard. The only possible saving grace in this entire matter is that Boyer is a big fan of Mark Twain’s tall tales and we are hoping he will eventually own up to this “practical joke” before he dies.

JEREMY ROWE lost his heart to a Daguerreotype 25 years ago and he’s been collecting ever since. His vintage collection has grown to more than 20,000 images. When not at his day job as ASU’s Head of Media Development, he is finishing his book on postcard-era Arizona, the complement to his last installment: Photographers in Arizona 1850-1920: A History and Directory.

What do you think?

Jeremy Rowe

Jeremy Rowe has collected, researched and written about 19th-century and early 20th-century photographs for more than 30 years. He has written several books and articles on the history of photography, and has curated museum exhibitions and a permanent exhibit at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is emeritus professor at Arizona State University and a senior research scientist at New York University.