Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kit Carson and John Fremont

In 1842, John C. Fremont, an enterprising adventurer with a wealthy father-in-law, decided to seek a way into California. He had no particular skills except the ability to draw a fairly good map and a military commission. He had never been to California but knew it was west...eventually. However, between him and the gold coast were insurmountable obstacles called the Rocky Mountains. Fremont's enterprise was imperiled before it had started because he had no idea how to get through those daunting, snow covered peaks. Then he met Kit Carson. The old fur trader was a veteran of those regions and knew of a pass through the mountains. He took the pilgrim Fremont under his wing and they went on to make three wildly successful journeys west.

I held this knowledge in my thoughts as I stared in wonderment at the little film my pilgrim financier had made. Two adjectives came to mind. The film was either disastrous or sincere, depending on how you were raised. My mother's voice whispered a selection and I planned my escape. I suggested that if this sincere film was what he had in mind to make, he didn't need me. I knew many a young student film maker that would love to take on this project, for a whole lot less. But this newcomer was a whole lot slipperier than he looked! He quickly barred my way to the door and assured me he wanted nothing but the best. As that was obviously me, we shook on it and I took the job. I started a studio, hired a crew and jumped into the enterprise with both feet. Now, most successful adventures are filled with hardships or they wouldn't be adventures. Carson and his group encountered frozen feet, starvation and outright war on their journeys. I encountered delays in funding, broken promises and decisions that came too late but I made thirteen successful journeys with this financier and an empire was built. Then he took on a wealthy partner and my services were no longer required.

Fremont's success with Carson put him on the path to military promotions and entry into politics as "the Great Pathfinder". But Fremont no longer had Carson and he bungled opportunity after promotion on his downhill slide to poverty struggling to live off his wife's waning fortune. Two years after I left a successful project, those thirteen successful episodes are all the legacy that remains of a crumbling empire on two coasts. It's not the money or the enthusiasm that makes the difference. It's the guide.

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