Fort Smith Goes True Gritapalooza

Jill M. Rohrbach
“True Grit,” the bestselling 1968 novel by Arkansas author Charles Portis, was the basis for the 1969 Western starring John Wayne. On Dec. 22, a new film adaptation directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen will be released nationwide.

The Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau is attracting national attention with its upcoming events to celebrate the story inspired by real Fort Smith history. 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.

Rooster Cogburn is the famous fictional Deputy U.S. Marshal from “True Grit” made popular by John Wayne more than 40 years ago. He won his only Oscar for the role. Other cast members were Strother Martin, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper. The new version stars Jeff Bridges as Cogburn. Other film cast includes Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.

The story involves Cogburn being hired by Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl from Dardanelle, to track down her father’s killer and return him to Fort Smith to be hanged by Judge Isaac Parker.

“We Are Rooster” is one of the themes behind Fort Smith’s celebration called “True Gritapalooza.” 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 and state. “True Grit” events, contests, news and True Grit enthusiasm can be found on a special Facebook page, Tuesday, Dec. 21 is the big day for events since the movie opens the next day.

The story has been one of the primary drivers of tourism to Fort Smith. 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 HistoryMiss Laura’s Visitors Center and dozens of other attractions in the city and region.

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.

For Roosters by the Dozen, a 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. The event will even be documented and submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records for possible acceptance as the World’s Largest Gathering of Rooster Cogburns. How fun is that? Check out the Facebook page for detailed information for getting involved.

Organizers encourage anyone attending a Gritapalooza event to dress in costume.

For further information about Gritapalooza and anything related to True Grit, contact Jennifer Boulden, Communications & Event Services Manager Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone, at 479-783-8888 or
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