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Even in Biopics, Jesse James Breaks Sexual Taboos

1939.jesse.james.jpgWhen Brad Pitt , Colin Farrell and Kris Kristofferson have played you on-screen, you know you’re pretty hot. Or at least your legend is. Jesse James is one of those outsized characters whose real life has been eclipsed by the biopics that followed. In the Old West, he was a misanthropic sociopath; in Hollywood, he’s a sexy folk hero. Go figure.

One particularly troubling biographical detail that some movies slip in, however, is his marriage to his cousin. James fell for blood-relative Zee after she nursed him back to health at the end of the Civil War. For the 1939 film Jesse James , it was probably enough for actress Nancy Kelly to stare into Tyrone Power’s eyes. Neither seems to care that her dad is his uncle or even that Zee is named after James’ mom.

You can bet a similar swoon was in effect when Maria Patillo gazed deep into the eyes of Rob Lowe in Frank & Jesse or Mary Louise Parker found herself face-to-face with actor Brad Pitt in American Outlaws (2001) — Roderick Taylor’s screenplay tempered fact with fiction. Here James (Colin Farrell) still woos Zee Mimms (Ali Larter) but she’s now just a former childhood pal. It seems a shame to make either Farrell or James less naughty. But sometimes, bad guys need a little cleaning up.

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