A basic plaid button-down intertwined over a simple blue denim shirt evoked more emotion from the reticent Ennis Del Mar than any words Heath Ledger could've spoken in "Brokeback Mountain." Ennis discovered the two lonely shirts hanging in a closet after the death of his lover Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Symbolic of their lifelong forbidden relationship is that Jack's denim was draped over Ennis' plaid as if to protect him. Ennis changed the shirts' positions in the emotional last scene of the film that finally reveals his true feelings.
Those two emblematic shirts worn by Ledger and Gyllenhaal that played such a pivotal role in the film are currently on display in the Autry National Center museum's Imagination Gallery, which is devoted to the western in popular culture.
Local collector Tom Gregory purchased the shirts three years ago in an EBay auction for charity for $101,000. He merely hung the shirts on the wall in his office until author Gregory Hinton called him last New Year's Eve.
"I was doing research on 'Night Rodeo,' my fifth novel about my dad, Kip [a Wyoming native and former editor of the Cody Enterprise], and wondered what happened to the shirts that were such an important prop in the film," Hinton said. He tracked down Gregory and pitched the idea to the Autry along with a Gay Rodeo Legacy Project, which evolved into a symposium, "Gay in the West: Reclaiming Our Country Heritage," that will address the urban/rural bias as well as other issues, tentatively scheduled for the fall.