The Making of the Wyatt Earp Legendby Jim Gressinger on Mar. 01, 2012, under Gunfight At The OK Corral, Local History, Old West, Pioneers, The Legend of Wyatt Earp, Tombstone
I’m new in the website business. But I must say that my Southern Arizona Guide is doing well after only 2 months. One of the most interesting facets is the analytics. For example, about half of my visitors are locals looking for (1) the best restaurants; (2) great weekend getaways; and / or (3) what to do with visiting friends and relatives.
The other half are from cold country mostly looking for a great winter vacation. And of these, especially those in Europe, most are really interested in the Old West in general and Tombstone in particular.
You locals, who have been to Tombstone and taken Dr. Jay’s enlightening and entertaining walking tour, know fact from fiction. But our European visitors have a difficult time distinguishing between actual historical events and legends.
To help, I am working on a series for my ‘Local History’ section. Here is the second one on Wyatt Earp.
After what became the most famous gunfight in history, Wyatt Earp went on what became known as the Earp Vendetta Ride to avenge the ambush that crippled his older brother, Virgil, and the assassination of his younger brother, Morgan, by a gang of outlaws known as “The Cowboys”.
However, by the 1920’s, Wyatt Earp was an almost forgotten lawman of the Old West who had been trying unsuccessfully to sell his story to Hollywood movie producers for more than a decade. Near poverty, Mr. Earp was living in a Los Angeles hotel with his wife of 40-plus years, Josie Marcus, also known as Sadie.
His lack of notoriety began to change when Stuart Lake’s Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall was published in 1931, two years after Mr. Earp’s death.
Since then, there have been hundreds of books and thousands of magazine and Internet articles published about Mr. Earp and the gunfight that made Tombstone, AZ world famous.
In addition to the myriad books and magazine articles about Mr. Earp, movies and TV propelled his legend worldwide. Here is a list of some of the more noteworthy. Very few can hold a candle to High Noon starring Gary Cooper.
(List in chronological order and rated by IMDB)
- Frontier Marshall (1939) Rated 6.6 0ut of 10). Randolph Scott (Wyatt Earp; Cesar Romero (‘Doc’ Holliday). The usual morality play; good guys in white hats, etc.
- My Darling Clementine (1946) Rated: 7.8. Henry Fonda (Wyatt Earp); Victor Mature (‘Doc’ Holliday). Made tolerable by that wonderful character actor, Walter Brennan as Old Man Clanton.
- Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp (TV series 1955-61) Rated 8.6 (Best of All) Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp). Very popular at the time. 99.99% Legend.
- Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) Rated 7.2. Burt Landcaster (Wyatt Earp); Kirk Douglas (‘Doc’ Holliday). Big stars. Poor history. This telling of the gunfight is mostly fiction by writer Leon Uris (Topaz, Exodus). Popular with audiences, but panned by critics at the time.
- Hour of the Gun (1967) Rated 6.6. James Garner (Wyatt Earp); Jason Robards (‘Doc’ Holliday). Borders on silly.
- Sunset (1988) Rated 5.6. Bruce Willis (Tom Mix); James Garner (Wyatt Earp). Even sillier than Hour of the Gun.
- Tombstone (1993) Rated 7.8. Kurt Russell (Wyatt Earp); Val Kilmer (‘Doc’ Holliday); Sam Elliott (Virgil Earp). Of all the westerns that depict the actual gunfight, this one is the most historically accurate by far. It was made even better by the fine performance of Val Kilmer as ‘Doc’. I advise my guests to avoid the amateurish reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral, save the $10 admission and rent this Tombstone video.
- Wyatt Earp (1994) Rated 6.5. Kevin Costner (Wyatt Earp); Dennis Quaid (‘Doc’ Holliday); Gene Hackman (Nickolas Earp). This movie has a long prelude to the gunfight, starting with Mr. Earps young manhood, continuing through his two years at Tombstone, and ending with the now famous ‘Earp Vendetta Ride’ (read my related article).
Rumor has it that Val Kilmer will play Wyatt Earp in the upcoming (2012) Wyatt Earp’s Revenge. I’m trying to imagine Kilmer as Wyatt since he played such a convincing ‘Doc’ in Tombstone with Kurt Russell.