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Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday on Television and in the Movies

I will admit this isn’t the perfect time for movies, what with the MLB playoffs. Forget football. Okay, I’m a baseball person. This column has absolutely nothing to do with baseball except for the fact that Wyatt Earp was a big baseball fan and this is another column about the 125th Anniversary of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. 

There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to movies about Tombstone and Wyatt Earp. I read somewhere that there are more movies either about Wyatt Earp or featuring Wyatt Earp as a character or mentioning Wyatt Earp than any other human who has ever lived. I don’t know if this is true. Movie historian Michael Blake is promising a history of Wyatt Earp movies this fall. Maybe he knows. These are just a few of the many movies and television shows where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday make an appearance.

The Early  Films

Law and Order (1932), starring Walter Huston as a Wyatt Earp character, was the first out of the can, beating Frontier Marshal by several years.

In 1939, Randolph Scott had the official role of Wyatt Earp in Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake. This is the film role Wyatt Earp himself wanted Joel McCrea to play. That same year Errol Flynn takes a stab at playing a Wyatt Earp character in Dodge City (1939).

Then came Richard Dix in 1942’s Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die.

John Ford’s masterful classic, My Darling Clementine, came out in 1946. Henry Fonda played the laconic Wyatt Earp. Victor Mature played Doc. The film is Ford’s tribute to his friend and poker buddy, Wyatt Earp. In my humble opinion, Walter Brennan steals the film. 

Masterson of Kansas (1954) is a movie about Bat Masterson, who's played by Gene Barry. The character of Wyatt Earp is featured in a smaller roll.  In 1958 the role won Barry a television series about Masterson.

Of all the actors who have played Wyatt Earp, Hugh O’Brian is probably most identified with the character because of the television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.  He was probably closest to Earp’s true size, and depth of voice. The big problem is the lack of mustache. You can’t be Wyatt Earp without a mustache. From what I can remember his lack thereof had something to do with either a wife or girlfriend not liking it. My personal opinion is it was more the time frame. An all-American hero during the Eisenhower years would never wear a Stalin-looking mustache.  This was the first “adult” content television western when it premiered in 1955. Until it ended its run in 1962 with the Gunfight at the OK Corral as the final episode, it was constantly listed as one of the top rated shows on television. 

Also in 1955, Joel McCrea’s version of Wyatt was released. McCrea was the only man to play Wyatt Earp who actually knew Wyatt. He did extensive research for his 1955 movie and later short-lived television series, Wichita. McCrea was Earp’s personal choice to portray him in a movie if one was ever to be made of his life. In 1939, Randolph Scott had the “official” role of Wyatt Earp in Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake. This is the film role Wyatt Earp himself wanted Joel McCrea to play.  

Until recently I have not appreciated the elegance of Burt Lancaster. His classic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) had a title song done by Frankie Lane. Kirk Douglas played an interesting Doc Holliday. The sequel, The Hour of the Gun came out a decade later.  My favorite Wyatt Earp, James Garner had the title role in this one. Jason Robards played a way too old Doc Holliday. 

About SJ Reidhead

  • Donnie Marler

    “Don’t move!”
    “Nonsense, by all means, move.”
    One of the best movie lines ever!!!

  • The Marquise

    I love this article, although I admit I was raised with my father singing Frankie Laine’s version of “OK Corral” most of my childhood so I have prejudice towards the Lancaster/Douglas version. Actually, the cast of that film is very good too…even the little bit featuring Dennis Hopper.

    But Tombstone does it for me…enough action to cover all groups, although some things were so grossly fictionalized they border on being too humourous. Loved the whole damn lot of them, good and bad guys alike. Even the Robert Mitchum voiceover. And, yes, Val Kilmer walked away with this hands down. The whole “Huckleberry” chat through two scenes with Johnny Ringo is classic. I’ve always wondered just how much improv they did on that film.

    My fave lines from Tombstone (and Lord knows there are many) is one my father also loved (and Tombstone was the last movie he saw before he died)…as close as I can remember LOL

    (when Doc is dying and Earp says all he wanted in life, but believes he has lost):
    Earp: All I wanted was a simple life, Doc.
    Doc: There is no simple life, Wyatt. There’s just life. You need to go out there and live it. (and then Doc talks about loving his first cousin at age 15…)

    BTW: one of the earliest films Tom Mix ever auditioned/starred in as a horse stuntman featured some characteristics of Earp. And yes, after Masterson hung up his guns, he moved to California (about the time of Frank James, Jesse’s brother) and became a successful sports writer. So Bat was a writer and Frank a movie theatre usher. Talk about career change…

  • Ian Woolstencroft

    Great article.

    Like you, my favourite Wyatt is James Garner. Hour of the Gun shows he was just as good in a serious role as he was in lighter parts, something he rarely gets credit for.

    Robards may have been too old to play Doc but he was only a few years older than Kirk Douglas was when he played the part, and at least he looked ill, unlike Douglas and Victor Mature.

    As did my favourite Doc, Dennis Quaid. I’d love to see the full version of Wyatt Earp. It was originaly planned as a six-hour mini-series.

  • Amanda

    Doc Holliday on Tombstone was by far the greatest. He was very witty, which gave the film a couple laughs. Not only to mention, even sick and dying, Doc was extremely attractive=)
    Oh how i love that movie! His mustache and the sophisicated way he talked reminded me of a southern gentlemen or pimp.Very cool !

  • John Edward Holliday/Savannah Ga.

    My great great uncle was by all accounts a very good man when it came to his friends which my grandmother told me that he had few in those days. He would have liked Vale Kilmers portrayal of him because like the real Doc he is an honerable and brave man. I believe if he was ever asked what was the most important action to take in live it would have been to live life like there is no tomorrow and most of all stand by your friends like he did Wyatt. I have gleened as much knowledge from my Grandmother and other older relitives about this unusual man and to my best memory and thoughts he was truely one of our countries greatest unsung heros along with the Earp brothers. Some folks will disagree I am sure of that but he will always be in my mind an Western American hero. He was a Peach and was most definatly a man of his times.

  • SJ Reidhead

    John Holiday, please email me.


    Though Gene Barry did, as you noted, star in the TV series BAT MASTERSON, he did not play the character in the film MASTERSON OF KANSAS. George Montgomery filled the role in that movie.

  • EW Holliday

    My great great Uncle was Doc Holliday as well. My Family never spoke kindly of him and hid the fact of our relation. Today we find the Honor and glory in how he lived, but common people did not back then. It is amazing how so many people are Doc Hollidays direct relatives. Our Family has never all gotten together. Since there are only a few left, incredible for such a small line following from him, but then again I guess we’re all related through Adam and Eve. Kinda like that relation to Kevin Bacon through Movies I guess. This is not meant as any attack I am just standing up for my namesake. ~Peace