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.