The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
GenreWestern
Written by
Directed by
Starring
Composers
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes226 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producers
ProducerRoy Rowland
Cinematography
EditorJohn Durant
Running time30 mins.
Production companies
Original release
NetworkABC
ReleaseSeptember 6, 1955 (1955-09-06) –
June 27, 1961 (1961-06-27)

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp is the first Western television series written for adults.[1][2] It premiered four days before Gunsmoke on September 6, 1955.[3] Two weeks later came the Clint Walker western Cheyenne. The series is loosely based on the life of frontier marshal Wyatt Earp. The half-hour, black-and-white program aired for six seasons (229 episodes) on ABC from 1955 to 1961, with Hugh O'Brian in the title role.

Plot

The first season of the series purports to tell the story of Wyatt's experiences as deputy town marshal of Ellsworth, Kansas (first four episodes), and then as town marshal in Wichita. In the second episode of the second season, first aired September 4, 1956, he is hired as assistant city marshal of Dodge City, where the setting remained for three seasons. The final episode set in Dodge City (Season 5, Episode 1 - "Dodge City: Hail and Farewell") aired on September 1, 1959. Beginning the next week on September 8, 1959 (Season 5, Episode 2 - "The Trail to Tombstone"), the locale shifted to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, for the remainder of the series.[4][5]

Cast

Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast

On September 25, 1956, Myron Healey played a drunken gunfighter Clay Allison, who comes into Dodge City to confront the Earp legend. In the story line, Pete Albright, a storeowner played by Charles Fredricks, tries to hire Allison to gun down Earp because the marshal is fighting crime in the town and costing merchants business in the process. Allison makes a point of not taking money, but is willing to challenge Earp until he is overcome by his own drunkenness. Mike Ragan played Clay Allison in a 1957 episode, "The Time for All Good Men".

Production

Development

The series was produced by Desilu Productions and filmed at the Desilu-Cahuenga Studio. Sponsors included General Mills, Procter & Gamble, and Parker Pen Company. Off-camera the Ken Darby singers, a choral group, sang the theme song and hummed the background music. The theme song "The Legend of Wyatt Earp" was composed by Harry Warren. Incidental music was composed by Herman Stein.

Casting

O'Brian was chosen for the role in part because of his physical resemblance to early photographs of Wyatt Earp.

Douglas Fowley and Myron Healey were cast 49 and 10 times, respectively, as Earp's close friend John H. "Doc" Holliday.[6]

Mason Alan Dinehart, or Alan Dinehart, III, son of film stars Alan Dinehart and Mozelle Britton, was cast in 34 episodes between 1955 and 1959 as Bat Masterson, a role filled on the NBC series of the same name by the late Gene Barry. Dinehart played Masterson from the ages of 19 to 23.[7]

Many episodes show Douglas Fowley as playing the part of Doc Fabrique when he actually is not in the episodes. O'Flynn was left off the credits most of the time.

Bob Steele played Wyatt's deputy, Sam, in four episodes in 1955 during the Wichita period.

Use of Buntline Special

In the show, O'Brian carried a Buntline Special, a pistol with a 12-inch barrel, which triggered a mild toy craze at the time the series was originally broadcast. No credible evidence has been found that Wyatt Earp ever owned such a gun. The myth of Earp carrying a Buntline Special was created in Stuart N. Lake's best-selling 1931 biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, later admitted by the author to be highly fictionalized.[8]

Historical Accuracy

In contrast to the always-ethical character portrayed in the series, the real-life Wyatt Earp was at various times on either side of the law, having been accused of horse stealing, criminal assault, and involvement with fight-fixing, gambling, prostitution, and murders.[9][10]

The real Wyatt Earp was elected town constable of Lamar, Missouri, in 1870,[9] and became a Wichita, Kansas policeman in 1873.[9] He was appointed as an assistant marshal in Dodge City around May 1876, spent the winter of 1876–77 in Deadwood, Dakota Territory,[11]: 31  and rejoined the Dodge City police force as an assistant marshal in spring 1877. He resigned his position in September 1879.[12]

Earp is depicted as the town marshal in Tombstone, although his brother Virgil Earp was Deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone City Marshal.[13]: 28  As city marshal, Virgil made the decision to enforce a city ordinance prohibiting carrying weapons in town and to disarm the outlaw cowboys that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Wyatt was only a temporary assistant marshal to his brother.[14]

Episodes

Main article: List of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankAverage viewership (in millions)
First airedLast aired
133September 6, 1955 (1955-09-06)April 17, 1956 (1956-04-17)Not in top 30N/A
239August 18, 1956 (1956-08-18)June 4, 1957 (1957-06-04)1812.0[15]
339September 17, 1957 (1957-09-17)June 10, 1958 (1958-06-10)613.7[16]
437September 16, 1958 (1958-09-16)May 26, 1959 (1959-05-26)1012.8[17]
541September 1, 1959 (1959-09-01)June 7, 1960 (1960-06-07)2011.4[18]
637September 27, 1960 (1960-09-27)May 25, 1961 (1961-05-25)Not in top 30N/A

Reception

Ratings

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp finished number 18 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1956–1957 season,[19] number six in 1957–1958,[20] number 10 in 1958–1959,[21] and number 20 in 1959–1960.[22]

Awards

The series received two Emmy nominations in 1957. Hugh O'Brian was nominated for Best Continuing Performance by an Actor,[23] and Dan Ullman earned a nomination for Best Teleplay Writing - Half Hour or Less.[24]

Home media

Infinity Entertainment Group released the complete first season on DVD in Region 1 for the first time on April 21, 2009.[25] This release has been discontinued and is now out of print. On October 28, 2011, Inception Media Group acquired the rights to the series. It subsequently re-released the first season on DVD on December 13, 2011.[26] Season two was released on March 12, 2013.[27]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1 33 December 13, 2011
Season 2 39 March 12, 2013

Related shows

O'Brian recreated the role of Earp in two episodes of the CBS television series Guns of Paradise (1990) alongside Gene Barry as Bat Masterson and again in 1991 in The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, also with Barry as Masterson. An independent movie, Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone, was released in 1994 featuring new footage of O'Brian as Earp mixed with flashbacks consisting of colorized scenes from the original series.[28] The new sequences co-starred Bruce Boxleitner (who had himself played Earp in the telefilm I Married Wyatt Earp), Paul Brinegar (who later joined the Rawhide cast), Harry Carey, Jr. (who had, a year earlier, played Marshal Fred White in Tombstone), and Bo Hopkins.

With the emergence of television in the 1950s, producers spun out a large number of Western-oriented shows. At the height of their popularity in 1959, more than two dozen "cowboy" programs were on weekly. At least five others were connected to some extent with Wyatt Earp: Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory, Broken Arrow, Johnny Ringo, and Gunsmoke.[29]

Episodes of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp are rebroadcast on the cable television network, Grit. Two episodes of the show are aired daily on Cozi TV.

References

  1. ^ "Hugh O’Brian, actor who played Wyatt Earp, dies at 91," September 5, 2016, Los Angeles Times retrieved April 3, 2023
  2. ^ "The Eastern Earps," September 5, 2016, Baltimore Sun retrieved April 3, 2023
  3. ^ Burris, Joe (May 10, 2005). "The Eastern Earps". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  4. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp Season 2 Episodes," TV Guide retrieved April 3, 2023
  5. ^ "Wyatt Earp Comes to Wichita", S1.E5, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Internet Movie Database, retrieved April 3, 2023
  6. ^ "Fred Stone's Daughter, Carol, Now on ABC-TV". The Chicago Tribune. May 12, 1957. Archived from the original on 2012-11-07. Retrieved 2009-06-30. Fred Stone's Daughter, Carol, Now on ABC-TV. Carol Stone, plays Big Kate on ABC-TV's Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, is a daughter of musical comedy star ...
  7. ^ "Susan Leiser Silva and Lee A. Silva, "The Killing of Dora Hand", October 1, 2009". historynet.com; originally in Wild West Magazine. October 2009. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  8. ^ Shillingberg, William B. (Summer 1976). "Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Special Myth". Kansas Historical Quarterly. 42 (2): 113–154.
  9. ^ a b c "This Day in History April 19, 1876: Wyatt Earp dropped from Wichita police force," History.net, retrieved April 3, 2023
  10. ^ "Wyatt Earp -- In The News 1870 to 1880", May 12, 2017, The American Cowboy Chronicles, retrieved April 3, 2023
  11. ^ Woog, Adam (February 28, 2010). Wyatt Earp. Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 978-1-60413-597-8.
  12. ^ Gatto, Steve. "Dodge City (1876–1879)". Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  13. ^ Lubet, Steven (2004). Murder in Tombstone: the Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-300-11527-7. Retrieved November 29, 2011.
  14. ^ Linder, Douglas, ed. (2005). "Testimony of Virgil Earp in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp Case". Famous Trials: The O. K. Corral Trial. Archived from the original on February 3, 2011. Retrieved February 6, 2011.
  15. ^ "TV Ratings: 1956-1957". ClassicTVguide.com. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
  16. ^ "TV Ratings: 1957-1958". ClassicTVguide.com. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
  17. ^ "TV Ratings: 1958-1959". ClassicTVguide.com. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
  18. ^ "TV Ratings: 1959-1960". ClassicTVguide.com. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
  19. ^ "TV Ratings - 1956".
  20. ^ "TV Ratings - 1957".
  21. ^ "TV Ratings - 1958".
  22. ^ "TV Ratings - 1959".
  23. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp".
  24. ^ "Wyatt Earp".
  25. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp DVD news: Press Release for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp - Complete Season 1 - TVShowsOnDVD.com". Archived from the original on 2012-11-04.
  26. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp DVD news: Press Release for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp - The Complete Season 1 (Inception Media) - TVShowsOnDVD.com". Archived from the original on 2012-02-08.
  27. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp DVD news: Press Release for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp - Season 2 - TVShowsOnDVD.com". Archived from the original on 2013-02-25.
  28. ^ "Retro : The Wonder of Wyatt: Mixing the Old Series With New Scenes Brings Earp Back to TV--and Tombstone". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-05.
  29. ^ Guinn, Jeff (17 May 2011). The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral and How it Changed the American West (1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4391-5424-3.