Tuesday, July 14, 2015
THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF WYATT EARP
When I looked through the list of TV westerns, I was surprised at just how many I had watched growing up. This was one of my favorites. And Hugh O'Brien seemed to embody him. Never believed Kevin Costner in the role later.
And I know every word of the song. I bet some of you do too.
The first of its kind...the original adult western. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp was the first in a wave of new TV westerns aimed at adults (previous entries, such as The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger, were considered fodder for the after-school crowd). The show was then followed, in the same season, by Gunsmoke on CBS, Frontier on NBC and Wyatt's fellow ABC show Cheyenne. It was these four shows alone that started an incredible and unmatched phenomena that would see up to 28 new westerns premiering during the 1958 primetime TV season. But only a handful of them were able to dominate a few of the top 10 spots in the network ratings and Wyatt Earp was one of them. Wyatt Earp was inspired by the legendary events of the real life Frontier Marshal who lived from 1848 to 1929. The show followed Earp from his days as a Marshal in Ellsworth and then later Dodge City (this caused some confusion amongst viewers since Matt Dillion was the Marshal of Dodge City in Gunsmoke) and finally to the infamous Tombstone, Arizona. Along the way Wyatt would encounter such figures as John Wesley Hardin, the Thompson Brothers, Doc Holliday and Earp's brothers Virgil and Morgan. Bat Masterson would also appear before getting his own series (where he would be played a different actor). The show even featured the famous Buntline Special, a foot-long-barreled Colt .45 single-action revolver which many believe to be the kind of gun that the real Wyatt carried and was given to by Ned Buntline. The series would conclude in 1961, after six full seasons, with an epic five episode story that told of how Wyatt took on Old Man Clanton and the Ten Percent Gang in a final showdown at the O.K. Coral with the help of his brothers and Doc Holliday. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp is not as well known today as most other classic westerns such as Gunsmoke and Bonanza simply because it didn't last as long and was not shot in color. But ask any baby boomer who grew up in front of the television during the '50s and they'll easily recall Wyatt Earp with fond memories. By today's standards, the series was rare in that Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, an author and playwright, didn't just write the first episode (based on the 1931 biography by Stuart N. Lake), he wrote the majority of the 226 episodes throughout the series' entire six season run. This Desilu production originally aired from 1955 to 1961 on ABC, Tuesdays at 8:30pm