The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

1955 | United States

Consistently good Western Series starring Hugh O'Brian and based on Stuart N. Lake's 1931 biography of the famous US Marshal, whose trademark was a pair of "Buntline Special" pistols with extra-long barrels with which he kept the peace. 

Author and playwright Frederick Hazlitt Brennan wrote the scripts from the first episode which began in 1955 with a story entitled "Mr. Earp Becomes a Marshal", in which Wyatt's friend, Marshal Whitney of Ellsworth, Kansas, was killed by a gunman. Wyatt accepted his badge and avenged his death. The stories continued in the same historical vein and Earp came up against real-life figures such as John Wesley Hardin and the Thompson brothers before moving to Dodge City to become Marshal there. (Except on Saturday nights one assumes, as according to Gun Law the Marshal there was Matt Dillon). 

A young Bat Masterson (Mason Alan Dinehart lll) became his deputy for a while before becoming a county sheriff in his own right and being spun off into his own series (starring Gene Burke's Law Barry in the lead role). The 1957-58 season saw the introduction of another colourful real-life character, the notorious physician turned gambler, Doc Holliday (Douglas Fowley and later Myron Healey). Earp's brothers Virgil (John Anderson) and Morgan (Dirk London) turned up in occasional episodes. 

In the 1959-60 season Earp moved yet again, this time to Tombstone, Arizona, a town run by Old Man Clanton and the "Ten Percent Gang". The final showdown, also based on fact, came at the end of the final season in the form of a five-part story in which Earp discovered that the Clanton gang was using the O.K. Coral as a centre for their illegal activities. Although Earp tried to prevent bloodshed events moved rapidly to a conclusion, which culminated in a shootout between the Marshal, his brothers, Doc Holliday and the Clanton Gang in the famous "Gunfight at the OK Corral". 

Perhaps unfairly forgotten these days, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp was a superior Western series.

Published on December 31st, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.