The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

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The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Hugh O'Brian Adele Mara Wyatt Earp 1961.JPG
Written byFrederick Hazlitt Brennan
John Dunkel
Daniel B. Ullman
Directed byPaul Landres
Frank McDonald
Roy Rowland
Sidney Salkow
StarringHugh O'Brian
Morgan Woodward
Ray Kellogg
William Tannen
Douglas Fowley
Myron Healey
Mason Alan Dinehart
Fred Coby
Damian O'Flynn
Ray Boyle
John Anderson
Ross Elliott
Bill Cassady
ComposersHerman Stein
Ken Darby
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes229 (list of episodes)
Executive producersLouis F. Edelman
Robert Sisk
ProducerRoy Rowland
CinematographyHarold E. Wellman
Howard Schwartz
Henry Cronjager Jr.
Robert B. Hauser
EditorJohn Durant
Running time30 mins.
Production companiesWyatt Earp Enterprises
Desilu Productions
Original networkABC
Original 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, premiering four days before Gunsmoke on September 6, 1955.[1] 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.


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.


Main cast[edit]

Recurring cast[edit]

Guest cast[edit]

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".



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.


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.[2]

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.[3]

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[edit]

In the show, O'Brian openly 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.[4]

Historical Accuracy[edit]

The real Wyatt Earp was appointed as an assistant marshal in Dodge City around May 1876, spent the winter of 1876–77 in Deadwood, Dakota Territory,[5]: 31  and rejoined the Dodge City police force as an assistant marshal in spring 1877. He resigned his position in September 1879.[6] Earp is depicted as the town marshal in Tombstone, although his brother Virgil Earp was Deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone City Marshal.[7]: 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.[8]


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
133September 6, 1955 (1955-09-06)April 17, 1956 (1956-04-17)
239August 18, 1956 (1956-08-18)June 4, 1957 (1957-06-04)
339September 17, 1957 (1957-09-17)June 10, 1958 (1958-06-10)
437September 16, 1958 (1958-09-16)May 26, 1959 (1959-05-26)
541September 1, 1959 (1959-09-01)June 7, 1960 (1960-06-07)
637September 27, 1960 (1960-09-27)May 25, 1961 (1961-05-25)



The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp finished number 18 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1956–1957 season, number six in 1957–1958, number 10 in 1958–1959, and number 20 in 1959–1960.[9]


The series received two Emmy nominations in 1957. Hugh O'Brian was nominated for Best Continuing Performance by an Actor,[10] and Dan Ullman earned a nomination for Best Teleplay Writing - Half Hour or Less.[11]

Home media[edit]

Infinity Entertainment Group released the complete first season on DVD in Region 1 for the first time on April 21, 2009.[12] 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.[13] Season two was released on March 12, 2013.[14]

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

Related shows[edit]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.


  1. ^ Burris, Joe (May 10, 2005). "The Eastern Earps". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  2. ^ "Fred Stone's Daughter, Carol, Now on ABC-TV". The Chicago Tribune. May 12, 1957. 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 ...
  3. ^ "Susan Leiser Silva and Lee A. Silva, "The Killing of Dora Hand", October 1, 2009".; originally in Wild West Magazine. October 2009. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
  4. ^ Shillingberg, William B. (Summer 1976). "Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Special Myth". Kansas Historical Quarterly. 42 (2): 113–154.
  5. ^ Woog, Adam (February 28, 2010). Wyatt Earp. Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 978-1-60413-597-8.
  6. ^ Gatto, Steve. "Dodge City (1876–1879)". Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ " TV Ratings".
  10. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp".
  11. ^ "Wyatt Earp".
  12. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp DVD news: Press Release for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp - Complete Season 1 -". Archived from the original on 2012-11-04.
  13. ^ "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) -". Archived from the original on 2012-02-08.
  14. ^ "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp DVD news: Press Release for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp - Season 2 -". Archived from the original on 2013-02-25.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ 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.

External links[edit]