Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Hallmark Playhouse: “Wyatt Earp” 3/24/49

In the 1920s, a writer named Stuart Lake met the aging Wyatt Earp in Los Angeles and soon churned out an entertaining and readable biography of the former gunman titled Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal.

But it’s a biography that has to be taken with a rather large grain of salt. Lake’s book is one of the many highly-romanticized accounts of Earp’s life that have appeared in many different media.

In real life, Earp was probably closer to being a good guy than a bad guy, but his career during the days of the Old West includes its unsavory aspects. Late in life, Earp preferred to be remembered as a more pristine hero. Lake’s book was one element in perpetuating this myth.

Still, as myths go, it’s a good one. In later years, we’ve seen a heroic Earp pop up again and again in movies and television shows. (The best of which is John Ford’s My Darling Clementine. It’s a work of complete fiction, but a great Western all the same.)

One of the make believe Wyatt’s forays into radio was this particular episode of The Hallmark Playhouse, which gives us a quick, 30-minute adaptation of Lake’s book, concentrating on the events leading up to and following the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Richard Conti plays Wyatt, while radio veteran Gerald Mohr gives a strong performance as Wyatt’s friend Doc Holliday. The script is as straightforward as it comes. Wyatt comes to Tombstone to clean up the town. (In real life, he came to Tombstone to establish business interests, which included running a faro table in one of the saloons.) He runs up against the Clanton gang and eventually shoots it out with the villains at the famous corral. Later, his brother Morgan is murdered in revenge, so Wyatt methodically tracks those killers down.

The plot manages to parallel real life events in only the most vaguely general terms, but this episode (like most of the movie versions of the gunfight) isn’t meant to be an historical document. It’s a part of the mythological Old West that grew out of dime novels and movies.

And that’s perfectly all right with me. Richard Conti (as Earp) stumbles over his lines once or twice, but still does a pretty good job. The sound effects are top notch and, if the story feels a bit rushed, it still manages to coherently explain what’s going on and generate a fair amount of suspense and excitement.

Still, it is nice to remember that there is a real history to these events. Anyone interested should find a copy of And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight, by Patricia Mitchell Marks. Superbly researched and well-written, it will give you an excellent account of really happened in Tombstone Arizona in 1881.

But let’s not let go of the myths either. In the case of the American West, both history and myth serve their own respective and valuable purposes in describing the American experience.

Click HERE to listen or download.

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