"Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, brave courageous and bold, Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, long may his story be told..."
Those are the opening words to the theme from the classic television program The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, as sung by the Ken Darby Singers. They sound a lot like the Sons of the Pioneers, and evoke an instant connection to the long-lost Golden Age of the television Western. That era was well before my time, but through the magic of reruns, and now DVDs, I have developed a great love of those old shows. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp was one such program, and starred Hugh O'Brian as the marshal. The season two of the series has just been released to DVD from the Inception Media Group.
The second season was part of the 1956-1957 ABC network lineup. Viewers were pretty spoiled back in those days, as the show boasted a total of 39 half-hour episodes for the season. The set is a five-DVD affair, with a total running time of 975 minutes. It is definitely a bargain,
especially compared to some of the other sets I have seen out there.
Of course, this would not really matter if the show was not as good as
it is. Back in the prehistoric rabbit-ears days of TV, there was a local channel who ran an all-Western block of programming on Saturday
afternoons. Repeats of The Rifleman, Bonanza, and The Big Valley were part of it, as was The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. So I do remember it, but back then, it was just another shoot-'em up as far as I was concerned. Watching Wyatt Earp today, I see that there was much more to it than just being another Western. It was a high-quality series, and deservedly a hit.
Just about every other TV Western can be watched as self-contained, stand-alone episodes. That is to say that one could watch a randomly chosen episode of something like Bonanza or Gunsmoke and follow it pretty easily. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp is unusual in this regard, as the series is chronological, and the shows were designed to be watched in order. One might even call it a "horse opera," I suppose. This approach adds a layer of depth, as each episode is based on actual events.
The first season found Earp cleaning up the frontier town of Wichita, Kansas. The first episode of season two, "Wichita is Civilized" closes the book on that period. The second, "Dodge Gets a New Marshal" sees Earp off to his next posting, where he will remain for the rest of the season.
It is no exaggeration to say that Wyatt Earp is not very welcome when he arrived in Dodge City. One of the more interesting characters he runs into is Jim Kelly (Paul Brinegar), who owns the biggest saloon in Dodge. He is on the town council, and while he votes to clean things up, he does not want to alienate the cowhands who spend big money at his bar. During "The Reformation of Jim Kelly," he finally decides to do what is right and help Earp.
One of the more amusing people who appear along the way is the young
Bat Masterson (Alan Dinehart III). He is remembered as a hero these days, but when he first arrived in Dodge City, he was kind of a kid.
Masterson was always ready to fight for a girl and loved to gamble. In "Bat Masterson Gets His Star," he proves to Earp that he is able to act like a man, and drop the childish nonsense.
Another very famous person came into Earp's life during this time, a
fellow by the name of Doc Holliday (Douglas Fowley). He arrives towards the end of the season, in the episode "Wyatt Meets Doc Holliday." As I alluded to earlier, the shows are meant to be watched in order, as they follow the historical timeline. The next episode, "The Beautiful Friendship,"
seals the bond between the two men, which will later culminate in the
historic gunfight at the OK Corral. But that was a few years off, and for now, the two are working together in Dodge.
I miss these old Westerns, but times have changed. For whatever reason, the format was very popular during that era, but the basic story of good versus evil is a timeless one. Some shows are a little heavy-handed in their presentations of the heroes and the villains, and there is a bit of that in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. For me, that is part of the attraction though. They just do not make shows like these anymore. It probably goes without saying, but The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp is very family friendly as well. It is a high-quality program, and with a running time of over 16 hours, this set is just the thing for a few rainy-day Western Saturday afternoons.