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Hollywood Cowboys

The shiny convertible had its top down in 1927 as it pulledos  main gate. The guard approached the car with a studio check-in-list. He was startled to see an elderly man with a ruddy complexion and a 10-gallon hat. The guard asked the man’s name so he could check it off. “Wyatt Earp” man said, not t up to Fox Studios  main gate. The guard approached the car with a studio check-in-list. He was startled to see an elderly man with a ruddy complexion and a 10-gallon hat. The guard asked the man’s name so he could check it off. “Wyatt Earp” man said, not smiling. “Oh sure, and I’m Billy the Kid” the guard said. “C’mon Mister what’s your name?” “I told you Wyatt Earp.” the man replied. The guard checked his list and sure enough, near the bottom, was the name Wyatt Earp.

The Guard stepped back and let the car through. Earp drove on, never looking back in the rear view mirror. The guard realized it was indeed the cultural icon, the mythic figure of the Old West, the man who made his reputation 45 years earlier at the famous gunfight at the OK Corral.

Wyatt Earp and his second wife, Josephine Marcus, had come to Los Angeles in 1920 mostly for adventure and excitement. The couple were well suited to one another; for the past 40 years they had lived each day as an adventure travelling to Alaska, making a fortune in the saloon business and other investments. Josephine was way ahead of her time. She could ride and shoot with the best cowboys and she never once regretted being married to the toughest lawman West of the Mississippi.

After Tombstone, Wyatt had a hanker- ing for a peaceful life. He had lost two brothers to gunfire, and he knew young gunfighters were after him to make a name for themselves.

Now, on a sunny afternoon in 1926, Wyatt was 78 years old and visiting new friends, movie cowboys William S. Hart & Tom Mix.

John Ford, the famous director, sometimes hired Wyatt as an extra but mostly as an advisor. Earp was an avid movie fan. He saw just about every Western released in the small theaters in Los Angeles. Finally he and Josephine bought a cottage in an upcoming section of Hollywood, just to be near the movies.

He loved movie sets, especially those that resembled old Western towns. One day he was sitting in a back lot playing poker with some stage hands when John Ford came up to him and asked him if he wanted coffee or a sandwich. Wyatt never refused coffee so Ford told a young prop man to bring him some. Soon the tall, huskily-built prop man sat down next to him and introduced himself as Marion Morrison. Earp instantly liked the innocent wide eyed youth and patiently answered some of his eager questions. Earp said he was always sure it was Doc Holliday who fired the first shot at the OK Corall. He also told him that, despite what the legend was, the gunfight only lasted about 30 seconds.

When Marion was called back to work by an angry Ford, Earp smiled and said maybe the young man should someday change his name. Marion Morrison did change his name later … to John Wayne.

During his time in Hollywood, Wyatt Earp was becoming more famous by the day. A biography came out, chronicling his amazing early life. Now more than ever, he was becoming a cowboy legend.

Wyatt Earp died in 1929 at the age of 80. Josephine lived until 1944. They are now buried together in a Jewish Cemetery in Northern California. Josephine was Jewish, Wyatt was Protestant.

Wyatt Earp was many things in life: farmer, gunfighter, lawman, boxing referee, movie advisor and extra, but strangely, he was never a cowboy and never herded steers.

At his funeral in 1929 his pallbearers included William S. Hart and Tom Mix.

Ric Pantale writer and director, is an independent film maker.