John Wayne and Wyatt Earp Were Pals
July 21, 2014
Two legends of the west come together
This is something that truly floored me when I first heard the story. You think of Wyatt Earp in the 1800's when there were no movies, no phones, radios and no autos. Then, you think of John "Duke" Wayne in the 1900s when all the above existed. However, the two actually were friends and worked together on the back lots of Hollywood sound stages.
These are photos of John Wayne and Wyatt Earp in the early stages of their lives. Duke had not been born when this photo of Wyatt was taken. However, when Duke Wayne was in his early 20's and Wyatt Earp was in his late 70's, they worked together on Duke's first film. Yes, they were on the set together with Wyatt working in an advisory capacity and Wayne in his very first credited film role in John Ford's, "Hangman's House" in 1928.
On the right is a photo of Wyatt in 1928. He passed away one year later at age 80. Duke listened intently to Wyatt's tales of the past and the old west. Duke claimed that he used some of what he was told in his early film portrayals of western lawmen.
Isn't it astonishing to think of Wyatt Earp in the 1920s wearing a suit and tie, owning restaurants as he did and working in Hollywood after seeing all those films of him walking down dirt streets with guns blazing and chasing the bad guys and arresting drunks in saloons? This man looks like an oil baron.
Wyatt is immortalized as the primary subject of the most famous gun fight in U.S. history at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona on October 26, 1881. Wyatt claimed in later life that his brother, Virgil was the actual center of attention since he was the town marshal. Two of Wyatt's brothers, Morgan and Virgil were shot in the battle and on March 18, 1882 the surviving members of the outlaw cowboys finished the job on Morgan when they shot him while he was playing billiard's.
John Wayne holds the record for the most leading roles in films...142. Ironically, he never made a film as Wyatt Earp. He probably should have since dozens of other stars took the part in one movie after another. Duke, as he was called by his friends was a former football player at Southern Cal and while working part time as a stunt man was spotted by John Huston and Huston brought Duke under his wing from that point on. They would make many films together and remain friends for life.