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Wyatt Earp-Meet the Man, Not the Myth
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Friday, September 22, 2023
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

What do you do with the DNA of Wyatt Earp?

Wyatt Earp, the great grandnephew of the famous Wild West lawman, decided to parlay his famous DNA into a one man play—or what he calls a biodrama.

He’ll present “Wyatt Earp—A Life on the Frontier” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, at The Argyros Center for the Performing Arts in Ketchum.  Tickets are $15, available at https://theargyros.org/calendar/wyatt-earp/.

“I opened it on April 16, 1996, and the whole thing took on a life of its own,” said Earp, who fittingly divides his time between Phoenix and Tombstone, Ariz. “It tells of his adventures from Arizona to Alaska and, of course, his time in Tombstone with the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, born in 1848 in Monmouth, Ill., was a gambler and a lawman, although he sometimes found himself on the wrong side of the law thanks to the brothel his common-law wife ran in Wichita and Dodge City, Kan.

In 1878 he headed to Texas to track down an outlaw. That’s where he met “Doc” Holliday, whom he would later credit with saving his life.

As Dodge City became tamed, he joined his brothers James and Virgil during the silver boom in Tombstone. Two years later he hit his high-water mark at the O.K. Corral where he, his brothers and Holliday killed three cowboys who had refused orders prohibiting the carrying of weapons in town.

Both of Earp’s brothers were eventually murdered, but Wyatt emerged unscathed, living to the ripe age of 81.

After moving to San Francisco, he and his wife Josephine followed a gold rush to Eagle City, a town in northern Idaho where they opened a saloon while seeking their fortune in the gold, silver and lead mining there.

He followed the gold rush to Alaska and the Yukon in 1897 before heading back to the Lower 48 where the Los Angeles Police Department hired him to retrieve criminals from Mexico. He died in 1929, his fame rocketing in the years following his death thanks to a biography that characterized him as a fearless lawman.

“I’m presenting the story that Hollywood never told us,” said Earp. “Wyatt Earp was a stand-up sort of guy. He had a high level of integrity when there wasn’t a lot of that—the Arizona Territory, Dodge City and the western frontier were lawless at the time.”

Earp had heard family stories growing up, and he easily found more material that had been researched and written by members of the National Outlaw & Lawman Association, which was formed in 1974 to foster research into America’s old West.

His wife—Terry Tafoya Earp—an award-winning playwright and producer who once cowboyed from Mexico to Alaska and founded the Spot Theatre in downtown Phoenix, wrote six bio-dramas in her Tombstone Saga. She staged the first performance in the Schieffelin Hall in Tombstone, Ariz.

Earp had worked for 50 years with New York Life Insurance while doing bits and pieces of acting. She wrote the first bio-drama for the actor Hugh O’Brian, who starred in the TV series “Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” which debuted in 1955 and went on to become the top-rated TV show in the world. But he bowed out due to other commitments. And Earp, who had worked for New York Life Insurance for 50 years, assumed the role.

Earp has staged the play, which won an AriZoni award, more than a thousand times throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and on cruise ships.

“People get to experience the man instead of the myth,” he said. “And audiences seem to enjoy the irony of everything.”

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