Wyatt Earp was – as you likely know – something of an all around badass, spending time during his life as a lawman, miner, buffalo hunter, boxing referee and brothel keeper. He was also famously involved in the now-enshrined “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” a thirty second shootout that became legendary once Hollywood got ahold of it.
You might not know that he spent his later years trying to make it in, as they said back in the day, ‘the pictures.’ Unable to land many roles other than small bit parts, Earp took to helping famous directors like John Ford choreograph gunfights, and he wound up spending a lot of his time on set recounting tales from his days in the actual Wild West.
One person who was listening? A young actor who was filling extra roles and doing prop work beside him. His name was Marion Morrison, but you might recognize him by his later stage name…John Freaking Wayne.
I added the Freaking part. But it’s fitting.
Anyway, John Wayne learning how to play a cowboy from Wyatt Earp is like, I don’t know. Colin Firth being able to shadow King George VI before playing him in The King’s Speech, or Natalie Portman spending a few days with Jackie Kennedy. Basically, it must have been incredible training.
For his part, Wayne never took it for granted. According to his son, Wayne used to claim that whenever he went onscreen to play a cowboy, he simply channeled Wyatt Earp. So for like 99% of his roles.
What I really want to know is whether Earp called people “pilgrim,” too, or whether old Marion came up with that gem all on his own. Stay tuned.
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