In a famous moment from John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a reporter, having learned that the legendary bravery of a U.S. Senator isn't quite the tale of heroism that he expected, tears up his notes and says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

It's not just a great line that efficiently sums up the movie's theme. It's also a savvy commentary by Ford on the way Hollywood approaches Western lore. And nowhere is it more true than with the legend of Wyatt Earp and the showdown at the O.K. Corral.

Most people don't realize how little time has passed since the glory days of the Old West, when cowboys herded cattle across country, bad men robbed stagecoaches, and law was established from territory to territory. Wyatt Earp lived until 1929, and spent his latter days in Hollywood where he advised on Westerns and hung out with movie cowboys William S. Hart and Tom Mix. Earp became a legend because he sought to become one.

Much of Earp's reputation was manufactured out of whole cloth by pulp-magazine biographers, with Earp's approval. He was also a man who'd spent a lot of his life dancing back and forth between both sides of the law, and his role (as well as his brothers') in the legendary O.K. Corral gunfight has been whitewashed repeatedly, most effectively by Hollywood films.
tags fandom
categories Features, Cinematical