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"Inventing Wyatt Earp."

Terry Gross talks with writer Allen Barra ("Bear-ah"), the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends" (Carroll & Graff Publishers). It tells the story of the famous sometime lawman and the shootout at the O.K. Corral at Tombstone, Arizona where Wyatt Earp was the only man left standing. Barra is a sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

27:19

Other segments from the episode on March 18, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 18, 1999: Interview with Nancy Marchand; Interview with Allen Barra.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 18, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031801np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Nancy Marchand
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

As an actress, Nancy Marchand arrived in New York just in time to take part in what's been called the Golden Age of Television. Doing live TV dramas in the '50s including the famous Paddy Chayefsky play, "Marty."

In the '70s, she took part in another TV classic, co-starring as newspaper publisher Mrs. Pynchon in the CBS series "Lou Grant." And at the end of the '90s she's making a little piece of TV history again playing against her own image by appearing as a nasty old Mafia mom in HBO's "The Sopranos."

To realize how against type she's playing in her new role, all you have to do is listen to her old ones. She played Rod Steiger's mousy girlfriend in "Marty" in a live telecast from 1953.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SCENE FROM THE PLAY "MARTY" FEATURING ACTRESS NANCY MARCHAND)

ROD STEIGER, ACTOR: What am I? Am I a leper or something?

NANCY MARCHAND, ACTRESS: It doesn't feel like it (unintelligible).

STEIGER: It's the story of my life. Just a fat little ugly guy, you know. Every time there's a New Year's Eve party so I'm the guy to have to get a date for. I'm old enough to know better. I'll get you a package of cigarettes.

MARCHAND: Marty. I'd like to see you again. Very much. The reason that I didn't let you kiss me was because I just didn't know how to handle the situation. I think you're the kindest man I ever met. And the reason I tell you this is because I'd like to see you again very much.

Maybe I'm just too desperate to fall in love. I'm trying too hard. But I know that when you take me home I just go lie on my bed and think about you.

BIANCULLI: Then here she is opposite Ed Asner in a scene from the '70s drama series "Lou Grant" playing Mrs. Pynchon.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SCENE FROM THE CBS TELEVISION SERIES "LOU GRANT" FEATURING ACTRESS NANCY MARCHAND)

NANCY MARCHAND, ACTRESS, PORTRAYING MRS. PYNCHON: Mr. Grant, I have enough pressures from politicians and labor unions and churches and schools and Italian-Americans and Polish-Americans and Mexican-Americans all incensed at one time or another because of something we print. Or didn't print.

When we moved the Bridge column -- and the day that we kissed off "Li'l Orphan Annie," do you realize how many threats I received against my life?

ED ASNER, ACTOR, PORTRAYING LOU GRANT: Mrs. Pynchon, there is...

MARCHAND: ...no, Mr. Grant, I don't need you to generate any heat! I get enough of that from my family, for one of the more descriptive words. I have two nephews, each more disgusting than the other. Each masking his avarice in solicitous murmurings and constant pressures and little whisperings to sell this building.

Sell this paper that I love, and invest in something more sensitive, more lucrative like taco stands. A whole greasy chain of them, stretching like the Great Wall of China from San Ysidro all the way to the Oregon border. I mean, who knows? Maybe beyond.

Taco stands, Mr. Grant. And a few shares of majority stock I hold is my only shield between this once great paper and a thousand mile ribbon of inedible enchiladas.

BIANCULLI: And now finally here she is in a clip from the new episode of "The Sopranos" to be shown this Sunday, as Livia Soprano who is being visited in the nursing home by her daughter-in-law, played by Edie Falco.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SCENE FROM THE HBO TELEVISION SERIES "THE SOPRANOS" FEATURING ACTRESS NANCY MARCHAND)

EDIE FALCO, ACTRESS: You know, ma, your son loves you very much. He worries all the time. He felt bad that you didn't come to the open house. I don't care if you think it's disrespectful, but I want you to cut the drama. It's killing Tony.

NANCY MARCHAND, ACTRESS: What are you talking about?

FALCO: I'm talking about this -- this poor mother; nobody loves me, victim crap. It is textbook manipulation. And I hate seeing Tony so upset over it.

MARCHAND: I know how to talk to people.

FALCO: Well, I am a mother too don't forget. And you know the power that you have and you use it like a pro.

MARCHAND: How -- what power? I don't have power. I'm a shut-in.

FALCO: You are bigger than life. You are his mother. And I don't think for one second that you don't know what you're doing to him.

MARCHAND: Who me? Me? What have I -- what did I do?

FALCO: Look, I didn't come by to argue. I came by to check on you and to bring you the regards.

BIANCULLI: Nancy Marchand, welcome to FRESH AIR.

NANCY MARCHAND, ACTRESS, HBO'S "THE SOPRANOS": Oh, thank you very much.

BIANCULLI: You know, I love this role so much. It is so unlike Mrs. Pynchon or most of the things with which I associate you. I can't even believe it. Can you tell me how you do this and how you got to it in the audition?

MARCHAND: Well, I was so thrilled that somebody asked me to read for a part like this after playing so many tasteful ladies. That I just jumped at it, because this was a marriage that I shall always be grateful for. And that is between me playing a part like this and working with David Chase, who is so wise, so intellectually astute. And there you have it. I mean, there we were.

BIANCULLI: Well, he's the writer-producer of "The Sopranos."

MARCHAND: He is, yeah.

BIANCULLI: And with the script that you auditioned with originally or the scene, how much of that was on the page? I mean, so much of the grunts and the groans and the snarls and the sounds and the chewing with the mouth open. I mean, that's got to be as much you as it is the writer.

MARCHAND: Well, I just came upon some of them. I just -- some things I just came upon when it happened, like the chewing with my mouth open. I thought, oh, that's great. This woman is an animal. She is an animal. And that's what she is. And that's what she does. She carries on a conversation and she's stuffing her mouth all the time. That was something that happened as we played it. And then I incorporated it into the performance.

BIANCULLI: Going all the way back to your golden age stuff. I mean, I think you're big breakthrough role on television was as Jo in "Little Women" in "Studio One."

MARCHAND: Right. Hey, you know that.

BIANCULLI: Yeah, well.

MARCHAND: Hey, good for you.

BIANCULLI: And it goes to even better ones that we'll get to a minute. But if I've got this right, you're -- you graduate from Carnegie and you decide as a young woman that you are just going to be an actress and head off to New York. And land there, I guess, in -- was it 1949?

MARCHAND: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: Now how old were you then and how gutsy were you then to do something like that in such a male dominated town and such a young industry as television? How did you do that? How were you allowed to do that?

MARCHAND: Oh listen, it wasn't gutsy. It was dumb. I was so dumb. Nothing stopped me. I just went ahead and did it.

BIANCULLI: What kind of place was New York like to live as a single woman in the late '40s?

MARCHAND: Well, I wasn't single. I had a roommate and she was my roommate from college. And we were a real couple. We were such a funny twosome and just did anything we wanted to do. We just had a ball. We went to the movies in the middle of the night and, you know, we just had a ball.

BIANCULLI: Now you were involved in so many of the early television shows like "Kraft Television Theater," "Goodyear TV Playhouse," "Studio One." At the time...

MARCHAND: ...yeah, but it was all new.

BIANCULLI: Mmm-hmm.

MARCHAND: It was all grassroots stuff, you know. And there was a kind of excitement about it because all of a sudden all those young men who had been in the war and been given the opportunity to crawl through hell, suddenly somebody said to them we'll give you money to educate yourselves. And that was given to them.

I mean, that had never happened before. And there was such an excitement and an excitement also of those of young man who survived all that. They weren't killed. They didn't lose legs and arms. They survived it. And that excitement transferred itself into a whole new medium which was television. And it was great.

BIANCULLI: A lot of people in early television didn't want to get involved at first because they didn't trust the medium. And others dove in purely because it was new. Where did you stand?

MARCHAND: Oh, I just dove in because it was work. I loved the work. And I -- to this day, I don't think there was a job I've ever done that I hadn't learned something from doing it. You know?

BIANCULLI: Mmm-hmm.

MARCHAND: And so it was all new. It was all new.

BIANCULLI: Let's talk about your most famous role from the '50s which was playing Clara to Rod Steiger's butcher Marty in the 1953 piece, which has got to be, along with "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and a couple of others, one of the most important pieces of television -- early television -- ever done. Can you tell us how that came together? And what it was like to rehearse it and to mount it?

MARCHAND: Well, I don't know how it came together because I was unaware of things like that. But anyway, what I did want to talk about was how fabulous Paddy Chayefsky as a writer was. You know, you would rehearse and then he'd say to you, are things going OK?

He was at every reversal. He was always at every rehearsal. And he'd say, things going OK? And I'd say, well, you know, in "X" scene -- in the "X" scene if you just took out those lines and put them at the beginning of the scene and then when you get to the end of the scene you can understand it better.

He'd say, oh, isn't that interesting. Yeah, let me look around -- let me fool around with that. And he'd go into the corner with his typewriter and -- and there he was. And there, you know, he'd have this scene written. And as you were rehearsing he would kind of sidle up to you and he'd pass you this scene. And you'd look at it and it was perfect. It was perfect.

BIANCULLI: What do you treasure most about live television? About the energy when that was going on live?

MARCHAND: The energy was like stage energy. Yeah. That's what was great about it.

BIANCULLI: And you do so much theater and continue to do theater now. Is theater energy the same as it used today?

MARCHAND: Well, pretty much. Pretty much. Because you've got living people out there. Now I'm talking about two years ago when I did "Importance of Being Ernest." That's the last time I did a play. And since then, I have come down with -- thank you, very much -- COPD which is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease."

And that's why my voice sounds funny. And that's why you might hear me grabbing for breath. But I don't think I have the energy to do a play anymore.

BIANCULLI: My guest is actress Nancy Marchand. She's co-starring in the HBO series "The Sopranos." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BIANCULLI: My guest is actress Nancy Marchand. In the 1970s TV series "Lou Grant" she played the newspaper's publisher Mrs. Pynchon.

"Lou Grant," certainly one of your most famous roles. You won four Emmys for that one. And in the beginning the people who -- James L. Brooks, who was one of the co-creators, was talking about how hard it was to try to come up with a series that was not all drama and was not all comedy, but was a mix.

MARCHAND: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: And now we have things like "Northern Exposure" which led to "Ally McBeal," so we're more familiar with it. But that was really the first hour long dramady. Was it hard to hit that tone on the set when you were starting out?

MARCHAND: Well, you know, all those guys, as writers, were no slouches. And they knew what they were doing. And it wasn't a struggle, it was just learning the new material and learning the new approach. And that made it work.

BIANCULLI: Your Mrs. Pynchon character on "Lou Grant," did you specifically model her on Katherine Graham and did you ever hear from her or from other female newspaper editors?

MARCHAND: No. No. No, I did not. At that time there was a whole pile of women publishers who were widowed whose husbands had started newspapers. There was one -- Elvita Calpavia (ph), I think, is one of them. And there was one in Cincinnati. And Dorothy Chandler. And there were a lot of them.

BIANCULLI: One thing I never understood with "Lou Grant" was why they didn't have a final episode where the newspaper was allowed to fold and give it the same sort of farewell that the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" had and other shows did. It was yanked off so quickly. Behind the scenes, do you know why?

MARCHAND: Yeah. There was -- they had been trying to get rid of that show for a long time -- to get rid of "Lou Grant" for a long time because Ed was fooling around with El Salvador and trying to -- the Archbishop Romero fund. Trying to raise money for that.

And I think there was -- there was a lot of -- a lot of letter writing from people who thought that communists of El Salvador were horrible. Now these are all sort of halfway house stories. I'm not really -- I was never really up on all of that kind of stuff. But I had heard that they wrote the sponsors and said, we're not going to -- we're not going to buy your products because you are advertising on "Lou Grant." It just got too much.

You know, every single story that they did "Lou Grant" was a real story. During hiatus the writers used to go from one newspaper to the next and get stories and then they would come back and they would develop them into episodes.

BIANCULLI: Well, I'm glad it was there while it was there. And I certainly enjoyed watching it and watching you on that show. What did you like most about playing Mrs. Pynchon?

MARCHAND: Well, first -- first of all, I liked having a stroke. I enjoyed that.

BIANCULLI: Yeah, your character had a stroke -- and had a stroke and had to come back from it fairly slowly. And this is decades before the same thing happen to Andre Braugher on "Homicide: Life on the Street."

MARCHAND: Right.

BIANCULLI: So did you have to remain conscious of a slow improvement why you were still doing the rest of the acting?

MARCHAND: Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

BIANCULLI: Now do you see what you're doing -- do you see "The Sopranos" overall as being a dramady like "Lou Grant?"

MARCHAND: But it's more sophisticated, I think. Much more sophisticated.

BIANCULLI: I guess what I'm asking is in terms of your scenes, so many of them, at times you want to laugh at this woman and at other times you are angry with her. And then it seems tragic. And then it seems howlingly funny again, all in the space of a couple of minutes.

MARCHAND: Yeah, but that's what makes it interesting.

BIANCULLI: Is that what makes it interesting to play too?

MARCHAND: Sure.

BIANCULLI: So there are -- my last question -- there are two episodes left -- actually three in this current season of "The Sopranos." And HBO has already re-upped it for a second season.

MARCHAND: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: I haven't seen the final two episodes, so I don't know whether you're even in a position to come back next season. But assuming that you are, do you intend to?

MARCHAND: Yes.

BIANCULLI: All right. Well Nancy, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you.

MARCHAND: And I've loved being here.

BIANCULLI: Nancy Marchand co-stars in the HBO series "The Sopranos."

I'm David Bianculli and this is a FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: David Bianculli, Washington, DC
Guest: Nancy Marchand
High: Actress Nancy Marchand talks with TV critic David Bianculli. She's best known for her recurring role as Mrs. Pynchon on the TV series Lou Grant." Recently she had a role in HBO's series "The Sopranos." Marchand's film credits include "Jefferson in Paris," "The Naked Gun," and "The Bostonians."
Spec: Entertainment; Television and Radio; Lifestyle; Culture; Nancy Marchand

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Nancy Marchand

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 18, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 031802NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Allen Barra
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SCENE FROM THE FILM "TOMBSTONE")

BIANCULLI: That's Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp from the 1993 film "Tombstone." The film depicts one of the most famous chapters of the Wyatt Earp legend, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Author Allen Barra examines both the real and imagined life of the lawman in his new book, "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

He recently spoke with Terry Gross.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Allen Barra, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now before we talk about how the legend of Wyatt Earp was created let's start with the legend. Give us an abbreviated version of the legend of Wyatt Earp.

ALLEN BARRA, AUTHOR, "INVENTING WYATT EARP: HIS LIFE AND MANY LEGENDS": Oh, all right. Let's see, the legend of Wyatt Earp is that Wyatt Earp was the best-known town marshal or county sheriff of Dodge City or Tombstone and numerous other Western towns. In fact he was none of those things. He was never a county sheriff of anywhere or town marshal of Dodge City, Tombstone or anywhere else.

He was one of the first modern cops. An excellent enforcer. Somebody who was very very adept at keeping the peace without having to draw his gun and fire without a need to kill people. Which makes it, I think, doubly ironic that he's best-known -- immortal one might say -- for 30 seconds of violence at the O.K. Corral where he was forced into the only gun fight of his entire life.

GROSS: Yeah, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, one of the most famous gunfight's in history, or legend. What was the fight about?

BARRA: Essentially Wyatt and his brothers had gone to tombstone to try to get out of the law business. Wyatt was particularly disgusted because he had been forced to shoot a drunken cowhand in Dodge City and was eventually -- the man eventually died. That was one of the things that soured Wyatt on the law. He had never had to do that before.

He went down to Tombstone, which was this fabulous boomtown camp with people coming from all over the world. There was French, Chinese, New Yorkers even -- all the way down in this little corner of Arizona. The Earps, however, found that the thing they did best was law enforcement.

They dealt Pharaoh in saloons. They bought interests in different saloons. That was very respectable, very common back then. Gambling was considered an honest business. But they also worked for Wells Fargo. So they had an interest in preserving the flow of silver shipments coming in and out of the Tombstone area.

Also, Virgil, Wyatt's older brother, was a deputy U.S. Marshal who often used his brothers, Wyatt and Morgan, in tight situations. Their opposition was numerous former Texans, most of them. Some Mexican federates who had drifted into the Arizona territory because there's a lot of money to be made and very little law in the area.

And mostly they preyed on the Mexican cattle industry -- the big haciendas across the border in Sonora. The Mexicans began tightening up their border patrols. The cowboys sort of fell back on -- when I use cowboy, by the way, the term was kind of distributable at the time.

Real cowboys, what we would call cowboys today, were then called mostly cowhands, drovers, terms like that. Cowboys -- they always put quotes around it when they used it in the paper. It meant "rustler" or "cattle thief."

So gradually the cowboy gang, or association as it was, fell back on Wells Fargo shipments and brought the Earps more and more into play.

GROSS: So the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, that was the Earp brothers with Doc Holliday against who?

BARRA: Against two local ranchers in the area -- Ike Clanton and his brother Billy and the McLaury brothers, who may or may not have been part of the cowboy gang per se but certainly their ranch's was sort of the place where the stolen Mexican cattle were kept or fenced before they were sold to the Army or to the local ranchers in the area.

So the cowboys kind of had the aspect of, let's say, a Robin Hood. They defied the federal government which was just fine with most of the locals in the area who were small farmers, small ranchers and Democratic into politics, and who hated the Northern Republican Earps.

And things built-up and built-up, and finally on the afternoon of October 26, 1881 -- early in the afternoon -- the cowboys were making numerous threats to the lives of the Earps in Tombstone. And several people came up to warn Virgil Earp, the town marshal.

And finally, around 2:20 in the afternoon the Earps were fed up and went down to the vacant lot in back of the O.K. Corral next to Fly's Photography Studio (ph), which is where the fight actually took place. But of course, as a friend of mine said, you'd never get that all in a movie marking.

GROSS: So who was killed in the fight?

BARRA: They walk into the lot, Virgil Earp is holding Doc Holliday's cane. He thinks they're there to make an arrest. Sheriff Behan, the local Democratic sheriff and a rival to both Virgil and Wyatt, has been protecting the cowboys because they use the cowboys for various election fraud things and they look the other way at their cattle stealing activities. They don't care about that.

So Behan says, well I've disarmed them. And Virgil relaxes his grip on his gun. Wyatt keeps his hand on his gun which is in his pocket. They walk into the lot and lo and behold at least two of the cowboys have guns -- side arms. And in defiance of town law, by the way. The Earps were strict gun-control advocates.

A third cowboy, one of the McLaury Brothers, has his hands on a Winchester rifle on the saddle of his horse. And we're not sure if anyone else had a gun there, but Virgil holds up the cane and says, "I've come to disarm you. Throw up your hands."

They hear a "click click" of guns. No one knows who fired first. Cowboy witnesses say it was the Earps who had just walked in and murdered the cowboys. Virgil and Wyatt said, no, the cowboys went for their guns first. Neutral witnesses, if you look at the transcript of the fight, support the Earp testimony -- invariably support the Earp testimony.

And in fact, at least one of the cowboys went for his gun first. In any event, the fight became general. Within 27 seconds, by one estimate, everybody in the fight except Ike Clanton who ran, was wounded or dead except Wyatt Earp. He was the only one not touched by a bullet. A pretty good way to start a legend, by the way.

GROSS: Let's take a look at how the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was portrayed in the movie "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," which starred Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. In this scene, the Earps and Doc Holliday are walking to the O.K. Corral to confront the cowboys -- the bad guys -- the Clantons.

And the scene opens with the sheriff asking them to leave their guns behind. When they refuse, the sheriff goes to the Clantons to warn them that the Earps are coming. So here's that scene starting with the sheriff speaking.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SCENE FROM THE FILM "GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Ike wants to talk to you alone. He's unarmed.

KIRK DOUGLAS, ACTOR, PORTRAYING DOC HOLLIDAY: Wait a minute, Wyatt. Kate told me about the killing of your brother. It was the Clantons all right. And you were in on it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I had nothing to do with it. Get back where you belong.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Believe me, Wyatt.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: They're coming. They got Doc Holliday with them.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Holliday, huh? Cotton, you get over with the horses.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Ike, I can't take this kind of gunfight anymore. Let me out.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Unintelligible)

GROSS: That's a scene from "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." Allen Barra is the author of the new book, "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

Allen Barra, how did this -- how did this is scene shape the legend? Was this an important movie in creating the legend of the gunfight?

BARRA: Oh, definitely. It was the first movie where they actually used the phrase "gunfight at the O.K. Corral." It was generally called the "street fight in Tombstone" before that. Although I think Walter Brennan, in "My Darling Clementine," did say, "we'll see you tomorrow at the showdown at the O.K. Corral."

They used the phrase there. In the first movie -- Earp movie -- 1932 -- "Law and Order." Walter Houston confronted the bad guys at the O.K. Barn. I don't know how they got that wrong. But "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" put the term right into American lexicon.

And actually there are a couple of things about that scene that are correct.

GROSS: Well, was the sheriff in on it like the scene implies?

BARRA: Well, you simplify things for Hollywood. It's almost certain that John Behan was associated with the cowboys. But he had no reason to want a gunfight to occur that day. And probably did try and stop it.

He did go to the Earps and say, "I've been down there to disarm them." He didn't say he actually disarmed them because apparently he tried and couldn't. Then apparently he did go back and say something to the cowboys who still would not give up their guns.

So Behan was crooked, yes. He was not openly associated with the group which, by the way, was not led by Ike Clanton, who once the fight actually started screamed for mercy. He ran up to Wyatt and said, "Wyatt, Wyatt, I've got no gun."

And Earp looked down at him and said -- he was on his knees in front of him and he said, "Ike, this fight has commenced. Get to fighting or get away." And my God, he ran right across Tombstone -- across half the town.

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross, speaking with Allen Barra. He is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends." We'll continue after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Allen Barra. He's written a new book on the legend of Wyatt Earp.

GROSS: Let's hear a scene from another movie. A more recent movie about Wyatt Earp. And this is from the movie "Tombstone" which starred Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp.

And in this scene, the mayor is telling them that the bad guys -- the cowboys -- are waiting for them at the O.K. Corral. Virgil wants to confront them and disarm them, but Wyatt doesn't want to get into a fight. In the meantime, we'll hear Doc Holliday coming by and Doc Holliday wants to join in the fight with the Earps. So here's the scene from "Tombstone."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SCENE FROM THE FILM "TOMBSTONE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The cowboys are telling everybody in town they're going to clean you out.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: They're back there in that lot behind the O.K. Corral.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Thank you, mayor.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What are doing out of bed, Doc?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What in the hell's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (unintelligible) and these Clanton's and McLaury's are gunning for us.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Are we going down there, Doc? What are we going to do.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Wait til the liquor wears off. As soon as they start getting headaches they'll lose interest.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Lose interest, hell. They're threatening our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You'll never make that stick.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: They're carrying guns, Wyatt.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: For Christ's sake, Virg. That's a misdemeanor. You go down there and arrest them. If something goes wrong, maybe this time somebody really gets his head broken. We'll have cowboys coming around looking for trouble from here to Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You want to risk all that over a misdemeanor?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Damn right I'll risk it. They're breaking the law.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It's not your problem, Doc. You don't have to mix up in this.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: That is a hell of a thing for you to say to me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: All right, Virg. You go on. You've got the shotgun. They'll be less (unintelligible).

GROSS: A scene from "Tombstone." And by the way, we heard Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp. Well, does this scene sound accurate to you, Allen Barra?

BARRA: It's much closer. It's the closest thing to reality. Except that on the day of the fight Wyatt Earp was pretty wound up. He had been reluctant to actually get into any kind of gunfight prior to that. Probably, at the time of the fight, he was a little more anxious to get it on than Kurt Russell portrayed in that scene.

Nonetheless, Sam Elliott as Virgil was absolutely right. Virgil was in charge. He did everything he could to avoid a confrontation, but he was not going to let the cowboys walk around town carrying guns and threatening their lives in full view of the populace.

The Doc Holliday scene apparently actually happened. There's no way I think they could have kept Doc Holliday out of the fight. Virgil Earp did deputize him, or so he said. But probably the idea of giving Doc Holliday the shotgun was to cover their flank.

Also, Doc had a long coat on and he could hide it under the coat which wouldn't antagonize the cowboys. So Virgil took Doc's cane and walked into the lot with the cane in his hand thinking that would end the fight. It didn't. Anyway, that's a fairly accurate rendition.

And one other thing they had right in the movie is the Earps made that famous O.K. Corral walk. How many times has that been done in movies? Twenty times, maybe. Two dozen times. Many many people actually saw them and watched them along the way. Tombstone was a big town -- thousands of people there -- and by this time a lot of people knew what was going to happen.

GROSS: Now how did the story first get spread about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral? How was it reported in the press? Was there newspaper coverage?

BARRA: The media coverage was highly favorable to the Earps even by the papers that were not favorable to them. The local pro Earp paper, which was also run by Mr. Clum (ph), the mayor in that scene by the way. I think he was played by Terry O'Quinn (ph). Was favorable to the Earps, but so was the local Democratic paper, "The Nugget."

However, quickly, after that Democratic papers all over the territory began portraying the Earps in a bad light. Here was a chance for them to make a real political statement. The sheriff, Ike Clanton and the others immediately saw to it that the Earps were brought in for inquest in preparation for trial on an accusation of murder.

They were thoroughly exonerated in that. But here's an important change that Hollywood made in the story -- up to "Tombstone," rather. I'm talking about the earlier movies -- "Law and Order," "My Darling Clementine," "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral."

In the early movies one of Wyatt's brothers is shot and in revenge -- retaliation for it -- the gunfight comes about. In actual life it happened the other way around. They had the gunfight in back of the O.K. Corral and the retaliation for that -- Wyatt's brothers were ambushed. Morgan was murdered, Virgil was crippled.

Then came the truly controversial part of Wyatt Earp's life, along with Doc Holliday and a couple of friends and deputies, he got warrants for the cowboys that were presumed to be the killers; went out and looked for them and shot them all. Nobody came back alive.

That is the truly controversial part of Earp's life, and that's the part they leave out of the movies. Well, among others that's one part that's left out.

GROSS: And what's controversial about that? That he took into his own hands?

BARRA: Essentially, yes. Although we're not absolutely certain that's what happened. That's because there were no witnesses to a couple of those killings. But in Earp's favor you would say, well, those were the people that were believed to be responsible.

He did have warrants. Perhaps they resisted arrest. We don't know for certain. We do know that he shot a former deputy of John Behan's at the train station in Tucson. What the deputy was doing there, Frank Stilwell (ph), we don't know. I assumed he was there to try and murder one of the Earp brothers.

But no one can say for certain. All they know is they found his body the next day, and there was a murder warrant, I believe, still out there for Wyatt Earp to this day.

GROSS: If you could choose any one thing that actually spread the legend of the O.K. Corral what would it be? The newspaper reports or word-of-mouth? What was it?

BARRA: Oddly enough, what really made Earp controversial was the vendetta ride which came after the O.K. Corral. That legend was spread by a man named Stuart Lake, who was a former press secretary for Teddy Roosevelt. A friend of Bat Masterson's, who of course was Wyatt's great friend in Dodge City. And eventually Wyatt's biographer.

Although the biography he worked on with him was one that Wyatt scarcely contributed anything to since Wyatt died six months after they began. The book was published in 1931. It was called "Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal."

It portrayed Wyatt in, let's say, too good a light. It left out a lot of inconsistencies in the man and a lot of -- almost all the controversy. But Lake went to Hollywood and sold the story a number of different ways and was happy to turn the story around to make it even more anti-septic for the movies.

And that of course evolved into the television show in the '50s and the more popular movies and the image of Wyatt Earp as shinning knight.

GROSS: Hold it right there. Let's get to the TV show from the '50s, "Wyatt Earp," in which Hugh O'Brien played Wyatt Earp. And this is a "lawman" show. In fact, let's hear the theme from "Wyatt Earp."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- THEME MUSIC FROM THE TELEVISION SERIES "WYATT EARP")

Wyatt Earp Wyatt Earp
Brave courageous and bold
Long live his fate
And long live his glory

And long may his story be told
Well he cleaned up the country
The old wild West country
He made law and order prevail

And none can deny him
A legend of Wyatt forever
Will live on the trail
Wyatt Earp Wyatt Earp

GROSS: That's the theme from the TV show "Wyatt Earp." And my guest Allen Barra is the author of the book "Inventing Wyatt Earp."

So Allen Barra, did Wyatt Earp, as the theme lyrics say, "cleanup the country and make law and order prevail?"

BARRA: Well, he did his darndest. The answer is no. He did a great deal of good work in Wichita and Dodge City. When he left Tombstone he had a murder warrant out for him for having killed a man accused of killing his brother. And Tombstone was a mess.

But you can't really blame Earp for that. I can't. I think after looking at the record closely, he did is very best. And the song was right. He was brave, courageous and bold. And what I'm finding is that on the whole there is something -- there's a hard nugget of truth in almost every wild story or legend told about Wyatt Earp.

BIANCULLI: Allen Barra, speaking with Terry Gross. Barra has a new book on the legend of Wyatt Earp. The interview continues after one minute.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Allen Barra, the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

GROSS: Wyatt Earp's legend has long outlived Wyatt Earp. Did he have a role in creating the legend? I know that he did some work in Hollywood before dying in what? 1926?

BARRA: 1929, actually.

GROSS: 1929. Did he consult on any Western films?

BARRA: That's an interesting story. And to me it is the truly fascinating part of the story. If you're interested in how the folk process evolves, as I say in my book, you can't -- we can't really know now how Robin Hood or whoever it was -- what they call Robin Hood-- became Robin Hood.

But in Wyatt Earp you can see something of the myth making process at work. Because he starts out in conditions out on the buffalo hunting plains that are so primitive there's no newspapers. Nothing but oral tradition to carry the story along.

Very little newspaper accounts of him in the cowtowns because the town fathers don't want these kinds of clashes publicized. Most of the accounts we have are oral -- people that saw him in action. Then Earp lives long enough to go to Hollywood. Make friends out there, and influence his own image on the screen.

He became friends with Harry Caray, Sr. (ph), Tom Mix, William S. Hart all of whom helped to get him in bit parts in movies. He was in William S. Hart's, Wild Bill Hikock movie, we think, as a stand in. William S. Hart tried to help Wyatt sell his autobiography to the movies -- his early attempt at an autobiography.

And he also knew a young aspiring filmmaker by the name of John Ford. We all know, of course, that Ford later directed two movies with Wyatt Earp as a character. One, "My Darling Clementine" which we call a pro Earp movie. And later on "Cheyenne Autumn," with James Stewart. Henry Fonda played him in "My Darling Clemnentine."

And James Stewart in "Cheyenne Autumn," which is largely a negative portrayal of Wyatt and reflected his image -- how his image had gone downhill in the 1960s. So yes, you have to say Wyatt -- the reason we remember him today, one of the reasons, is that he was the only old West legend to live long enough to influence his own portrayal on the movie screen.

GROSS: Do you know if it was important to him to be a legend?

BARRA: No. Actually, I was surprised at this because I had sort of grown up with, let's say, the anti-Earp story over the years. And was used to reading in the Time-Life series on the old West and anthologies -- you know, coffee table books.

That Earp was a self promoter who glorified himself. All one has to do is read his book, "Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal" to see that. But it turned out that in fact Wyatt didn't write "Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal." Stuart S. Lake wrote it and put most of it in Wyatt's mouth after he died.

Almost the whole book is first person. And Earp dictated nothing to Stuart Lake. Essentially, that book is a very entertaining novel with some hard nuggets. Some very good historical research in it. But as far as the self glorifying part, Earp had nothing to do with that at all.

Second, as far as the movies go Wyatt really did -- wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life less -- late in life. Early in his life, after Tombstone, he was an adventurer. He ran all over the West with his very beautiful wife Josephine Sarah Marcus.

She was a Jewish girl from New York. Her family moved to San Francisco. She went to Tombstone as an actress with the Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. She was the mistress of Wyatt's political rival, John Behan in Tombstone. And afterwards she meets Wyatt again in San Francisco and they're together for 47 years.

And they were all over the West. But Wyatt never lived down the gunfight in Tombstone and the subsequent vendetta ride. And he tried hard. Wyatt was not a self publicist. What he reacted to in his later years were numerous magazine and newspaper stories, and eventually books, that were written by journalists and people in Tombstone. They were unfavorable to him.

He probably would have died in obscurity, and happily died in obscurity, if it hadn't have been for his enemies who kept his legend alive.

GROSS: Well Allen Barra, I want to thank you very much for talking with us about Wyatt Earp.

BARRA: It's been wonderful to be here.

BIANCULLI: Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends." He Spoke with Terry Gross.

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Allen Barra
High: Terry Gross talks with writer Allen Barra, the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends." It tells the story of the famous lawman and the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Barra is a sports columnist for the "Wall Street Journal."
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Wyatt Earp; Allen Barra

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Allen Barra
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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