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New PBS Special on Wyatt Earp

New PBS Special on Wyatt Earp


The story of Wyatt Earp and the shootout near the OK Corral has certainly been treated many times. Well, get ready for one more time. However, of interest to SASS members is the fact that several members of the Single Action Shooting Society were brought in to help with this production. The show AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: WYATT EARP will air on PBS Television at 9pm (check local listings) January 25, 2010.

The program was written, produced, and directed by New York filmmaker Rob Rapley who was involved in creating films for television including last years American Experience productions on Native American history. Rapley also wrote, produced, and directed the PBS film Buffalo Bill. PBS has also done Wild West biographies on Jesse James, Annie Oakley, and Kit Carson.

Director Rapley hired Jim Dunham (Kid Rio SASS# 2741) and Odis Flowers (TA Chance SASS # 4072) as firearms handlers for the filming of the gunfight and aftermath. A special ultra speed camera was used to create a super slow motion effect in which the projectiles can actually be seen exiting the muzzles of both Colt Peacemakers and double-barreled shotguns. Because the film people wanted to film live ball ammunition being fired, they contacted SASS personal to make sure it was a safe shoot. The shooting and filming was done on the same sets used for the filming of the movie Tombstone in Mescal, Arizona. This worked out fine for Odis and his wife Judy (Mist Chance SASS# 15392) who live in Tucson, but Dunham had to fly in from Atlanta, Georgia. A backstop of alfalfa hay bails three deep and three high was used for the firing, and of course the crew or anyone was not allowed anywhere downrange. Some very interesting special effects were used, especially to create the shooting of Morgan Earp the evening of March 18, 1882 through a glass window of Campbell and Hatch’s Tombstone billiard parlor. To make this scene work the shot was made through Hollywood breakaway glass (candy glass) using wax bullets of the kind used in Fast Draw competitions. Odis and Jim used their own guns and ammunition and the costumes were provided by nearby Old Tucson Studios.

Dunham was also used as an Old West history authority in the “talking head” section of the film and he shares time with a number of top Earp historians including Casey Tefertiller who wrote the fine Earp biography “Wyatt Earp, The Life Behind the Legend” John Wiley & Sons, 1997 and Gary Roberts who has written the definitive biography of Georgia dentist turned shootist, John Henry Holliday, “Doc Holliday, The Life and Legend” Wiley Press, 2006.

Since the early 1930s, beginning with Walter Huston in “Law and Order” through Kevin Costner in “Wyatt Earp,” the famous Tombstone street fight has been told mostly through the lens of myth. Our hope is this latest effort will bring us closer to the real story.

Jim Dunham
Director of Special Projects
Booth Western Art Museum

Cartersville, Georgia



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