For the past 16 years, Wyatt Earp, the great-grandnephew of one of the most familiar names of the West, has portrayed his famous relative in one-man plays.
Sunday, Earp, who lives in north Phoenix, will near his 700th performance of the act. He will perform “Wyatt Earp: A Life on the Frontier” at Chandler Center for the Arts. A performance follows Feb. 7 at Higley Center for the Performing Arts.
The play is part of the Tombstone Saga, a series of six historic bio-dramas written by Earp’s wife, award-winning playwright Terry Tafoya Earp.
Set in the 1920s, an elderly Wyatt Earp tells, from his Los Angeles apartment a year before his death, of his adventures during the final days of the American frontier, from Arizona to Alaska.
Today’s Earp, 66, says he never spoke with any of his relatives who actually knew his famous relative, but he has met a number of reputable historians and authors who wrote about him.
A lawman and gunfighter who lived 1848-1929, Wyatt Earp was considered a heroic figure of the American West, symbolizing the romance and violence that came with it. By his late 20s, he had been a wagoner, a stagecoach driver, buffalo hunter and peace officer throughout the West. He also gained the reputation of being a gambler and a gunfighter, taking part in the famed shootout at the OK Corral on Oct. 26, 1881, in Tombstone.
Terry originally wrote the Tombstone Saga for actor Hugh O’Brien, who starred in the 1950s television series “Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.”
The last play of the series was written in 2006, just before she was critically injured when struck by a car while riding her bicycle. She returned to the stage in 2008 and continues to write and perform from a wheelchair, playing women of the West.
She and her husband remain a team. The Earps recently finished a new play, “Will Rogers: A Ropin’ Fool,” set to debut April 7 at the Capistrano Center For The Performing Arts in California.
Q: What spurred your interest in portraying Wyatt Earp?
A (Wyatt): An actor named Hugh O’Brien had asked my wife to write a play based on the life of Wyatt Earp. He loved it, but he never performed it. The play was 41 pages and told all about the life of Wyatt Earp, so the play was turned over to me, and I decided to play him.
Q: Who provided you the most helpful information when it comes to portraying him on the stage?
A (Wyatt): My wife. The research that Terry did.
Q: When you perform as Wyatt Earp, legend of the West, what do you most want to project?
A (Wyatt): His humanity. A lot of people saw him as a black-and-white person, but he had a lot of humanity in him. He was a man of his time. He spent a lot of his time on the frontier, which bred success stories, but a large criminal element. He had a love of children, something a lot of people didn’t know about, but which will be brought out in the play. And a whimsical nature and point of view. Also, his love of family. It’s one thing to examine history in a textbook, but to experience it through the people who lived it is more entertaining. People get to hear the story Hollywood never told.
Q: When Wyatt is no longer able to portray Wyatt Earp, who will continue doing so?
A (Terry): I have nobody in mind right now, but I’m hoping it will be a member of the Earp family.
Q: Has the success of your husband portraying Wyatt Earp surprised you?”
A (Terry): Totally. It surprises me that people still are interested in him and the Wild West.
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