The biggest piece of fiction is not by fictional inclusion, but by historical omission in most versions of the story. Not until I Married Wyatt Earp in 1983 did many of us know there was any common law wives of Earp, omitting both Mattie Blaylock and Josephine Marcus.
This was mostly by the design of Josephine (also known as Josie and Sadie) who conjured up the narrative for Stuart N. Lake’s Wyatt Earp biography in 1931, two years after Wyatt’s death. It was then that Josie had the story white washed, more for her protection of a sordid past than her husband’s.
But Lake and Josie had a falling out due to the author taking some license of his own on the facts, and their association was terminated. Hollywood came a calling in 1934 and they bought the rights to Lake’s book, Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal, however Josie legally prevented Fox Studios from using the name of her husband. The film was retitled simply, Frontier Marshal and some scenes already filmed had to be reshot to rename the Marshal in a not so subtle change to Michael Wyatt.
When the film was remade in 1939, the studio was permitted to use ‘Wyatt Earp,’ but for some odd reason Doc Holliday is now Doc ‘Halliday,’ due to the fact that the Holliday family had not given studio permission to use the exact name.
Stuart N. Lakes book was later found to be totally apocryphal, but both he and Josie continued to get royalties from the book as well as film versions of the time. Of course Josie would embellish as well in her memoir I Married Wyatt Earp. Josephine Marcus died in 1944, two years before John Ford lensed his version of the story; this made it much easier for the studio and Ford to ‘name names.’ However there still remained no Mattie or Josie, instead replaced by Clementine Carter; and ‘Big Nose Kate’ was nowhere to be found for the Doc; her replacement was named Chihuahua (Linda Darnell).
Stuart N. Lake would continue to worm his way into the Americana when he became the consultant for the 1955 – 1961 television show, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp; all bases where covered adding ‘legend’ to the title, because it was more of Lake’s fictional world of Wyatt wrapped around some actual events. Hugh O’ Brien looked nothing like Wyatt, although the story goes he was cast due to his resemblance to the character. The moustache was gone – according to Hugh, the studio tried one one him but it didn’t look right – no TV cowboy hero would wear a moustache until Paladin on Have Gun Will Travel, the following year.
It was Lake’s version that added the Buntline Special, so that was a novelty that became a big part of the television show upon its introduction. Once again, Wyatt was a footloose single man who rarely had time for women and less time for alcohol or gambling; he also followed an oath never shoot to kill, just wound – that flew out the window as time went on.
As a matter of fact, although this version of Wyatt Earp is considered one of the first ‘adult western’ I dispute that somewhat, in that just like Roy, Gene, and the Lone Ranger he never smoked, drank, gambled, or messed around with women.
The show was unusual in one aspect that the stories that were presented created a pattern of Wyatt’s life (as a bachelor however) in linear fashion starting with his time in Kansas and ending with the gunfight and trial in Tombstone. The show ended in 1961, three years before Stuart N. Lake passed away. away.