WYATT EARP & JOSIE MARCUS: A FIFTY-YEAR WILD WEST AFFAIR
BY VIRGINIA CAMPBELL
When legendary lawman Wyatt Earp first met Josephine Marcus, she was engaged to Johnny Behan, who was also a lawman and Earp's political rival in Tombstone, Arizona. When Behan betrayed Josie with another woman, she ended their relationship and later became involved with Wyatt. The affair with Josie, whom Wyatt called "Sadie", ended his own common law marriage. His wife, Mattie, had struggled with opium addiction and later died of an overdose. Josie was an actress, singer, and dancer who sometimes entertained the crowd while Wyatt played cards in the famous Bird Cage Theatre, which opened its doors on December 25, 1881. For the next eight years those doors would never close, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The events of October, 1881 would forever change the lives of the Earps and those in their immediate circle. Wyatt was a local lawman at the time in Tombstone and his biggest challenge was the Clanton family, who ran a rustling empire under the protection of Johnny Behan. The tense conflicts between the Clantons and the Earps violently erupted at the OK Corral, where a deadly shootout occurred. In less than one minute, Frank and Tom McLowery along with Bill Clanton were killed and 3 of Earp's men -- Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were wounded. Following the shootout, Earp swore a vendetta after his brother Morgan was killed. Once the hunter of the lawless, Wyatt himself was now was on the wrong side of the law. Josie Marcus returned to her home area of San Francisco to wait for word from Wyatt.
In 1882, Wyatt and his "Sadie" were reunited. Wyatt and Josephine stayed together another 48 years until Wyatt's death in 1929. Josie died fifteen years later, and they are buried side by side at the Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Colma, California. During their married years, Wyatt and Josephine moved frequently around the American West, following gold, silver, and copper mining, until they settled in Southern California. There, they invested in real estate and racehorses, wrote Wyatt's autobiography, and drafted a screenplay based on his exploits. Wyatt served as a After Wyatt's death, Josephine contributed to published and film portrayals of Wyatt's life, helping to establish an enduring American legend. Her "fact or fiction" memoir, I Married Wyatt Earp , later became the basis for film and stage productions.
Wyatt Earp is someone who vividly illustrates the radical changes to industry and social mores in the America of the late 1800s and early 20th century. If you are interested in Western lore, his life is more amazing than any fictional law and order tale! After his well-documented career as a "peace-keeper" ended, Earp eventually moved to Hollywood, where he met several famous and "soon to be famous actors" on the sets of various movies. On the set of one movie, he met a young extra and prop man who would eventually become John Wayne. Wayne later stated that he based his image of the Western lawman on his conversations with Earp. In the early 1920s, Earp served as deputy sheriff in a mostly ceremonial position in San Bernardino County, California. His 80 year life-span covered amazing changes in industry and technology, social reform and entertainment.
The movie Tombstone, is a terrific film and features an amazing, revelatory performance by Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp. The stellar supporting cast includes Dana Delaney as Josie Marcus, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp, and (the love of my life) Sam Elliott as Virgil Earp.
In addition to depicting the closeness of the Earp family, and the violent and turbulent times of the Old West, the film also highlights the romance between Wyatt and Josie, and the enduring friendship of Wyatt and Doc Holliday.
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