John Wayne used to Fetch Wyatt Earp’s Coffee

Katie Vernon
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Photo by Max Pixel CCO

“Earp was the man who had actually done the things in his life that I was trying to do in a movie. I imitated his walk; I imitated his talk” – said the famous actor John Wayne.

American Western movies portray the early days of the expansion of the American frontier in late 19th century.

Inspired by real-life characters and events, directors such as Sergio Leone, John Ford, and Howard Hawks popularized the genre not only in the States but across the world. But there were real gunfights in the American West. And people often heard of stories and legends about cowboys, robbers, and lawmen.

Sergio Leone. Photo by Obbino CC BY 2.0

Those were the stories that inspired the movies, and the cowboys portrayed by actors. And there is no other character mentioned more often on television or in the movies than Wyatt Earp.

He was an interesting and very complex individual who not only inspired movie makers but also influenced the Western genre. He is probably the best-known lawman with an outlaw history.

Wyatt Earp at age 21.

He was born in 1848, in Monmouth, Illinois. By the age of 13, Earp had run away from home several times in order to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War, but each time, he was sent back because of his age.

According to the legends, he got involved in numerous gun fights but was never hit or injured. He loved the “ladies of the night,” so to say, and often lived in brothels.

Wyatt Earp, 1870s.

It is believed that one of his three wives used to work as a prostitute in a brothel.

In 1872, Earp was arrested three times for “keeping and being found in a house of ill-repute.” Another time, he was jailed for allegedly stealing horses along with two other men. Too impatient to wait for his trial, Earp escaped the jail through the roof.

The Northern, Wyatt Earp’s saloon in Tonopah, Nevada, c.1902. Josie Earp may be the woman on the horse at left.

He didn’t fancy drinking alcohol but ate ice cream almost every day. And there is a long list of things that Wyatt Earp did.

However, he achieved his iconic status after he participated in the gunfight at O.K. Corral, one of the most famous gunfights in American history.

John Wayne in Rio Bravo, 1959.

Earp spent his last years in Los Angeles where he worked as a technical advisor on several silent cowboy movies. He befriended many actors, among whom were Tom Mix and a 21-year-old Marion Morrison — who later changed his name to John Wayne.

John Wayne, 1961.

The famous lawman often entertained the people working on the set with tales of the Old West. Once he even drew a sketch of the gunfight at O.K Corral for the director John Ford, who later used it for the fight in his movie My Darling Clementine.

But it was John Wayne who mostly enjoyed Earp’s storytelling and fetched him cups of coffee while listening to his tales with gusto, using every detail he heard in his later famous portrayals of cowboys and lawmen. At the time though, his name was still Marion Morrison and he worked as a prop boy.

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Wyatt Earp died in 1929, at the age of 80, and Hollywood legend says John Wayne was one of his pallbearers. With the experiences and inspiration he received from Earp, Wayne went on to become one of the most popular actors of the 20th century.