Silver Screen Legends

Hugh O’Brian, Wyatt Earp And The Buntline Special.

By John Taffin

“Your wife just called and said to come home. You don’t need to hurry. You can take a shower and watch Wyatt Earp and then it will be time to go to the hospital. We’ll cover the line until the next shift guy comes in early. Go!” Well, even though she said not to hurry, I did and I did have time to shower and watch Wyatt Earp before we went to the hospital. This was over 50 years ago. Since that time, Wyatt Earp (actually Hugh O’Brian portraying Earp), reminds me of the night our daughter was born.

Wyatt Earp is still one of the most controversial Old West lawmen. Historians can’t seem to agree on whether he was the epitome of what an honest peace officer should be, or someone who wasn’t afraid to work both sides of the law if it suited his purposes. However, there was no doubt what O’Brian’s portrayal of Wyatt was intended to be. Doc Holliday often referred to him in the series as “Deacon Earp.” He was portrayed as an exceptionally virtuous and upright man.

O’Brian was extremely adept at handling his Colt Single Actions. This was a time when Fast Draw was being practiced all over the country and O’Brian was one of the best found on the silver screen or television. In the beginning episodes of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, O’Brian carried a pair of 4-3/4-inch blued and case-colored Colt SAA .45’s in Hollywood Fast Draw Holsters by Arvo Ojala.

Ojala had designed these holsters in the mid-1950’s to allow for extremely fast work from the holster with an SA sixgun. The holsters were metal lined, allowing the cylinder to be rotated as the hammer was cocked in the holster. This, of course, is extremely dangerous with live ammunition and only to be done with blanks such as they do in the movies.

Going back to the real Wyatt Earp we find journalist E. Z.

On screen (and in comic books), Hugh O’Brian portrayed Wyatt Earp in
1950’s era The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. The Colts are engraved by
Conrad Anderson, the double Hollywood-style Buscadero holster and belt
rig crafted by Jim Lockwood with carved buckles by Anderson. Ron Love
crafted and contributed the prop cartridges found on the belt all for
the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation Silver Screen Legend XX. Photo
courtesy Happy Trails Children’s Foundation

C. Judson—better known as Ned Buntline—purported to have presented five special Colt SAA .45’s with 12-inch barrels to five Dodge City lawmen—Wyatt Earp, Charlie Bassett, Neil Brown, Bill Tilghman and Bat Masterson. There are no factory records of these special Colts being offered, however, factory records are not always complete and there is no evidence to show they were not presented to the lawmen. Bat Masterson later said he had his barrel cut short for an easier draw while Wyatt said the long barrel never hampered him in the least when drawing from the leather. He claimed it was on the seat of a Model T in a ferryboat when both the Ford and Colt went down to a watery grave.

In the series, O’Brian introduced the Buntline Special as an integral part of the Earp legend. At the same time Colt began producing 2nd Generation Buntline Special .45 revolvers with 12-inch barrels. Just as with the sixgun used by O’Brian, these were blued and case-colored with walnut stocks. At first O’Brian used a homemade-looking leather holster made to hang somewhat lower for carrying the Buntline.

But it wasn’t long before Ojala crafted a holster with a longer shank for use in the rest of the series. O’Brian was very adept at drawing the long-barreled Colt from leather. There were many portrayals of Wyatt Earp before O’Brian made the portrayal his own, however, I don’t recall ever seeing any of the various actors portraying Earp using a Buntline Special. In movies, both James Garner and Burt Lancaster use standard- length Colts. Later in Tombstone, Kurt Russell did use a Buntline, however, it was not a genuine Colt but rather a replica and had a 10-inch barrel.

Jim Lockwood of Legends in Leather crafted the double Hollywood-style
Buscadero holster and belt rig. The prop cartridges are from Ron Love.
Photo: Happy Trails Children’s Foundation

Both guns are fully nickel-plated and feature Conrad Anderson
engraving. Photo: Happy Trails Children’s Foundation

Fast Forward

The Happy Trails Children’s Foundation came about because of the work of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Roy and Dale were heroes not only on the silver screen but in reality as well. In 1982 the Victor Valley Child Abuse Task Force was formed to help stop the ever-rising child abuse taking place in Southern California. In 1992 the name was changed to the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation to reflect the participation and support of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

The Cooper Home was built on the site of the Rogers property and a house donated and moved to the 40-acre Apple Valley site. The foundation now has offices, cottages, cafeteria and support buildings all to provide services to children. Like everything worthwhile, this endeavor takes money (via cash, check or credit cards). The foundation also accepts gifts of real estate and property. Of course, donations are tax deductible.

Each year the Foundation offers a special Silver Screen Legends set of sixguns and custom leather to raise funds. This began 20 years ago. Silver Screen Legends XX is dedicated to two men actually, Hugh O’Brian and Ned Buntline. The guns and rig consists of a pair of .45 Colt SAA’s. One is a 5-1/2-inch model, the other an authentic 12-inch Colt Buntline Special. Both have been engraved by Conrad Anderson and are fully nickel-plated (a real rarity in a Buntline Special) and fitted with ivory grips with Colt silver medallions inlaid in each panel.

The double Hollywood-style Buscadero holster and belt rig was crafted by Jim Lockwood of Legends in Leather and is also fitted with carved buckles by Anderson. Ron Love crafted and contributed the prop cartridges found on the belt. As Happy Trails Foundation says, “All of these men with their contributions to Silver Screen XX are a wonderful example of the American spirit known as the ‘Cowboy Way.’” This is indeed a fitting tribute to Hugh O’Brian and his portrayal of Wyatt Earp. O’Brian lived to be 91 years old passing in 2016, and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp still appears on the Western Channel daily.

This museum-quality cowboy collectible will be awarded to some very fortunate ticketholder on Saturday evening, December 16, 2017. Tickets are $10 each or 11 for $100. The winner need not be present to win and after the drawing will be notified by phone. Not only is this a most worthwhile charity function, The Foundation is the only known children’s charity in the country which actively supports shooting sports, gun ownership and the Second Amendment. They also maintain a strong partnership with shooters, collectors, organized shooting sports, firearms media and the firearms industry.

There are three ways to purchase tickets. (1) Order by phone toll-free at (855) 788-4440. (2) By mail to Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, SSL XX, 10755 Apple Valley Rd., Apple Valley CA 92308. (3) Online at www. happytrails.org. Whichever method you choose, Discover, MasterCard or VISA are accepted as well as personal checks. For further information, visit the website or call (760) 240-3330.

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