History Features

Wyatt Earp Mystery Car

Just when you thought there was nothing new to know about the infamous frontier marshal.

One photo has always intrigued me. It shows the legendary Wyatt Earp standing next to a fancy car in the 1920s. Although several websites claim the car was Earp’s, I find that to be highly doubtful.

As you will read in this issue, Earp was friends with two of the biggest Western stars in Hollywood: Tom Mix and William S. Hart. Both actors were fans of Earp and, according to Hart’s son, his father had photos taken with Earp, although those photos were lost. We do know Hart often hired a photographer, or had a studio photographer accompany him; there are numerous photos of the actor with Western movie stars and celebrities like artist Charlie Russell and frontier marshal-turned-newspaperman Bat Masterson (see photo on p. 36).

Car enthusiast Anthony Martin of Riverside, California, tells me he believes the car is a 1926 Packard Model 326 “Opera Coupe.” He adds, “Tom Mix’s taste ran to flash—he owned several big open Cadillac Tourers that were somewhat tricked out, and Hart tended to quieter, more dignified taste, favoring Packards. I believe this most likely to have been Hart’s. Really, their difference in car taste is rather like (and consistent with) their difference in screen persona and presentation!”

It is true J.B. Judkins, who built car bodies for Packard and other automobile makers in the 1920s, custom built a Model 38 Pierce-Arrow Club Coupe for Mix in 1926. And although the Pierce-Arrow resembles the Packard, based on the hubcap (see inset), the car Wyatt is standing next to is a Packard. If I had to bet, I would say the luxury car belonged to movie star Hart and not Earp (Packards sold for up to $2,900, while a Model T sold for under $300).

Incredibly, the groundbreaking coverage of Earp in this issue is just the tip of the iceberg regarding Wyatt’s years in Los Angeles and his connections (or lack thereof) in the movie business. We are busy working on a full-length book with the working title: Wyatt Earp in Hollywood: The Untold Story.

As part of this project, I will  also be going on the road, giving a PowerPoint presentation of this incredible story. First up, on August 18, you can see Paul Andrew Hutton and me at the first annual True West Railfest in Durango, Colorado, at the Strater Hotel. Stay tuned for more dates to follow

For a behind-the-scenes look at running this magazine, check out BBB’s daily blog at TWMag.com

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