Wild Bill Hickok is a 1923 American Western silent film directed by Clifford Smith, and written by William S. Hart and J.G. Hawks. It stars William S. Hart, Ethel Grey Terry, Kathleen O'Connor, James Farley, Jack Gardner, Carl Gerard and William Dyer. The film was released on November 18, 1923, by Paramount Pictures. It was the first film to depict Wyatt Earp, although in a very brief role, and the only film made before he died in 1929 that included his character, until Law and Order was released in 1932. A print of the film exists in the Museum of Modern Art film archive.
After the America Civil War ends, key military and government leaders meet in Washington D.C. Gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok (William Hart) goes to Dodge City where he hangs up his gun belt and takes over a card table. Local lawmen are unable to rid the town of lawless cowboys. Hickok's arch-enemy and gang leader Jack McQueen (Jim Farley) accuses Hickok of losing his nerve. Hickok visits General Custer and retrieves his sword, taking up his role as a fighter for what is right.
He returns to Dodge City and enlists the help of friends Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Charlie Bassett, Luke Short and Bill Tilghman to chase the bad guys out of town. Hickcok falls for the wife of George Hamilton (Carl Gerard). Pursued for his crimes, McQueen leaves town and gets away; follows him and kills him. Hickok departs Dodge City in sorrow since the woman he loved was already married.
William S. Hart, who played Wild Bill Hickok, and Wyatt Earp were best friends. Earp wanted Hart's help to make a movie that would improve what the public thought about him and his brothers. Based on what the press wrote about his actions at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and his job as a referee of the Fitzsimmons vs. Sharkey boxing match, Earp had a dubious reputation. Earp wrote Hart in July 1925: “I am sure that if the story were exploited on the screen by you, it would do much towards setting me right before the public which has always been fed up with lies about me.”
Bert Lindley playing Wyatt Earp appeared very briefly in a crowd scene. This was the first movie that depicted Wyatt Earp, and the only one that included his character before he died in 1929. Hollywood didn't make another film that referenced his character until Law and Order in 1932.
The film premiered in New York city on November 18, two weeks before its public release on December 3, 1923.
Despite his very small role, Earp was prominently featured in the promotional copy as "Deputy Sheriff to Bat Masterson of Dodge City, known as one of the three greatest gun-men that ever lived, along with Bat Masterson and 'Wild Bill' Hickok... Back in the days when the West was young and wild, 'Wild Bill' fought and loved and adventured with such famous frontiersmen as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp."
In reality, Earp was a virtually unknown assistant marshal in Dodge City when Wild Bill Hickok was murdered in 1876.
Earp served as a technical adviser on the film. Because the role of Earp's character in the movie is so small, Bert Lindley is not listed on some descriptions of the movie and this portrayal of Earp is often overlooked. Alan Barra, author of Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends, overlooked this movie in his biography.
Hart thought a great deal of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, and after Masterson's death in 1921, dedicated his next movie, Wild Bill Hickok to Masterson.
The film was not well received. One reviewer described it as "rather dull and tedious." The film's poor box office draw helped end Hart's already fading star.William S. Hart as Wild Bill Hickok
Ethel Grey Terry as Calamity Jane
Kathleen O'Connor as Elaine Hamilton
James Farley as Jack McQueen
Jack Gardner as Bat Masterson
Carl Gerard as Clayton Hamilton
William Dyer as Col. Horatio Higginbotham
Bert Sprotte as Bob Wright
Leo Willis as Joe McCord
Naida Carle as Fanny Kate
Herschel Mayall as Gambler