This is another one of those fondly-remembered TV westerns from my childhood: The Life and Legend (mostly legend) of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O’Brien.
These shows promoted “values”–moral and physical courage, uprightness, truth-telling–that aren’t cool anymore. Never mind that they sanitized the Old West and took liberties with history. People who didn’t understand that had a special name: children.
These shows were our national mythology. They presented an idealized picture of America–not as it really was, but as it ought to strive to be. So Hugh O’Brien played Wyatt Earp as a kind of plaster saint, which he most certainly was not.
Historians are divided on the merits of doing this. Livy would say “Oh, yeah, go for it!” But Snorri Sturlusson would say that such depictions of historical figures are “not praise, but mockery.”
But at least us kids in the 1950s knew there was such a person as Wyatt Earp, and that he lived in a time which was quite different from ours. Do schools teach that today? Not if they can help it!
If you want strict unvarnished truth in history, you have to turn to the Bible. You won’t find any plaster saints in there. Just ordinary people, some of them quite talented, others not so much, doing the best they could: and sometimes, by the grace of God, accomplishing something extraordinary.
As for me, having lived in both a time during which we had our national mythology, and in a time during which we don’t, I feel bound to say: having it was better.