The American Southwest created numerous legendary names, and one of the biggest continues to be John Henry “Doc” Holliday. The dentist who became a gambler, gunman, lawman and—arguably—an outlaw carries a special connection to Arizona, thanks to the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone.
While that particular fight—and the news reports, books and movies that retell and dramatize it—made him a legend, not many people know much about Doc Holliday the man.
For example, you might not expect him to utter this line: "The secret to survival in a town like Dodge is to keep your back to the wall, an eye on the door and an ear open for the unexpected. Whenever I hear gunfire, I am flat on the floor. Since I left George, I have become intimate with a lot of floors.”
Revealing the true historical person behind the legend is the purpose of the play “The Gentleman Doc Holliday,” from Wyatt and Terry Earp.
Wyatt Earp happens to be the great-nephew of the Wyatt Earp, another legendary name from the O.K. Corral and a close friend of Holliday. In 1996, playwright—and Earp's wife—Terry Earp wrote a play titled “Wyatt Earp: A life on The Frontier.”
While originally meant for another actor, a scheduling conflict meant Wyatt Earp fortuitously ended up in the starring role. The play now boasts more than 720 performances around North America and an AriZoni Award.
From that success, Terry Earp wrote five more plays in “The Tombstone Saga,” including 1998's “The Gentleman Doc Holliday,” which will show at Higley Center for the Arts on Jan. 7.
Set in 1882, two months after Holliday and the historical Earp fled Arizona, the one-man show sees Doc Holliday stuck in a Colorado jail cell. A couple hours of protective custody turned into days, and he's not very happy.
To pass the time, he tells his life story to his fellow prisoners, played by the audience.
The show digs deep into Holliday's history and temperament to paint a more realistic portrait of the man. While writing the play, Terry Earp talk extensively with Holliday's closest living relative, Karen Holliday-Tanner, author of “Doc Holliday – A Family Portrait.”
Combine the historical accuracy with the polish that comes from hundreds of performances, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better window into the real life of an Arizona legend.