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Airs Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Wyatt Earp in mid-1870s, wearing a business suit.

Credit: Courtesy The Craig Fouts Collection

Above: Wyatt Earp in mid-1870s, wearing a business suit.

He has been portrayed in countless movies and television shows by some of Hollywood's greatest actors, including Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and more recently, Kevin Costner, but these popular fictions belie the complexities and flaws of a man whose life is a lens on politics, justice and economic opportunity in the American frontier.

As a young man, Wyatt Earp was a caricature of the Western lawman, spending his days drinking in saloons, gambling, visiting brothels and gaining notoriety as the legendary gunman in the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.

But shortly after his death in 1929, distressed Americans down on their luck transformed Wyatt Earp into a folk hero: a central figure in the American narrative of how the west was won as a man who took control of his own destiny.

View a photo gallery and a timeline of Earp's life online.

American Experience: Wyatt Earp

Celebrated as a man who took control of his own destiny, Wyatt Earp came to epitomize the town-taming marshal responsible for bringing the forces of law, order and civilization to the Wild West.

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