Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Cowboy actor vs real western bad man

Cowboy actor vs real western bad man

Feb. 9, 1957:  Television’s Wyatt Earp, actor Hugh O’Brian, on left, and Al Jennings, onetime western bad man, draw guns for Los Angeles Times staff photographer Al Markado. O’Brian won, but Jennings, at 93, had the experience to make the shot count – if he needed too.

Times staff writer Norman Dash reported:

TARZANA–A 93-year-old “bad man.” who was once allegedly the fastest man with a gun in the West, met up with television’s Wyatt Earp and immediately went for his clippings, memories and tales of the Old West at his modern-day hide-out in Tarzana.

Al Jennings, last of the real shoot-’em-up gun slingers, can talk for hours about such men as the original Wyatt Earp, the Daltons, Jesse James, Doc Holiday and Bat Masterson–all men he has known.

“I won’t give ya a plugged nickel for today’s crop of television’s western heroes,” Jennings told Hugh O’Brian, who plays Earp. He reached for a gun that O’Brian gave him to look at.

The small, wiry, white haired former desperado, not much taller than 5 feet, tried twirling Earp’s gun and finally gave it up because his once nimble fingers weren’t what they used to be.

Finally he snorted, looked at the blank TV screen and confided to O’Brian: “These television heroes are no good at all!. They’re certainly not as good with a gun as the men in my day. It’s a joke!”

Jennings should know what he’s talking about. His trail leads back to train and bank robbing feats, five years in the penitentiary at Columbus, OH., a parole by President McKinley and a pardon from President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907.

“Now let me tell ya,” he continued, “On television they’re always hitting the cap of the gun and fanning it real fast so it looks good.”

“I always aim before I shoot,” OBrian answered.

“Why, that’s right!” Jennings said. “A man couldn’t hit a flock of barns shooting the way most of them movie gunmen do. He’d be jerking the gun so much that he wouldn’t be able to aim at anything.”

The above photo by photographer Al Markado was published on Mar. 10, 1957, with Dash’s story in the San Fernando Valley section of the Los Angeles Times.

Jennings passed away in 1961. His Times obituary published on Dec. 27, 1961 reported:

Al Jennings, said to have been one of the most feared of the bad men in the blazing youth of the Southwest, died at 97 Tuesday with his boots off….

Jennings was an admitted bank robber, train robber and cattle thief of the 1880s, and was said to have been acquainted with some of the marshals and badmen whose names still live in western legend.

“Some of the finest men I ever knew were horse thieves,” Jennings once said.

During the O’Brian – Jennings shootout, neighbors called the police. This photo, bottom, showed up in the Times library.

Feb. 9, 1957: Days of Old West came to life as Officers Ken Melbie, on left, and Morrie Henkin call at Tarzana home of Al Jennings, 93, the “last of the badmen.” Jennings was showing Hugh O’Brian, TV’s Wyatt Earp, how Colts were handled in the old days when neighbors became alarmed, called police.  (Original published caption) Credit: Los Angeles Times

Middle photo: 1945 portrait of Al Jennings. credit: Harmon D. Toy/Los Angeles Times


  1. September 28, 2011, 10:55 am

    For a brief time, the Cowboy & Indian world of fiction and fact overlapped in early Hollywood. Even the real life Wyatt Earp lived in Los Angeles for a period and worked as a movie western advisor.

    By: Arye Michael Bender
  2. September 29, 2011, 5:58 am

    […] Quote of the day. “Now let me tell ya,” he continued, “On television they’re always hitting the cap of the gun… […]

  3. March 4, 2013, 3:47 pm

    nice to see o brian taking to Al, some people dont want to know or talk to the old ones but they /we know quite a lot . in the army we were told to aim low as the bullit comes out it brings the gun up, you sure cant fan a gun, a old .45 would more or less break your wrist and you would not hit a barn at 20 feet
    John Harper


Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.


Required, will not be published

Browse All Photos »