Before there were contestants on reality shows to satisfy the public's interest in scoundrels and rascals, real-life outlaws often filled the void. Probably the most enduring name to come out of the Wild West's annals of villains and scalawags was young Billy the Kid, akaWilliam Bonney born William McCarty on Nov. 23, 1859. Hundreds of volumes of history have been written about the life and career of Billy, who was either a misunderstood and carefree youth whose reputation is far worse than his record, or a cold-blooded killer of dozens who deserved to be shot down like a mad dog. Most likely something in between, but what a fertile subject he has been for popular culture over the years.
So many TV shows chronicled his exploits -- check out even a probably incomplete list of productions with Billy the Kid as a character here on IMDb -- that it's too daunting to begin a full appraisal, but let's take a closer look at a few anyway. Here's an episode from the nearly forgotten TV western series Stories of the Century starring Jim Davis, in "Billy the Kid" from early 1954:
I'm going to delve into my own past for a moment and tout the also nearly forgotten TV Movie produced by TNT when they would occasionally make really good and interesting movies (especially Westerns which of course were immensely popular but pooh-poohed by higher-ups looking for young demos...which is the same story given just recently for shake-ups over there; some things never change). In 1989 they approached author Gore Vidal who had already written -- not entirely to his satisfaction -- the haunting theatrical (originally a live TV production) film about Billy the Kid The Left-Handed Gun starring Paul Newman. This time Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid starred a post-Top Gun but pre-The Doors Val Kilmer -- some sweet spot, that -- along with Michael Parks, Wilford Brimley and Duncan Regehr as Pat Garrett.
Everybody looks terrific in the movie, the plotline is compelling and inescapable, and it has a beautiful musical score with a particularly powerful main theme by composer Laurence Rosenthal. Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid has unfortunately slipped completely under the radar but luckily somebody has posted it on YouTube:
Here's the trailer to the motion picture The Left-Handed Gun from 1958:
PBS made an excellent documentary on Billy the Kid; here's the preview and the whole documentary is available by clicking here.
When the invaluable C-SPAN visited New Mexico, we got to see an extremely rare Billy the Kid artifact:
And here's a taste of what Comedy Central does (hilariously) to Billy the Kid on Drunk History:
133 years later and we still haven't forgotten Billy the Kid.