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The Law vs. Billy the Kid

The Law vs. Billy the Kid(1954)


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Although John T. Williams was given screen credit for the film's story and screenplay when the picture was initially released, according to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, John T. Williams was a pseudonym for Bernard Gordon, who was blacklisted by the motion picture industry in 1952. The Law vs. Billy the Kid was his first work after the blacklist. In correspondence with AMPAS, dated 1986, Gordon indicated that the film was based on a play by Janet and Philip Stevenson, who were also blacklisted. According to information in the Santa Fe Community Theater Collection at the Fray Anglico Chavez History Library in Santa Fe, NM, in 1933 the Santa Fe Players presented a theatrical play by Philip Stevenson titled Sure Fire, Episodes in the Life of Billy the Kid. However, it has not been determined if this was the basis for the film's screenplay. In modern interviews, Janet Stevenson and Gordon reported that The Law vs. Billy the Kid was based on an unproduced play by both Janet and Philip Stevenson. According to Gordon, the Stevensons prepared a synopsis of their play, which Gordon submitted as an original story under the joint name John T. Williams. Gordon stipulated that the corrected writing credits should read: Story by Janet and Philip Stevenson; screenplay by Bernard Gordon. According to an October 1997 Hollywood Reporter article, credits on eight films written by Gordon under pseudonyms, including The Law vs. Billy the Kid, were being properly listed by the Writers Guild of America.
       The real Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty (1859-1881) and later changed his name to William H. Bonney. As in the film, Bonney's life of crime was spent predominently in New Mexico; however, the story of Bonney working for an English-born cattleman was based on a legend that several films on the character have perpetuated. As mentioned in the film, Lew Wallace, governor of the New Mexico Territory (1878-1881), was also the author of the well-known novel and later film, Ben-Hur. For more information on the lives of William Bonney and Pat Garrett and the many films about them, please see the entry for M-G-M's 1941 film Billy the Kid and the entry for RKO's 1943 release The Outlaw in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.