Saturday, October 31, 2009


My aunt gave me another surprise the other day: the Summer 1944 issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES. In there is a story by my grandfather called "Terror in the Dust."

WILD WEST WEEKLY was gone by this point, the November 1943 issue being the magazine's last. My grandfather was trying to make a living at this point by selling to mainly Western pulps like WESTERN STORY and THRILLING RANCH STORIES. So it was a surprise seeing him in a non-Western pulp. But then again, he had started out in Weird Tales in 1925 and had some pretty good stories in that pulp, even making it on the cover (see my post from yesterday).

So here is my recap of the story, along with some excerpts from the story. I hope you enjoy it.

Dr. Kronk's experiment had been brilliantly successful and developments even more interesting, the doctor hoped, were yet to come.

The young professor, John Clarkson, had been dead and buried for more than a month, but small portions of his brain were still alive and healthy in the carefully controlled nutritive solution. Kronk had good reason to believe that other portions, infinitesimal in size, were living and functioning in the heads of some thousands of red ants.

Dr. Kronk is a neurologist on a tropical island with a fascinating experiment at hand. He has murdered his young colleague, professor John Clarkson, and taken his brain cells and transferred them to the cranial cavities of ants. He will soon be the talk of the scientific world, and even better, he will be able to sweep the beautiful zoologist, Jane Hawley, off of her feet when she arrives in a sea plane in a few days. Hawley is on an expedition, collecting rare animals from around the world.

John Clarkson was a distinguished myrmecologist - an expert in the branch of entomology treating with ant life - but he had valued his own life above research, and at the last he had pleaded and begged Kronk not to kill him.

But Kronk had shot him near the heart, then trephined through the skull with the rotary saw while Clarkson was still living.

Everything had been prepared and waiting. The neurologist had employed the instrument known as Fenger's needle, which had a slot on one side with razor-sharp edges. This, when rotated, cut slender cylinders from the brain cortex at the spots that Kronk had selected.

Clarkson hadn't suffered much - the brain itself is insensible to pain - and of course Kronk could not have risked an anesthetic in any case. He wanted the cells normal and not drugged with chloroform or ether.

Kronk is quite pleased with himself. The experiment seems to have been a success so far. Not many of the ant had died during the transplants. And he can already see a subtle different in the behavior of the ants.

There was much less aimless scurrying, not so much blundering, and communication between ants had speeded up.

Kronk later "liberated about fifty of the brain-treated queens," hoping that they would reproduce. Not only do they reproduce, but Kronk finds on a walk around the island later that, to his delight, the new brain power has been passed through the egg to the next ant generation.

Kronk, relaxed and happy, goes to bed, only to look up and find ants on the ceiling.

The ants on the ceiling had come in from the outside. He could see the chinks and holes where they were making their entrance. And they were young insects, the second generation. This had to be true, for there wee hundreds, possibly thousands of them.

A trail snakes onto the ceiling and starts to form triangles, squares. And then they start to spell out words. MORT, MORTE, MUERTE, TOD. Kronk remembers that Clarkson was a linguist and knew several languages. He figures out that the ants are spelling out "death" in several languages.

It doesn't take a lot to figure out what's going to happen. But my grandfather does do a good job of dragging out the torture as long as possible. Kronk uses what insecticide he has, and that works...but only for the night.

The next night Kront maroons himself in his bedroom, painting the ceiling with a sticky substance and putting the legs of the bed in tins of gasoline. But there are so many of them...

A great, dark red carpet was being unrolled in the laboratory, a living rug with a hideously seething warp of fantastically racing ants! It swept simultaneously toward the gasoline tins at the head and foot of the cot.

With a choked yell, Kronk reached for his shoes, which were just under the bed, but he was too late. They were already alive and flickering with the movement of countless red bodies. Pulses pounding, Kronk stood up on the cot, his head hunched forward to avoid the ceiling.

Then he gave a cracked laugh.

'All right, die! You're not as clever as I thought!'

For the ants were killing themselves by the thousands, swarming up the sides of the tins in solid masses and dropping in like rain. Already the surface of the liquid was hidden by floating corpses, and the layer was thickening. But as fast as the ants died they were replaced by others.

The cans were filling up!

The pail quickly fill up and the ants simply crawl on top of the corpses to get to him in the bed. Kronk manages to flee the bed - and the shack - and sprints into the forest of palm trees.

There was a bright moon, obscured at times by a scud of thin clouds, and Kronk sought a place wherre he could sleep, or at least relax. He walked for more than half a mile under the tall palms that fringed the dunes, then smoothed a spot in the sand and slumped down.

Before he had been there five minutes he was savagely attached, not by the main body of his enemies, which could not have reached him in that length of time, but by a small yet efficient new group.

Evidently outposts and a system of spies had been established everywhere. Cursing and slapping at his tormentors, he ran along the dunes for a hundred yards, and when he halted again he was discovered by another party and driven on.

Kronk is driven to the water's edge and even though partly submerged, finds sleep impossible. The attack continues until well into the next day. Kronk, buoyed by the fact that Jane Hawley's plane is due to land that day or the next, just needs to hang on a few more hours. Kronk even tries to shield himself by placing a ring of fire around him in the sand as a barrier. But they simply burrow under and begin to sear the flesh off of his forearms.

Kronk jumps through the smoke and staggers back to the beach. There he finds some old timber and quickly makes a raft. Laughing deliriously, he floats himself out in the lagoon. He's safe, he thinks, and starts to fall asleep.

His eyes jerk open, and the raft nearly capsizes as he crawled to his knees and started paddling with a piece of board.

A long tentril of swimming ants was reaching out form the bank like the arm of an octopus. Fortunately for Kronk, however, they were not aquatic insects and they had already come about as far as was possible for them. Only when he saw them drowning did he breathe more easily.

But it doesn't last. The ants find another way out to torment him by forming into gigantic floating balls. Kronk screams, dives under water, and heads back for shore.

"All I have to do is keep moving. I can cover more ground in a minute than they can in an hour," he told himself more confidently. "I'll get what I need at the shack tomorrow, in spite of them. Their stinging is painful, but that's all - I won't die from ant bites. You can't beat me, John Clarkson! The plane will be here maybe tomorrow - in two or three days, at the utmost."

Kronk falls onto a patch of sand near the middle of the island that, as far as he could tell, is free from ants. He falls asleep and when he awakes is quite relaxed. There are no ants in sight. He lies motionless in the sand for a few minutes. Next to his body, to his amusement, he finds an empty test tube. Labeled Cocaine Hydrochloride, the tube is almost empty. Kronk is amused, thinking that maybe the ants had brought it out for him so he could kill himself. When a lone "ambassador" ant shows up, Kronk laughs. But in a few minutes he finds out the terrible truth.

In trying to sit up he found that his legs were powerless. He couldn't move them; they were like lumps of lifeless wood.

With trembling fingers, he investigated a tiny, deep and painless wound in his back.

And then the hideous revelation flashed upon him!

The ants had been busy. They had covered their jaws with the deadening local anesthetic, had bored into his flesh, infiltering the drug as they went - and they had cut his spinal cord!

The feelers of the ambassador ant were quivering now as if with demoniac mirth. Screaming, Kronk tried to drag himself away on his elbows and hands, but there was more than one ant now!

They came in from all directions, and they came by thousands....

When the plane finally arrives, Jane Hawley finds it strange that there is no sign of life on the island. The pilot does notice one thing:

"Say! We did find an old skeleton on the middle of the island. Must have been there a long time. It's as white as ivory."

That was interesting, Jane Hawley thought. But there were more important things to attend to. In spite of her sorrow she had not forgotten the needs of the animals in her charge.

"Mr. Smith," she called to the pilot again, "did you see any -"

"No, I didn't, Miss Hawley," he answered, shaking his head in the negative. "I'm afraid those rare, two-toed ant-eaters of yours will have to go hungry for a while longer. I don't think there's an ant on the island."


I found it amusing and a little uncomfortable when I was reading this story. It reminded me of an incident I had off of the Belize barrier reef several years ago. I was on a field trip with other college students on this small island (Wee Wee Caye was the name of this island, I kid you not). At night we were crammed into these small bunk houses, 3 to a house. I swear our biology professor had a vendetta against us. This time it wasn't ants, it was mosquitoes. Even though there were mosquito repellents of all shapes and sizes everywhere, it did not deter those little buggers from tormenting me. In that little cabin, all the mosquito netting and repellent did no good whatsoever. I kept hearing that buzzzzzz next to my ear. I ended up at one boat dock and actually laid down on the dock with the netting over me. That didn't work. I fled to the dock on the other side of the island, trying to find relief from that maddening buzzing. I was actually trying to sleep on the dock to get away from them. It didn't work.

I did manage to make it back to the cabin and fell asleep, if only from sheer exhaustion and it was two in the morning. The next morning I woke up to find my legs covered in bites.

That was a really long week.

Anyway, I thought I'd just throw that in to add a personal touch. My grandfather, wherever he was, must have been mildly amused to see me go through this. Or maybe it was some kind of twisted karma I had to go through for his sake.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Halloween Cover and a Couple of Great Blogs to Add to the Collection

I found another Halloween cover, although it doesn't qualify as a pulp. (Or does it?) I found this Enoch Bolles cover at Magazine History: A Collector's Blog. If you haven't checked out this blog, do so. It's fantastic. I especially loved his post from last Saturday (the 24th) on Confederate and Southern Magazines.

Man, there are blogs for every subject now. Here's another one to check out. This one is called Trouble in Paradise: All About Kay Francis and Pre-Code Cinema. There's a lot of nice scanning going on over on this blog. I found this cover (another Enoch Bolles, I believe) on this blog, and it's of one of my favorite actresses from the 30s and 40s: Norma Shearer.

Happy Halloween!

From all of us at Laurie's Wild West. Here's the cover of the June 1925 Weird Tales with one of my grandfather's first stories featured on the cover. Can you believe I forgot to post this one on Tuesday with the other covers?

To all my friends here: please be safe this weekend. Drive carefully and soberly, trick or treat safely, and watch out for those gigantic spiders lurking around every corner.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: Arkansas Smith by Jack Martin

Arkansas Smith
Jack Martin
Robert Hale, Ltd. (2010)
A Black Horse Western
This review is from an early manuscript version.

When Arkansas Smith arrives at Will McCord's two-room home, he finds a terrible scene. The house was ransacked and partly burned. Worst still, Will, an old friend and fellow Texas Ranger, is barely alive with a gun shot to the belly. And while Will seems to think that rustlers were responsible for the devastation to his property and for almost killing him, he does mention the name "Lance," before falling into a feverish sleep, and when Arkansas goes into Red Rock to get provisions and find a doctor, he hears that name again and begins to wonder about Will's rustler theory. Then the doctor goes missing after tending to Will.

Thus is the beginning of ARKANSAS SMITH, a suspenseful tale that keeps the reader riveted despite the simple story line. Arkansas finds that this "Lance" is actually John Lance, a greedy landowner who is bent on taking over Will's land and has the documents to show that he is the rightful owner. Seems that whoever shot Will thought they had killed him, eliminating the final obstacle to obtaining the property. Arkansas has his own secret weapon, however -- literally in his own pocket. There's an alcoholic sheriff who has sold out to Lance and knows that he has lost his soul. There are the usual suspects and hangers-on and a mysterious and pretty young woman who makes the usually hardened Arkansas uncomfortable and unsettled.

It all works, though, because of Arkansas Smith, a character that is complex and fascinating. He was born in a field full of corpses after a hellish Indian massacre, his mother giving birth before succumbing to her wounds. He is rescued by a couple who take him home to raise him. Then his adoptive father dies when he is ten years old. But even though Arkansas was raised by his loving adoptive mother, the harshness of their poverty and the hostility of the landscape is oppressive.

For those who have read Jack Martin's (a pseudonym used by Gary Dobbs) first book The Tarnished Star and who have read my review of that book, you know that I am a fan of his work. Perhaps because he is a minimalist, which I fancy myself to be as well. I also consider Dobbs a friend, but that plays no part in my saying that this second book is just as good as THE TARNISHED STAR, if not better in its character development.

There is a sadness about Arkansas Smith that I found unsettling and yet compelling. He has a "void deep inside himself that felt on times like a cavity in his soul. It was a need for identity that would always be there and would never be fulfilled." He's a man of few words and when he smiles, it's a grim smile that hints at a lot of tragedies played out in the past. He is an enigma who keeps his personal history to himself and who doesn't offer up too many explanations. While we are caught up in the dilemma at hand, we are never allowed to forget that we are dealing with a mysterious man here who has a few bones to pick with the world. In the post-modern world, he would be diagnosed as clinically depressed. In the 19th century western, though, he's simply trying to deal with the hand that's been dealt him.

Martin shows skill in allowing us to get inside Smith's head - but only so far. We'll think we know him as a stoic man who is all business and then he'll go off and kiss the girl on the cheek, leaving us to think, "Who IS this guy?" Martin also knows how to carry a story through realistic dialogue and so the pages fly by.

This is a quick read; in fact, I wish that some of the story had been fleshed out a little bit more. But then, like Arkansas Smith, I have a feeling that Martin is holding his cards close to his chest and will deal them out to us as he sees fit - in a sequel or a series perhaps, which hopefully will be soon.

Spooky......The Story With No Name, Part 13

Just in time for Halloween, The Story With No Name Part 13 continues at the Broken Trails blog. You can also catch the first 12 parts of the story with the links provided on Broken Trails.

And while we're on the subject of Halloween, here's some covers to get us in the mood.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Remington Schuyler and his Wild West Weekly Covers

I was trying to catch up on my scanning early this morning - one of those procrastinating tools that I excel in when I don't want to go to work. I have a LOT of pulps that I haven't scanned. As I was going through some WILD WEST WEEKLY issues from the early 1930s, it hit me how much I really liked one particular artist of that time period - Remington Schuyler. I started to do a little bit of research on him - what I could do in between a boatload of real-job work - and found that there's quite a bit of information on him. David Saunders has a biography of him on his web site, along with several Schuyler pulp covers. All of the WILD WEST WEEKLY covers here are from my collection and my aunt's; you will see that many of these covers were reinforced with cardboard and masking tape by some very earnest but very misguided early collector. Still, they have my grandfather's stories in them and that's what we were after when we acquired them.

Schuyler was born in 1884 and was named after Frederick Remington, who was related to his mother. It seems that young Remington was shown to have talent from early on, (which would make sense considering who he was related to), as he studied art at Washington Unviersity in St. Louis, Missouri and then received several grants to study art in Rome and Paris. He also studied with Howard Pyle, which according to Saunders led him to win several jobs illustrating covers for SATURDAY EVENING POST, PEARSONS, and MUNSEYS.

After the Great War, Schuyler, by this time married and living in New Rochelle, worked steadily doing interior illustrations for Life, St. Nicholas and the Century magazines. He was also doing many pulp covers for FRONTIER STORIES, WEST, and SHORT STORIES.

He also started to work for Wild West Weekly almost as soon as Street & Smith acquired it as a magazine. These 1928 covers are his.

In 1929, the format of the magazine had changed. Here's one of my favorite covers from that year.

This cover advertises a story that was indicative of many of the stories in the magazine at that point; a rather bucolic setting, with a simple plot and a lot less violence than in the later stories.

This cover, one of the best in my collection I think, is from 1930:

And here are a few more from that period.

Schuyler was also known to be an expert on Native American life. He also was very involved with the Boy Scouts and wrote some of their early rules on earning merit badges. Along those lines, he was a frequent illustrator for BOY'S LIFE and worked for the WPA during the Depression as a muralist in Conneticut. He also did a great deal of personal work, especially on Native Americans, and you can find many representations of his work online with art and antique collectors.

It appears that Schuyler's work with WILD WEST WEEKLY tapered off after 1931. Maybe Schuyler's work fell out of favor because the publisher wanted a grittier, more realistic style to the covers. Or maybe he was too busy working for other magazines. Either way, many WWW covers from 1932-35 lack the artistic flair of Remington Schuyler and I don't think it was until artists like Norman Saunders and H.W. Scott started showing up that WILD WEST WEEKLY began to have interesting and quality artwork on its covers.

And as I looked through my issues, I was particularly proud to find out that at least three of my grandfather's WWW heroes were subjects of Schuyler's: Sonny Tabor, Kid Wolf, and Freckles Malone. Here are the covers of those.

This first one is for a Freckles Malone story.

This next one is an iconic one of a Sonny Tabor story; this story ended up being the title story for the "Wanted - Sonny Tabor" book.

This next one is of Kid Wolf with a very 1930s look to him.

After the end of the pulp era, Schuyler moved back to his birth state, Missouri, and taught art at Missouri Valley College. He died in 1955 at the age of 71.

You can find more resources on Remington Schuyler at

And a book, Remington Schuyler's West: Artistic Visions of Cowboys and Indians
by Henry W. and Jean Tyree Hamilton was published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press in 2004.

The Pioneer Woman on the Bonnie Hunt Show today

My hero is on TV today.

No, not this guy. My other hero. Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman, will be on the Bonnie Hunt Show. If you haven't heard me yammer on about this woman, she has this great Web site and also the greatest life a post-20th-century-liberated-woman-who-wants-to-flee-the-real-world-and-all-its-bullshit could ask for. Ree has fantastic photography on her site and writes and takes photos of her cooking and ranch life with the real Marlboro Man (I keep meaning to write her and ask if he's got a brother). She's got a cookbook coming out and I'm sure a movie will follow. Ree writes on her home page that she channels Lucille Ball and Ethel Merman. Well, I channel Ree Drummond.

Go to the Bonnie Hunt Show to see when the show plays in your area. And definitely go to The Pioneer Woman if you haven't yet.

The photo above was taken by Ree, not me. I could only hope to get so close.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Guest Blog: So What's So Good About These Black Horse Westerns?

A lot of you have read of my enthusiasm for Black Horse Westerns, an imprint of the Robert Hale publishing company in London. Why do I like them so much?

This essay was on The Tainted Archive the other day, and the Archavist, Gary Dobbs, has generously allowed me to repeat it here for those who missed it. American readers and enthusiasts of the Western may find it particularly interesting.


ROBERT HALE LTD, the publishers behind the Black Horse imprint have been champions of the western genre for longer than most people care to remember. They were founded in 1936 and although the Black Horse imprint didn't come about until much later, they have always published western fiction.

Indeed when the genre vanished from British bookshops during the mid-Eighties, Robert Hale continued to publish classic westerns as well as publishing scores of newcomers. Some of these new voices have gone on and become masters of the genre. Indeed it was during the Eighties, a decade when the western truly seemed dead, that the Black Horse imprint was launched.

Black Horse Western are no nonsense, all action western novels - usually around 40,000 - 45,000 words but the writers don't skimp on that all important characterisation and indeed the best Black Horse titles can stand up alongside the best the genre has to offer.

Without the Black Horse imprint we would have no Lance Howard, Chap O'Keefe, Jack Giles, Ben Bridges or Ross Morton- all legendary names with western fans.

You won't find many Black Horse titles in the shops because the primary market has always been the libraries. However with the Internet and on-line book selling, the imprint is enjoying a new level of success and today the books are much more visible than they have ever been. Many of the titles ride high in online retailers books charts.

So what can new readers expect from a Black Horse title?

Well take a look at the covers on this page -none of them would be out of place as a poster for any 1950's western but don't let that lead you into the impression that the books are old fashioned. Whilst it is true that the books firmly model themselves on the Golden Age of the genre (and is there a better period to draw from??) the themes and issues woven into the plots are as up to date as, tomorrow's newspaper.

Find links to several interviews with some of the bigger Black Horse Western authors Here

There are no pretensions with a Black Horse western. You know what you are going to get and the book's deliver with each and every title - James Thain.

Older titles are always turning up on Ebay and sites such as Amazon and the Book Depository regularly offer good deals on current and forthcoming titles. Black Horse are quite unique in that the name of the publishing house is every bit as important to that of the author. Readers know that any book with the Black Horse logo is going to provide a good, fast paced and thoughtful read.Black Horse westerns are fun to read and surely reading should first and foremost be fun.

I myself am proud to be a small part of the Black Horse range - as a lifelong western fan it's amazing to see my own books and my pseudonym, Jack Martin on the shelves alongside some of my favourite western writers.

So go on treat yourself to a Black Horse western this Wild West Monday - you won't be disappointed.

Notable Web sites:
Black Horse Express: Web site featuring Black Horse Western Writers
Black Horse Extra: featuring Black Horse Western news
Black Horse community: Yahoo online group for Black Horse Western writers and enthusiasts

A short afterword from Laurie the Yank:

True West Magazine
featured the Black Horse Western in their August 2009 issue and reported that the Black Horse Western leads the industry in new imprints for westerns, even beating out Leisure Books and Five Star. They are second to Leisure Books in the number of in-print western fiction titles retained annually.

I have found the easiest way to get a hold of Black Horse Westerns is to order them through the Book Depository, which always has the ones in print in stock, as opposed to the amazon US site. The Book Depository also does not charge for shipping for anywhere in the world, regardless of the dollar amount of your order.

Other sites:
Robert Hale Publishing
Gary Dobbs' The Tainted Archive

AND this post-posting comment came in from Chap O'Keefe that I thought deserved to be included in the original post. This has to do with how to find Black Horse Westerns outside of the UK:

Another tip for folks "across the pond" or even in "down under" places like Australia and New Zealand: Most of the best BHW titles are reprinted, sometimes within a year, by the Ulverscroft large-print companies in their series Linford Western Library and Dales Westerns (Magna Books). These books are better marketed internationally. Rights are contracted for all territories, "including the United States and its Dependencies". US readers might like to take a browse at The site is designed primarily for libraries, though the books are available from major US retailers.

Thanks, Chap. And a big thanks to Gary for writing such a wonderful piece and letting me borrow it.

Wild Horses and Vampires

Before getting to the main post for today, I found two things in the paper this morning that some of you might find interesting.


First, on "Nature" tonight on PBS, they are showing the documentary on wild horses, called "Cloud, Challenge of the Stallions." I'm afraid I'm out of the loop on this one, this morning being the first time I've heard of this series. Apparently there were two earlier installments about Cloud. (Where AM I when these things are announced? More proof that I need a personal assistant.) Anyway, for more information, go to the Nature page on the PBS website.

I found the first two installments online. They are Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies and Cloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns online. I guess I know what I'll be doing today.


Many of us were griping this year over the fact that Otto Penzler put his BLACK MASK anthology on hold for another year so he could focus on putting together an anthology of vampire stories. The vampire book is now out. For those of you who are interested, the vampire book is called THE VAMPIRE ARCHIVES: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published. It's published by Vintage in softcover and is $25.00. There is a huge review of it in the Los Angeles Times this morning.

So Otto can now focus on getting the REAL book out next year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: The Savage Breed by Randy Denmon

I'll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about the Mexican-American war. So I was a little lost while I first began to read THE SAVAGE BREED by Randy Denmon (Pinnacle, 2009). But it didn't matter, because I soon was swept away into the story.

Travis Ross and Chase McAlister were Indian hunters, scouts and Texas Rangers ten years before, fighting the Texas war for Independence. When asked to up and leave their sedentary lives as ranchers, it doesn't take them long to pack their saddle bags. From that point on, The Savage Breed takes you on a story of unrelenting war. Along the way they encounter old enemies, including a murderous half-Comanche, half-Apache Chief Little Face who tortured and killed Chase's parents 15 years before. Along the way they make new enemies, too, especially a fellow Ranger with a vendetta. Travis also finds his old love, Mercedes, that he lost years before, but once again he finds himself separated from her.

It seems sometimes that these two Rangers, especially Travis, are riding and fighting almost mechanically, as if they were in a dream-like dimension as they jump from one encounter to another, from one old enemy to the next. It bothered me sometimes that their battles, especially with old enemies, were treated in an almost matter of fact manner with little exploration into the character's emotions or state of mind while it was happening. But perhaps Denmon meant it that way. After all, war can be a event in which executions happen so often that it wouldn't be surprising that the ones that survive end up feeling numb and almost like zombies. With that in mind, THE SAVAGE BREED does an excellent job of portraying this war's enormous toll, both for those who survived and those who didn't.

All in all, I was glad I read THE SAVAGE BREED. I learned quite a bit about this long-ignored war that has had such long term repercussions for both sides. Now I want to read more.

Denmon's first novel, THE LAWLESS FRONTIER, was a finalist for Western Writers of America Spur Award, The Ben Franklin Award, and the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

Friday, October 23, 2009

B-Westerns on Stage Today on Turner Classic Movies

For those of you who can watch television during the day (or have the capacity and intelligence to know how to record something), there is a boatload of B-Westerns (I know, a mixed metaphor) from the 1930s and 40s on Turner Classic Movies today. One of them even features our own Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson, who are shown here as Vasquez Rocks.

Why am I so interested in these? I don't know. I'm just goofy I guess. Plus I know that many of the Westerns that were published in the pulp magazines during that time were eventually transferred to the screen.

A special thanks to Walker Martin for this information.

Here's the lineup. Pacific time is shown first, then Eastern.

10:00 a.m. PT, 1:00 ET: Land Beyond the Law (1937). Starring Dick Foran and Linda Perry.

11:15 a.m. PT, 2:15 ET: Law of the Ranger (1937). Starring Bob Allen and John Merton.

12:30 p.m. PT, 3:30 ET: Gun Law (1938). Starring George O'Brien and Rita Oehmen.

1:45 p.m. PT, 4:45 ET: The Law Rides Again (1943). Starring Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson.

If you figured out that there's a theme in the titles, you would be right.

As for me I have to work, but I may be able to catch one of them on my lunch hour. I guess I'll have to record the others, if I can figure out how to do it.

Next up on the blog: a review of The Savage Breed, a new novel by Randy Denmon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Movies in the Santa Clarita Valley, Part 9: Straight Shooting with John Ford

Like many people, my knowledge of John Ford's movie making begins with his 1939 classic STAGECOACH starring John Wayne.

But Ford had been making movies since the mid 1910s. He directed his first feature film, STRAIGHT SHOOTING, in 1917. That movie was filmed in Newhall in the Santa Clarita Valley. This still from the movie was taken at Beale's Cut.

During the filming of this and earlier movies, Ford developed a close friendship with Harry Carey, a relationship that would last through 25 films. Ford, Carey and Carey's wife Olive would spend a great deal of time together and many nights bunked out at Carey's ranch house. Because the ranch was on the small side, Ford, Carey and the other film crew chose to sleep under the stars. It's said that on these nights Ford and Carey would spend hours talking and dreaming up movie plots. "Harry Carey tutored me in the early days," Ford is quoted as saying. "I was scared to death, but....Harry helped me immeasurably."

The Student's Group at UCLA website has a full page on this film, and the site had this to say about what happened when Ford first turned in the film STRAIGHT SHOOTING to his bosses at Universal:

"When Ford and his company set out for Newhall (the area approximately 20 miles north of Universal City where Ford shot most of his Universal films) to begin filming STRAIGHT SHOOTING, Universal expected a two-reeler focusing on the “‘Cheyenne’ Harry” character that Harry Carey had created for himself. While the studio did get a film centered around “Cheyenne,” instead of the two-reels they had expected, Ford turned in footage conceived of as a five-reeler. According to Ford biographer, Joseph McBride, Ford had acted surreptitiously to get the time and raw film stock he needed to complete his longer film. Thus, he concocted a story about 4,000 feet of film falling into a river. Executives at the studio apparently found [it] a plausible enough scenario and Ford was given what he needed to finish the film. However, when the film was finally completed, most executives were furious at Ford’s insolence. Luckily for Ford, the two individuals whose opinion mattered most—Carl Laemmle and Irving Thalberg—were quite pleased with Ford’s result. In response to the extra three reels, Laemmle was even rumored to have said, “If I ordered a suit of clothes and the fellow gives me an extra pair of pants free, what am I going to do—throw them back in his face?”

Many of Ford's early films are lost forever, and for many years it was thought that STRAIGHT SHOOTING suffered the same fate. Then, in 1966, a copy of the film showed up in all places at the national film archives in Czechoslovakia. The American Film Institute eventually obtained the print for restoration purposes and now is enjoying a second life shown at various film festivals, universities and museums.

Sources: Student Groups at UCLA website
JOHN FORD, THE MAN AND HIS FILMS by Tag Gallagher (University of CA Press, 1986).
Photo of John Ford is ca. 1920, courtesy of the Maine Historical Society.

Hump Day Hamburger Heaven

What, so soon? More goulash? Hang on. I'm just going to cover a few topics going on around the blog world.

I HAVE to tell you about two great blogs. If you're a native Californian, or even if you aren't, and you love book reviews and especially reviews on obscure books and authors you rarely see anymore, check out Reading California Fiction. They mainly review books that are centered in the Golden State, many are paperbacks from the 1950s with titles like THE ALCOHOLICS and SPIDERWEB. You gotta love it. Lately they've covered authors such as Jim Thompson and Robert Bloch, and the reviews are quick but thorough and honest. Now I'm not going to guarantee that they will like your favorite author, but then what good is a book review if it can't be the honest opinions of the reviewer.

The other is Hollywood Dreamland, which brings us essays on the classic movies of Hollywood. Lately they've covered topics such as Rita Hayworth as a blonde (remember the Lady from Shanghai?) and William Powell's final interview. The writing is good and the photos are spectacular.

Every Wednesday The Tainted Archive takes a tour around the best blogs with Western related themes. Check it out if you want to see what's the latest and greatest.

Even more important, though, when you're there, is to sign the petition to urge publishers and booksellers to start carrying more Westerns in their stores. We all know that every time we go into a bookstore, of how little inventory there is. Now with the economy the way it is, I'd bet a dollar that the first genre to really suffer would be the Western. So get over to The Tainted Archive and sign that petition - it's going out the first Monday in November so it's important to get it full of signatures NOW.

There is so much great writing going on in the blog-o-sphere. How did we manage before? Reading books, of course

And on that note, Wild West Monday is fast approaching - it's the first Monday in November. This will be the fourth Wild West Monday when all lovers of the Western genre are asked to go out and urge their local bookstores to carry more Westerns. It's real simple: just go into your favorite store and ask them where they carry their Westerns. When they point you to that section (IF they have one), give the clerk a blank look and go, "that section? That's all you have? Well, I'm going to so-and-so down the street if you don't start carrying more." Anyway, that would be my bulldozer-Laurie approach. I never claimed to have the gift for the soft pedal style. Go to The Tainted Archive for more information on Wild West Monday.

I came to appreciate the Western late in life. Up until a few years ago, I thought Westerns was "beneath" me - just a crass genre that was really long in the tooth. When I finally got around to reading a few, beginning with my own grandfather's DOC DILLAHAY (Macmillan, 1949) and some of the greats like LONESOME DOVE, I thought, "Oh my God, this is what I've been missing." I'm sure some of you out there have some stories as to how you came to love reading Westerns. Why don't you tell us in the comments?

And finally, The story with no name, Part 12, can be seen over at Charlie's Tokyo West Blog. To catch up, you can read parts 1-10 at Ian Parnham's The Culbin Trail and Part 11 can be seen at The Open Range.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Movies in the Santa Clarita Valley - Part 8: James Dean Last Meal (Maybe)

I know. This series is about making movies, in particular Westerns, in the Santa Clarita Valley. So the story of James Dean's last meal is a stretch. But considering the subject matter and Dean's influence on an entire generation of actors, it bears a mention at least.

Up at the north end of the Santa Clarita Valley is the small unincorporated area of Castaic. For many people, including me, Castaic is primarily known for Castaic Lake, a man-made lake that is a very popular recreation area for southern Californians. You see it every time you're on the Interstate 5 on your way in or out of the L.A. Basin. It's also an area that had experienced a large amount of suburban growth in the past 10 years (what area of California hasn't?). I mainly know Castaic as that place on the Grapevine where there are coffee shops, a truck stop, and a couple of gas stations that charge very expensive gas prices. They do it because they're the only ones around.

But even though there are more tract homes there now, Castaic is still very much a wild area. Going north: the last depot before heading down into that endless flatness of the San Joaquin Valley. Going south: the place to see one last bit of country before heading back to the city.

Back in 1955, Tip's Coffee Shop was the place to stop if you wanted a bite to eat before heading out of the L.A. Basin. I imagine a lot of people stopped there then, as there wasn't much else beyond this point between Castaic and Bakersfield.

According to legend, Tip's is where James Dean had his last meal on September 30, 1955. He was on his way out of town in his infamous Porsche Spyder with mechanic Rolf Wuetherich. The two were on their way to Salinas for a race. There, an article in the local paper says "Reportedly, the actor best known for his brooding image ordered an all-American snack of apple pie and a glass of milk."

The article goes on to say:
"Several hours later in Cholame, 25 miles east of Paso Robles at the junction of Highways 41 and 46, Dean swerved to avoid hitting a Ford sedan that had turned left into his path.

Dean's car came to rest in a ditch, his arms and neck broken and his left side crushed. He died in an ambulance.

California Highway Patrol officers estimated Dean was driving about 70 mph.

Wuetherich, who was injured in the crash, said Dean's last words were, 'He's got to see us.' "

Now there's speculation whether the apple pie at Tip's was really Dean's last meal. For one thing, several hours passed between the stop at the coffee shop and the accident. But one thing's for sure, he did stop at Tip's. Althea McGuiness, who worked as a waitress and waited on Dean, told newspapers emphatically that it was Dean.

"He sat at the counter. We all recognized him."

Undoubtedly a major loss for cinema. As for the building where Tip's operated, it eventually became a Marie Callendars. (You knew that was coming, right?) It gets worse - the business of Tip's moved down to Newhall and became an IHOP and eventually closed in the mid-1990s.

Next time you're on the Grapevine in a hurry to get where you're going, think of James Dean.

Source for this post: "Castaic Junction: James Dean's Last Stop Before Immortality?" by Josh Premako, The Signal, September 30, 2005.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Life Magazine a la Tainted Archive

I mentioned in my last post that my aunt acquired a number of Life magazines from 1927-28. My grandfather was a joke writer and from what we know, he sold a considerable number of jokes to Life. However, he's vague about the years in the memoir, although we can kind of guess it was around this time, maybe a few years before then. The problem is that the jokes in Life don't appear with any bylines, so the authors are not credited. But still, we may get lucky. There are 10 issues in all.

I'm going to take a page out of the Tainted Archive's book. The Archavist has occasionally taken comic books and similar types of mags from the 1960s and shown you some of the interiors. I scanned a few pages from one of the issues and here they are. And at the end of this post, I'm going to show you some of the best covers. They really are a treat.

What's really interesting about this issue, October 13, 1927, is that it features a two-page feature by none other than Tom Mix.

He writes of his observations of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles. I guess they thought it might be fun to have a "cowboy" give us a down-home opinion of citified, Hollywood people. (Although Tom Mix was as Hollywood-ed as any of them.) Now, whether Tom Mix really wrote this is debatable. I'm of the cynical type who would say no. It's more than likely ghosted, and the ghost writer made sure to add in a bunch a twang and down-home observations.

You may not be able to read the print in this scan. At one point Mix writes, "Most of the film stars roll in with a bored style that is supposed to indicate that carryin' a million dollars around in each pocket is hard work. the wives practice up in their bedrooms an' then come in tryin' to act like they had so much money at home that just before they started out for the evenin' they told the butler to heave a coupl'a million out the back door because the moths had got into it. Or course, a lot of 'em ain't got a million an' there's a few i could mention who ain't even got any moths."

The magazine at this time was more of a humor magazine and a "events around town" chronicle than the Life we knew from the 1960s which was more of a pictorial news periodical. There are several pages of jokes, cartoons, humorous essays and observations of life. There are so many pages of humor that I'm sure they kept quite a few joke writers in postage stamps for a while.

There are also theater and movie reviews.

I can see a big resemblance to the New Yorker in these issues of Life.

And now here are some more covers. I have to say the dog one is my favorite, although I'm biased.

Hope you enjoyed them!