Monday, May 20, 2013
DOG-EARED INSPIRATION by C. COURTNEY JOYNER
The first time I met editor Jim Frenkel from Tor/Forge, we were talking about western movies, of course, and then movie tie-ins. I love them. Always have. Since about the age of 11, when the paperback boom of the late 60’s was giving us great editions of Conan and Tarzan with Frank Frazetta covers and reprint adventures of Doc Savage, the paperback racks were stuffed with tie-ins. If I had the financial means, I was buying the latest HEC RAMSEY adventure or the novelization of HANNIE CAULDER, along with my Famous Monsters of Filmland. That’s when Jim mentioned that one of his first jobs was as editor of the movie tie-in for THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, written by Joe Millard.
The scotch almost leapt out of my hand, because I loved Joe Millard. Millard was a true western voice to me, not well known, but when I looked at my shelf full of dog-eared paperbacks, his work was there, over and over. If a car trip to my grandpa’s was in the offing, then I was in the backseat with Millard, re-devouring CAHILL: U.S. MARSHAL or CHATO’S LAND.
Millard first came into my life via a grocery store in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, where I found a yellowing copy of his novelization of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The movie was years old, and I’d only seen it on television, but I grabbed that paperback and carried it with me everywhere for the rest of the summer, opening to random pages and losing myself in his recreation of Sergio Leone’s world.
He didn’t just follow the storyline he gave me new details about deadly, pipe-smoking Colonel Mortimer, and The Man With No Name. Somehow, the characters were more alive in my mind’s eye than when I watched the movie.
The tie-in to THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY was next, and from then on, I charged at any paperback spinning rack, looking for Millard’s work. There was a tie-in to FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, written by Frank Chandler, which was another pen-name used by British author Terry Harknett, who created the EDGE series, as George Gilman. It took me a while, but I had to have that one, too.
While stealing a look at his dad’s men’s magazines, a friend of mine stumbled on a Millard gem from the 1950’s called HOUSE OF EVIL that had to be one of the first graphic-novels ever published. It was digest-sized, written by J.M. and illustrated in that great EC-comics style, with missile-breasted girls hiding axes behind their backs, as they kissed their lovers
All these years later, and I still didn’t know that much about him, except that he’d come from the pulps, and ground through 100’s of stories, in all genres. I saw his name on the credits, as novel source, of a pretty lousy British science-fiction flick, THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE, directed by Freddie Francis. I love Francis, who made some cool Hammer horrors, and was the brilliant, Oscar-winning cinematographer behind GLORY, but this was a true turkey. Still, I wanted to read Millard’s original novel. I did, and as I figured, it was better than the film, with a great, direct style to the prose that came from the years of pulp training. Millard wrote it hard and clean, so any reader could embrace his wild story.
Millard was a journeyman, taking on projects, but even the worst of them had an energy that leapt off the page to me, but even though I am true horror geek, nothing impressed me more than his westerns. It took a few more years before I found the true goldmine: The Man with No Name series.
I don’t know why the Woolworth’s near my parents' home, or the local pharmacy didn’t carry the series from Award Books, published in the early ‘70’s. It was when I spied the brother of a friend reading THE DEVIL’S DOLLAR SIGN that my new quest began. It didn’t end until two years ago. Thirty years of marriage, career, and life in general, derailed the mission, but when something popped up, I grabbed it, and began to discover Joe Millard westerns again.
A COFFIN FULL OF DOLLARS, BLOOD FOR A DIRTY DOLLAR, THE MILLION DOLLAR BLOODHUNT and DOLLAR SIGN were the four, that made-up a cohesive whole, expanding on the themes of greed and corruption in the original films, with Millard bringing the action right off the page, as he always did. It wasn’t LORD OF THE RINGS, but it was more impressive to me, because Millard’s writing style was relatable, readable.
Brian Fox, who had written the tie-in to THE WILD BUNCH, wrote A DOLLAR TO DIE FOR, the other book in the series. A solid job, but it wasn’t Millard. To this day, I don’t know what spoke to me about his writing, except that I enjoyed it. It could be that simple. I read Millard’s tie-in to THE HUNTING PARTY, and thought he’d actually ironed out some script problems in that notorious “Splatter western,” while he captured Burt Kennedy’s sense of humor when he tackled THE GOOD GUYS AND THE BAD GUYS.
In the hotel bar, I quizzed Jim Frenkel about Millard, and was sorry to hear that he’d died, but really wanted some help to get to the core of his writing secret, and what made it work for him, and his readers. Jim said, “Joe was one of the most dependable writers working.”
Dependable. Joe Millard gave people their money’s worth with his paperbacks. In a time when I’ve been disappointed by more than my fair share of expensive books and their creators, that sounds like a damn good thing.
As I started to work a bit in the world of fiction, first in short stories, and more recently kicking off a new novel series for Pinnacle, which was an enormous climb for an old screenwriter like me, I turned to Joe Millard. I discovered his work in comics, writing for DALE EVANS, and other golden-age western titles,
Re-reading those dog-eared paperbacks helped me with the task at hand. Sometimes I’d escape into the feelings I had, pursuing a movie tie-in on a hot August Sunday, and other times I looked at the writing, and tried to be as “dependable” as he was.
If you check the back of your shelves, you’ll probably find Joe lurking in there somewhere. If not, go on your own Blood Hunt to the used bookstores or Ebay, for a little dog-eared entertainment. I've included some of Joe Millard’s westerns above (and I may have missed a few!) As a side note, I picked up the memoir A QUIET JOURNEY by Joe Millard. It’s a very fine book, from a fine writer, but not the Joe of our spinning bookracks.
Movie tie-ins: CHATO’S LAND, BIG JAKE, THE LAST REBEL, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, MACHO CALLAHAN, THE HUNTING PARTY, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, THE GOOD GUYS AND THE BAD GUYS.
Television tie-ins: HEC RAMSEY: HUNTED.
The Man with No Name series: DEVIL’S DOLLAR SIGN, MILLION DOLLAR BLOODHUNT, COFFIN FULL OF DOLLARS, BLOOD FOR A DIRTY DOLLAR.
To see all of C.Courtney Joyner's work, visit his AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE here: