Wednesday, February 21, 2024
I have become totally obsessed with an old TV series, THE TEXAN starring Rory Calhoun. I never knew this series existed until we switched cable companies not long ago and were so fortunate to be able to add GRIT TV to our lineup—and it’s about all we watch anymore.
The Texan was a black and white series (yes, that’s how old it is, almost older than I am, but not quite!). It aired on CBS from 1958-1960, and as with so many of these older shows, I love to see so many roles by early “unknowns” who later became famous in their own right.
But the premise of The Texan is really different, and heartbreaking all at once.
He goes to Texas and becomes a drifter, building a reputation as a fast gun, but he is not for hire. He just takes a hand in the wrongs he sees and tries to right them when he can. I have, by no means, seen the entire series yet—we usually watch a couple of the 30-minute episodes while we eat dinner. Yes, some of them feel rather “rushed” because they are only 30 minutes long and the commercials have been moved around to accommodate today’s programming. But all in all, it’s really a good series, and I LOVE being able to study his character as the shows progress and we get to know more about him.
I truly admire the realism in this show. I didn’t realize it until recently, but there were so many westerns of that era that had the lawmen and the “good guys” always shooting to wound someone. The Lone Ranger even says at the beginning of that series that he will never kill, only shoot to wound, and then, only if necessary.
This character, The Texan, is in many ways how I envision my heroes in my own books. They don’t have his genteel upbringing—but I think if they all knew each other they’d be friends, because they’d see things the same way. Though they are fast with a gun, they don’t use it indiscriminately, and they are not ever ones to believe that “might makes right”.
You know, I have seen only one of Rory Calhoun’s movies, but in it, he plays the same kind of character as he played in The Texan. A loner. A fast gun. Someone who makes tough decisions and takes up the slack when others don’t or won’t.
Now that I’ve started following him, I remember my mom saying something once about a movie she was wanting to see. I must have been about 8 or 9—all I remember was her saying, “It has Rory Calhoun in it!” and giving a little smile. I should have paid attention about 55 years sooner…
I’ve created many “loner” type heroes in my stories. Many of them resemble the characteristics of Bill Longley in THE TEXAN. Just thinking back on them, I’d say the two that stick in my mind as being most like The Texan are Johnny Houston from LOVE UNDER FIRE and Jaxson McCall from A MARSHAL FOR CALLIE–but it was a hard decision to narrow it down!
Who is your favorite television or big screen movie western star and why? And I’d love to know your favorite western tv series or movie that character played in.
A ruthless gang of cutthroats from Jaxson McCall’s past have re-surfaced and are holding Callie and Jaxson’s brother, Jeremy, and a young boy, Carlos, hostage. Jaxson is recovering from a poison-tipped arrow, but he and his other brother, Brendan, are there to save the hostages. Here’s the confrontation:
“Turn her loose,” Jax ordered in a low tone.
“Or what, Marshal? You’ll kill me?” Blocker taunted.
But Callie could hear the muted strain in his voice. I must have hit him, she thought, surprised.
“Take me, Blocker,” Jax murmured. Deliberately, he tossed the Winchester to the ground and held his hands out. “You don’t want her—not really. What you want is to finish what you started thirteen years ago. I wonder…” He took a step forward, his silhouette illuminated by the fire behind him in the growing darkness.
Blocker licked his lips nervously. “Wonder what, McCall?”
“Are you man enough to take me? We never finished what we started back in Fort Smith. But you can have it either way, Blocker. A fight, or…not. I’ll—go with you. Just let her go.”
“I don’t think so,” Blocker replied smugly.
“Because you want it too much, McCall.” Blocker put the tip of the knife under Callie’s chin. “You agree to give yourself up to me, knowing what I’ll do to you?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Girl must mean an awful lot to you. I wonder why.”
“She’s worth money to me,” Jax said quietly. His heart lurched at the hollow, dead look in Blocker’s eyes.
“You’re both worth money to me,” Blocker responded.
Callie could feel the big man’s grip on her easing somewhat. He didn’t realize it, she knew.
“C’mon, Blocker,” Jax murmured. “Let’s fight it out. Just you and me.”
Blocker’s grip slipped a little more, and Callie felt an oozing warmth at her back.
Blocker shook his head. “Shorty shoveled out three graves over there. I ain’t gonna fill one of ’em.”
Suddenly, Callie dug her elbows backward with all her might. She heard Blocker’s grunt of pain as he dropped the knife, and she squirmed away from him. He lunged at Jax with a snarl, and both men grappled together, then went to the ground, pummeling one another.
Callie watched in horror, thinking of how Jax had looked just this morning when she’d left him asleep in their bed. The fever, the wound, his fitful rest and lack of food would all surely take their toll. He was in no shape to fight.
She turned, just as a strong arm encircled her waist, pulling her to the safety of the trees and underbrush along the creek bank.
The man urged her to the ground beside Carlos, then he was gone as quickly as he had appeared.
As Callie lifted her head to peer through the undergrowth, she saw him step out into the ring of firelight. He dropped to one knee, his gun ready, but Jax and Blocker fought too closely together to take a chance on a shot.
A MARSHAL FOR CALLIE–PAPERBACK LINK: https://tinyurl.com/mryt2fwf
Thanks for stopping by today!
Wednesday, February 14, 2024
I recently read Education of a Wandering Man, by Louis L’Amour (1908-1988), published in 1989. It is a remarkable book.
It puts me in mind of the old Chinese legend about tests: the student sits down and simply writes down everything he knows. L’Amour doesn’t quite do that, but he does create a fascinating account of his own intellectual development, and his deep and passionate engagement with reading. If you are at all interested in the effect that reading has, and what a tool it can be to enlightenment, then certainly read this fascinating book.
L’Amour’s engagement with reading in his early life is not surprising when one looks at his major characters. The typical L'Amour hero was a strapping young man in his late teens or early 20's, a romantic, nomadic figure dedicated to self-improvement. His character Tell Sackett carried law books in his saddlebags; Bendigo Shafter read Montaigne, Plutarch and Thoreau; and Drake Morrel, a one-time riverboat gambler, read Juvenal in the original Latin.
Much like L’Amour, himself.
L’Amour looked like one of his own literary creations – big, ruggedly handsome and self-contained. He was born Louis Dearborn L'Amour on March 22, 1908, in Jamestown, ND. He was a son of a veterinarian who doubled as a farm-machinery salesman, grandson of a Civil War veteran and great-grandson of a settler who had been scalped by Sioux warriors.
He quit school at 15, roaming the West working as a miner, rancher and lumberjack before taking off for the Far East as a seaman. By the time he was 20, he had skinned cattle in Texas, lived with bandits in Tibet and worked on an East African schooner. He managed to survive a walk through Death Valley on his own with little water, and rode the rails as a hobo. He worked as a longshoreman, a lumberjack, an elephant handler, a fruit picker and an officer on a tank destroyer in World War II. He had also circled the world on a freighter, sailed a dhow on the Red Sea, been shipwrecked in the West Indies and been stranded in the Mojave Desert, and won 51 of 59 fights as a professional boxer. And all the time he was on the road, he was reading: Shakespeare, Byron, Wilde, Ibsen, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Sheridan, Bacon, Tolstoy … and many, many others too numerous to mention. L’Amour provides his reading list during the period at the end of the book and, frankly, it made me deeply ashamed of my own profound failings as a reader.
I read Balzac, Victor Hugo and Dumas before I ever read Zane Grey, he said in an interview. His first book was not a Western, but a collection of poems, published in 1939. But despite his immense erudition, L’Amour could not reconcile the disdain the literary elite had (and has) for novels about the Western experience. If you write a book about a bygone period that lies east of the Mississippi River, then it's a historical novel. If it's west of the Mississippi, it's a western, a different category. There's no sense to it.
Here is L’Amour writing about talking to people of the Old West during his wanderings in the 1930s: Yet there was no better time to learn about what the West had actually been. Many of those who lived it were still alive, and as the years of their future grew fewer, they were more willing to talk of what had been. Old feuds were largely forgotten, and time had given the past an aura.
The old cowboy might appear to be as dry as dust, he might scoff at some of the stories, but he was a figure of romance in his own mind (although he would never have admitted it) or he would not have become a cowboy in the first place. As the years slipped away, he began to want to tell his stories, and I was often there, a willing listener, knowing enough to sift the truth from the romance.
In every town there was at least one former outlaw or gunfighter, an old Indian scout or a wagon master, and each with many stories ready to tell.
One story engendered another, and sitting on a bench in front of a store I’d tell of something I knew or had heard and would often get a story in return, sometimes a correction. The men and woman who lived the pioneer life did not suddenly disappear; they drifted down the years, a rugged, proud people who had met adversity and survived. Once, many years later, I was asked in a television interview what was the one quality that distinguished them, and I did not come up with the answer I wanted. Later, when I in the hotel alone, it came to me.
This is great stuff, and I sympathize with L’Amour’s acute bibliomania: A wanderer I had been through most of my early years, and now that I had my own home, my wandering continued, but among books. No longer could I find most of the books I wanted in libraries. I had to seek them out in foreign or secondhand bookstores, which was a pleasure in itself. When seeking books, one always comes upon unexpected treasures or books on subjects that one has never heard of, or heard mentioned only in passing.
Now I know what I wished to learn and could direct my education with more intelligence.
Slowly I began to place on my shelves the books I wanted. When the shelves were first installed, one workman doubted they would ever be filled, yet a few years later they were crammed with books, filling every available niche.
What I find most refreshing here is L’Amour’s own determination to educate himself, his active engagement with his own intellectual development, and for the breadth of his knowledge. Here is a wonderfully prescient passage: If we had only Greenwich Village as an example, it would tell us nothing of the rest of America, yet often one discovers a writer, or several of them, giving just such a narrow picture. One should tread warily when using the life-style of any group as an example of the thinking or practice of a people.
This is a warm, wise and essential book. Highly recommended.
Thursday, February 8, 2024
Today we’re talking about an important organization in American history: the National Weather Service. Weather, of course, has always been important to mankind, whether they be farmers or not. Many of our Founding Fathers were avid weather enthusiasts. While he was helping draft the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson bought a thermometer from a local Pennsylvania, and a few days later, bought a barometer from the same merchant—one of the only ones in America at the time. He noted that the high temperature in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776 was 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Jefferson made regular observations at his plantation, Monticello, from 1772 to 1778. George Washington also took regular weather observations; the last such entry in his diary was made the day before he died.
During the early and mid-1800s, weather observation networks began to grow and expand across the country. The telegraph was largely responsible for the advancement of meteorology during the 19th Century. With the help of this innovation, weather observations form distant points could be collected, plotted, and analyzed at one location. The Smithsonian Institution supplied weather instruments to telegraph companies and established an extensive observation network. By the end of 1849, 150 volunteers throughout America were regularly reporting their weather observations to the Smithsonian. By 1860, 500 stations were providing daily telegraphic weather reports to the Washington Evening Star, and as the network grew, other existing systems were gradually absorbed, including several state weather services.
The advancement of this meteorological network was interrupted by the Civil war, but in 1869, the telegraph service again began collecting weather data and producing weather charts. The ability to both observe and display weather information, thanks to the telegraph, quickly led to initial efforts toward the next logical advancement: the forecasting of the weather. However, the ability to observe and forecast weather over much of this huge country required a level of organization which could only be accomplished by a government agency.
Assuming your story takes place after 1870, your characters would have been familiar with the National Weather Service, or at least its forecasts and warnings. If they worked the land, they would have relied on those forecasts on a regular basis, likewise if they worked anywhere that the weather could impact their livelihood.
Wednesday, February 7, 2024
Western Movie Taglines Blog Series - February Taglines - Some silly, Some funny, Some real groaners #movietaglines #westernmovies
Here's how the rest of the year will go.
I compiled a list of 250 westerns and their taglines. From that 250, I plucked out the best 125 to share between February and December. These 125 taglines range from good to outstanding as far as doing justice to their corresponding movies.
For this month, and in no particular order, I'm sharing 15 western movie taglines that are:
- clever or witty
- a groaner
- just plain silly
March through September, I will share 10 movie taglines each month.
October through December will be the Top 40 Countdown of Best Western Movie Taglines.
These 40 are the taglines that capture and sum up the heart of the movie in such a fabulous way that we're amazed at how a handful of words can be that powerful or theme-descriptive.
Also in December, I will
1) share taglines I've written for two western movies and one early-settling of the American frontier movie that deserved better taglines and,
2) offer a downloadable document of the 250 movies and taglines that I compiled.
February's Western Movie Taglines
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Not that it matters, but most of it is true.
Red Headed Stranger (1987)
He's a preacher... his blessing is a bullet!
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
If this story ain't true... it shoulda been.
North to Alaska (1960)
These were the adventurers...fighting, laughing, and brawling their way from Seattle to Nome!
Rio Bravo (1959)
JOHN WAYNE The big guy with the battered hat… and DEAN MARTIN the ragged woman-wrecked castoff called Dude… and RICKY NELSON the rockin' babyfaced gunfisted kid… AND TIME WAS RUNNING OUT THROUGH BULLET HOLES AT "RIO BRAVO"
Cat Ballou (1965)
It's that way-out whopper of a funny western... A she-bang to end all she-bangs!
Wild, Wild West (1999)
It's a whole new West.
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Never give a saga an even break. Mel Brooks and the West! Together for the last time!
Dirty Dingus Magee (1970)
It's kind of a western. He's sort of a cowboy.
The Rounders (1965)
The Wild West's biggest fall guys go head over heels... for a mean-eyed bronc... and some bare-backed fillies.
Wallops the daylights out of every western you've ever seen.
City Slickers (1991)
Yesterday they were businessmen. Today they're cowboys. Tomorrow they'll be walking funny.
Little Big Man (1970)
He was either the most neglected hero in history or a liar of insane proportion!
The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)
That's what they called it in 1867.
Paint Your Wagon (1969)
Stake your claim to the musical goldmine of '69!
See you next time,