Friday, July 19, 2019

The Best of TV Westerns: The Critics' Choice : "Hopalong Cassidy" to "Have Gun, Will Travel," "Maverick," to "Bonanza" by John Javna

We continue on a theme.

This currently hard to obtain volume may be slim but there is much to appreciate. You will find many of the usual suspects here as the title suggests but a few hidden gems and insights are worth the time of the inveterate TV Western fan.

It was part of a series of “Best of TV” books that are all rather fun to browse. 

Disclosure: I have a "Mare's Leg." It sits above my desk. T'is a thing of beauty.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

52 Weeks 52 TV Westerns by Scott Harris, Paul Bishop, Rob Word & Contributors

Another fine volume in the authors’/packagers’ series of “52” where they delve into the “52 Best” books, films, TV shows etc. the genre has to offer.

[You’ll find the volume on Western fiction as well as interviews with Mr. Harris and Mr. Bishop on this very blog.]

Such “Best of” lists are rife with omissions and hurt feelings as invariably someone’s pet choice is overlooked. The opposite happens as well with the “Are you kidding me?! Who thinks that is any good?

Such things are the case with a listed endeavors, but the nature of such things is to act as a reminder for forgotten work, or as a finger pointing to undiscovered treasures, or at least sideways prompts to further enjoyments within the given subject.

With all the above in mind, the volume succeeds admirably.

I will provide not one sneak peek as to which shows did nor did not make the cut as that is the non-fiction equivalent of spoilers and less than kind to the authors’ incentives to continue to produce more good work.

It’s fine work, it will lead to much viewing entertainment. Pony up and pick up a volume.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

“You expect everything to be easy because you are rich.” Lewis would chuckle watching him fumble and swear. “But the plate doesn’t care how rich you are. The chemicals don’t care how rich you are. The lens doesn’t care how rich you are. You must first learn patience, if you wish to learn anything at all.”

“Damn you,” Johnson would say, irritated. The man was nothing but an uneducated shopkeeper putting on airs.

“I am not the problem,” Lewis would reply, taking no offense. “You are the problem. Now come: try again.”

Here we have Michael Crichton’s only Western novel published posthumously. The timeline has it written perhaps in the 1970’s and it still has the mark of his trademark blending of science and narrative, here in the form of the Dinosaur Bone Wars of Professors Cope and Marsh, actual feuding personages.

Will follow our naïve young protagonist Westward and watch him mature and learn more than a good deal along the way.

It is not the most polished of Mr. Crichton’s several fascinating works [perhaps that is why he held it back] but it is still an intriguing look at his sole dip into the genre.

Note: The author was noted for his instructive asides where one feels the wiser for having read his fiction. I must admit his perspective on the American Indian titles “The Indian Village” found about halfway through the novel is mighty perceptive. Let us not forget that Mr. Crichton, among many things, was a skilled anthropologist. 

Essential? No.

Interesting? Oh, yes.

Monday, June 24, 2019

High Saddle by William Hopson

“You have come a long way, I think, senor,” she said.
“Yes, a very long way.”
“And you have far to go?”
“A bit further, I think. To Mexico.”
“My home was in Mexico, senor. I came he with my husband. He is buried out her behind the corral.”
He was sloshing water over his clean-shaven face, washing away the suds. He turned, towel in hand. “Then why do you not return?”
She shrugged as only a Mexican woman can shrug. “I have two children and no money, senor.”

This brief 1952 novel from Hopson has much going for it. The terse style, laconic fatalism embodied in shrugs and gestures, and a cold-eyed look on life reminds one of what was later to be found in the Westerns of Elmore Leonard. 

This novel may not be the finest in a genre that has much to offer but it does make this reader want to go back to the William Hopson well for another dip or two to see what else is there.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Wild West 365 by Michael Wallis

[The following is paraphrased from a single page of the volume.]

So, in 1881, George “Big Nose” Parrott decides to become noticeably richer.
• He attempts to rob a payroll train east of the town of Rawlins, Wyoming.
• Things do not go well and “Big Nose” winds up killing two lawmen in the process.
• He is eventually apprehended and taken to the Rawlins’ jail.
• The citizens of Rawlins decide incarceration ain’t quite good enough so an approximate 200 of them converge on the jail and take him for a short ride where they hang him from a telegraph pole.
• Once he has been displayed long enough, the undertaker delivers the remains to Dr. John Osborne who hopes to discover abnormalities in the brain that led to Parrott’s nefarious ways.
• First, he makes a death-mask of the corpse.
• Then he saws off the top of the skull and finds nothing untoward.
• Being the industrious sort, he proceeds to skin the entire body.
• Dr. Osborne sends the skin to a tannery in Denver with these instructions: “Make a pair of shoes and leave the nipples on.”
• The shoes arrive, but sans nipples, merely chest skin. He is disappointed but still loves the footwear and wears them proudly.
• Incidentally his medicine bag was also made of Mr. Parrott’s exterior.
• Wyoming being a progressive sort of place also housed Dr. Lillian Nelson, the first female physician in the region.
• Dr. Osborne in an act of collegiality gifts Parrott’s skullcap to Dr. Nelson.
• She is touched and uses it as both an ashtray and doorstop till her dying days.
• BTW-The skinless rest of Mr. Parrott was sealed into a whiskey barrel and buried.
• Lest we think Doctors Osborne and Nelson were anomalies and folks looked askance at such behavior.
• Dr. Osborne went on to be popular enough to win the governorship of Wyoming and he proudly wore his special shoes to the inaugural ball.
• He also later served in Congress and as the first assistant secretary of state under President Woodrow Wilson.
• And yes, he wore his shoes.
• Different times, huh?

This magnificently illustrated volume has one entry for each day of the year but that makes it sound like a trivial “fact of the day” book. Wallis has found so many odd, outre, off-the-beaten path aspects of the Wild West they left me shaking my head asking, “How have I never heard of this?”

I have been immersed in Western history for some time, and yes, some here is familiar, but there is such a wealth of the unfamiliar presented this book that it easily soars to the top of my favorite non-fiction in the genre.
Kudos, Mr. Wallis!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Indian Scout Talks A Guide for Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls by Charles A. Eastman

Have you ever wondered why most great men were born in humble homes and passed their early youth in the open country? There a boy is accustomed to see the sun rise and set every day; there rocks and trees are personal friends, and his geography is born with him, for he carries a map of the region in his head. In civilization there are many deaf ears and blind eyes. Because the average boy in the town has been deprived of close contact and intimacy with nature, what he has learned from books he soon forgets, or is unable to apply. All learning is a dead language to him who gets it at second hand.

The intended audience for this 1914 work may have been one of active youth looking to up their outdoor skills, but this grown man in his 50's still found much to enjoy.

It is simple and homiletic but often the resounding texts are. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Wildwood Boys by James Carlos Blake

He stares at the utterly uninterested stars and berates himself in a howling silence, curses himself for an irresolute weakling and for being the sort of pathetic fool who wishes he could have a moment back again so he might use it properly. Fool! A man takes an action or he does not-and then the moment is fled to wherever all moments in relentless succession do irretrievably flee.

A masterful novelized account of the life of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson and all the rawness of the days of bushwhacking.

It is bloody, profane, poetic, poignant, in short, a work of art. I have no problem elevating Mr. Blake to the status that is usually reserved for Cormac McCarthy.

I enjoy McCarthy’s work but there is something more accessible in Blake and no less beautifully addressed. 

Easily a masterpiece within the genre.

But…not for the faint-hearted or delicate dispositioned, events are portrayed accurately.

The Best of TV Westerns: The Critics' Choice : "Hopalong Cassidy" to "Have Gun, Will Travel," "Maverick," to "Bonanza" by John Javna

We continue on a theme. This currently hard to obtain volume may be slim but there is much to appreciate. You will find many of th...