Friday, December 26, 2014

Western (As in Cowboy) Novels - Are Serious Ones a Lost Art?

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I was watching one of my favorite John Wayne movies late last night, "The Shootist," which uses John Wayne's movie image at its finest.  If you recall, it's the film in which Mr. Wayne's character learns that he is dying of cancer, and desperately needs to find a place where he can die in relative peace.  So, the infamous John Bernard Brooks, Wayne's character, rents himself a room in a small boarding house in Carson City, Colorado.  When his landlady learns who he really is, she demands that he leave - much to the chagrin of her son who is absolutely tickled to have one of the last of the notorious gunfighters under his roof (the story takes place in 1902).  Of course, Brooks refuses to leave and a minor romance ensues.  

John Wayne and James Stewart
This movie has a spectacular cast that, in addition to John Wayne, includes Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, Ron Howard, Harry Morgan, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, John Carradine, Scatman Crothers, and Sheree North. Reportedly, several of the actors were specifically requested by Wayne because of his association with them in previous films.  Simply put, this film is wonderful.  It features John Wayne toward the end of his acting career in a role that mimics real life.

Glendon Swarthout
So why am I mentioning all of this?  Well, because this 1976 movie is based on the 1975 novel by Glendon Swarthout, a novelist whom I believe is terribly underrated and almost forgotten these days.  Swarthout, for instance, also wrote The Homesman, the source of the current film of the same name.

I used to read westerns on a regular basis, always looking for the realistic ones and avoiding the series stuff that reminded me too much of the pulp westerns of the late 1800s, but I've gotten away from that habit (probably because my favorite western authors are dead now).  But new exposure to "The Shootist" makes me want to read (and even re-read) some westerns in 2015.

Any suggestions as to novels or specific writers will be much appreciated.

Bonus: Here's the original trailer for the movie (you will notice some of the most unrealistic "blood" in the history of film, but that's a minor quibble of mine).

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