Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Noteworthy Reads: JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND by Scott Eyman


For almost as long as I can remember, I've been a huge John Wayne fan. I inherited it, you might say, from my parents (my mother, in particular).
In my pre-teen years, while my school chums and cousins all wanted to be Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or one of the kid-oriented TV cowboys, my idol was the Duke. His turn as Stony Brook in the "Three Mesquiteers" series of low budget Gower Gulch Westerns was especially appealing to me at that early age … and that appeal – for his movies and for the man himself – has never lagged.
For this reason, I have over the years read several biographies of Wayne and/or those (such as John Ford and Howard Hawks) who had a strong impact on his life. One of the best of these, A COMPANY OF HEROES by Harry Carey Jr., I reviewed here a few months back.
But Scott Eyman's JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND delves into the subject more thoroughly, by far, than anything I have previously read.
It is clear that Eyman is also a Wayne fan. (Though he comes across as even more a fan of Wayne's mentor John Ford --- yet another example of adoration for this irascible old bully and his cinematic "masterpieces" that, the older I get, I find harder and harder to appreciate – but that's a matter to explore more deeply some other time.)

Regardless of Eyman's personal feelings, however, he does a very good job of presenting a "warts and all" portrait of John Wayne, the life he led (enduring the lifelong disfavor of his mother, for starters), and his body of motion picture work. Wayne's less attractive sides --- his conflicting, half-hearted efforts to alternately attempt joining/then avoiding military service during WWII; his role in the anti-Commie/"blacklisting" years; his poor business decisions; his heavy drinking; his domination of young directors in his later years, etc --- are all covered in considerable detail. But so is his love of family, his generosity, his loyalty, his professionalism and dedication to his craft – most notably "building" the John Wayne personna, his deep awareness of his common Everyman roots and appreciation of same in the movie-going public who flocked to his films decade after decade and made him one of – if not the – biggest movie stars in the world.
If you are a Wayne fan like me, you will find this book endlessly fascinating. If you are a Wayne basher, you will find plenty here to use as additional "see, I told you so" fodder. And if you are ambivalent about the man himself but have an interest in behind-the-scene-deals and movie-making history --- especially the sausage-making Gower Gulch years --- there is some great coverage here.
Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

THE GUNSMITH Endures - Guest Post by Bob Randisi

 
OUR MAN CLINT

The Gunsmith Continues

By Robert J. Randisi, aka J.R. Roberts



It was a bloodbath, probably fitting, given how long adult westerns and mens adventure paperbacks have been spilling blood within their pages.  But in one fell swoop publishers, with seeming disregard for the readers—or the readers that were left, anyway—cancelled all the Adult Western series—notably the long running Longarm and Gunsmith series—and mens adventure series—most notably, the Mack Bolan series.  This move, as of April of 2015, will not only rob loyal readers of the adventures of Custis Longarm and Mack Bolan, but will also put entire stables of writers out of work. Both series, along with many others, were written by multiple writers, having supplied work for many working writers for a good 40 years.  In fact, the Adult Western genre not only invigorated the western genre and kept it alive, but provided income for dozens of writers over the years. And now it’s the end of an era for all of them . . .

. . . except The Gunsmith.

Why?

Very simple answer. For the most part, the Gunsmith was created and written by one man. When Charter Books contacted me in 1981 and asked me if I could create an Adult Western series for them, I jumped at the chance.  I created a bible and, when it was approved, signed a two book contract.  Then a contract for a third.  And then they called me and said they wanted to go into the genre whole-heartedly, and could I write a book a month.  I was 30 years old, had no idea if I could write a book a month, but I said “Yes!”

I started writing under the pseudonym J.R. Roberts.  When I attended my first Western convention I discovered what anomaly the Gunsmith and I were. There were several other monthly adult westerns running at the time, and they were being written by three or four writers under a single house name. A “house name” is a name used by many authors on one series.  My “J.R. Roberts” nom de-plume was a pseudonym used by one person, not a house name. (It was only after Berkley Books purchased Charter Books and wanted to keep the Gunsmith going that they asked if they could hire two more writers, just to build up an inventory. The writers were to be approved by me, and I was to own even those books which I did not write, and receive a royalty. It made me even more of an anomaly in the genre. Once we had built up a one year inventory, I went back to writing all the books.).

           
 And I have done so since then, for over 32 years.  Gunsmith #1: Macklin’s Women came out in January of 1982, and there has been a Gunsmith every month since then.  Berkley Books decided to end of the run in April of 2015 with #399, and I was given enough warning so that I was able to place the series elsewhere and assure that Gunsmith #400 would appear in May of 2015, with no break in the action.  They will appear with a new cover design in ebook for from Piccadilly Publishing, and in paperback from Western Trailblazers.   And Our Man Clint will go on appearing in a book a month for as long as my flying fingers can flex.

So to those loyal Gunsmith readers who pick up up each and every month, you may continue to do so, with heartfelt thanks from me, and from Our Man Clint Adams.

I should also thank Charter Books, where it all started, and then Berkley Books, which has kept the series going all these years, as we all move on to the next bend in the road.











Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Noteworthy Reads: BEATING THE BUSHES by Christine Matthews

Two fathers. One missing boy. A friendship that binds the two men, even beyond death.

When fifteen year old Stevie Kracher goes missing, volunteers descend on a small Missouri town to join the search. One of those volunteers is Vincent Lloyd, whose six-year-old little girl had disappeared three years earlier. When her body was finally found, Vince became the prime suspect. Now he sees this new abduction as a chance to redeem himself, and to help save a child.

Baylor Kracher is frantic to find his son. Nothing this devastating has ever happened to him; when he meets Vince he's found the only person he believes might understands his terror. Working with an Internet search group, fighting an aggressive reporter who's convinced that Vince killed his daughter, neither man will give an inch. But are they too late? And if they succeed, are they prepared for what they might find?

(WD here: I read this very powerful suspense thriller in virtually two sittings and was captivated every step of the way. The multiple-POV writing style is done about as effectively as I've seen. You can read my 5-star review on Amazon. I give this a big recommendation.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dundee Interview Available Now at Robb Website/Blog








Today, on Julia Robb's website/blog, she is featuring an interview with yours truly. You may find it of interest.

Julia is a fine writer and Western historian whose work is well worth checking out as well, as are the many other interesting features on her site. Even if you think you've heard all the bloviating you can stand from me, do yourself a favor and have a look at the rest of the site and be sure to follow the links to Julia's own books.

Speaking of links, you can access the site here:  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Another Look: FLAMING STAR (1960 film starring Elvis Presley; directed by Don Siegel)


For Elvis fans and Western movie enthusiasts alike, this is actually a fairly significant film. It was Presley's sixth starring role and the second one (following G.I. BLUES) after he'd completed his much-ballyhooed hitch in the army.
While BLUES was a huge box office hit, FLAMING STAR did okay but not nearly as well. His next film, WILD IN THE COUNTRY, also was something of a box office disappointment. With the exception of G.I. BLUES, all of Presley's films up through WILD contained some serious elements and showed promise for his potential to be quite a good actor. Nevertheless, his mentor and manager Col. Tom Parker saw the lesser box office clout of WILD and FLAMING STAR (which featured only two song performances with one of them only done over the opening credits) as signs that what Elvis's audiences really wanted was to see him sing and dance and flirt with pretty girls and to hell with anything too somber or requiring the development of his acting chops. Hence, the following string of lightweight musical fluff (with a couple arguable exceptions) that most folks today tend to identify Elvis with today, as far as his film work.
And that's a damn shame.
There's no better example than his work in FLAMING STAR to show what a strong presence he was on the screen --- and how much stronger he could have gotten, if given the chance.


As half-breed Pacer Burton, Presley is dark and lithe and increasingly dangerous as the events of racial intolerance between Whites and Indians unfold and escalate in this action/drams Western. Elvis is supported on all fronts by veterans --- from director Don Siegel (this was prior to the renown he would gain in later years after teaming with Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry films and others, but he was a well-established craftsman at this point all the same); to writers Nunally Johnson and Clair Huffaker (on whose novel the screenplay was based); to co-stars such as Steve Forest and Barbara Eden --- and he holds his own and then some. Silent film goddess Dolores del Rio plays Pacer's Kiowa mother, veteran character actor John McIntire his father. They turn in the film's two finest performances --- del Rio in a noble, understated way; McIntire in a wide-ranging arc from tough gruffness to grim, deep sorrow. But next in line, acting-wise, and not by very much, is Elvis himself … considerably ahead of rather wooden turns by Forrest and Eden.
My biggest quibble is with the whole "flaming star of death" thing that serves as the title tie-in and allegedly is some sort of premonition that Indians sometimes envision when the time of their death is near. It seemed a little too hokey and out of sync with the straightforward grittiness that the rest of the film seemed to be striving for.
Otherwise, FLAMING STAR is tight, tough, and quite satisfying. It may not be THE SEARCHERS … but it's a hell of a lot closer to that, I assure you, than it is to TICKLE ME or any of those other musical throwaways Elvis got stuck doing later on.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Another Look: THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD


In 1958, when this movie came out, I was 10 years old. I still remember it vividly, albeit with the aid of a handful of re-viewings. What I also remember vividly is the bombardment of TV commercials that came with it. That's not to say I recall clearly the content of said commercials --- except for the impact made by the first sight of the Cyclops as presented in Ray Harryhausen's much-touted Dynamation. Even on our tiny, grainy, black-and-white TV screen I knew I was looking at something special and spectacular and I couldn't wait for a chance to see the movie.
This was probably my first awareness of big motion picture hype.
(1958 was also the year of Joseph E. Levine's uber promotion for Steve Reeves' Hercules, but that's a story to be covered another time.)

As film entertainment, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is an epic adventure filmed in rich Technicolor with state of the art special effects (for the time) that stands the test of time and can be watched and enjoyed over and over. One could quibble about the lousy acting, the poorly choreographed fight scenes, the inaccuracy of Sinbad's ship, and so forth. But the 10-year-old kid who saw these things for the first time nearly six decades ago didn't find fault in any of those things … and the remnants of that 10-year-old who recently sat down and once again watched 7th with his youngest grandson didn't give a hoot about them, either.
While some of the fights and fisticuffs were poorly staged, the sword battle between Sinbad and the evil magician's skeleton was top notch. (This was such a popular scene that Harryhausan used versions of it twice more in Jason and the Argonauts and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger – each perhaps technically better, but none more exciting or effective.)

The stop-action special effects methodology that Harryhausen learned from his mentor Willis O'Brien (the original King Kong, Mighty Joe Young) then went on to hone and refine throughout his career, holds a special place in my heart over today's admittedly superior cgi techniques … and none of the creatures thus created (except Kong himself, of course) are stamped more indelibly in my mind/imagination that the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

Another thing that made an ever-lasting impression on me was the chant to call out the Genie of the lamp who played such an important part in this film. Say it with me: "From the land beyond beyond, From the world past hope and fear – I bid you, Genie, now appear!"
I don't think there's been a point at any time in my later life when, if asked, I couldn't have remembered and recited that for you. Same is true for "Klaatu barada nikto", the critical message for Gort the robot, in the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. I bet there's a high percentage of guys my age (especially the adventure-minded daydreamers, again like me, many of whom probably aspired to and/or became writers) who could also make that claim … Spare me the forced memorization of passages from Edna St, Vincent Millay, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, etc., that they tried to pound into my head in high school --- give me quotes from impactful action movies, and I'll nail 'em every time.

Anyway, back to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad … If you haven't seen it in a while or somehow have never seen it, I urge you to grab a DVD copy or catch it on TCM or whatever, and give it a look. It holds up really well. If you can corral a youngster to sit down and watch it with you, I bet they'll get a kick out of it, too. And that will enhance your own viewing enjoyment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WHEN A CHARACTER COMES TO LIFE - LITERALLY



Over the past weekend I had a rather interesting experience involving the cover to O'Doul, one of my Western Trail Blazer "dime novels" that has gotten some new life breathed into it recently via a nice uptick in sales. In fact, along with the Peacemaker Award-winning This Old Star, another of my "dime novel" titles (please believe I mention this out of pride, not to sound boastful) it has, for some time now, been holding in the top 20 in Amazon sales for the Westerns > Short Stories category.





In the course of this, O'Doul came to the attention of an Arizona gentleman named C.L. "Lee" Anderson who sent me an e-mail with this query: "Just curious. How (or where) did you find the photo on the O'Doul cover? The ol' boy sure looks the part."
I replied, explaining that the cover was done by Laura Shin back when she was helping Becca Vickery put out the WTB brand (since taken over by Troy D. Smith). I added that I was pretty sure they got the image of the "ol' boy" from Dreamstime as I had subsequently seen other poses of that same cowboy still available there.
Mr. Anderson then wrote back, informing me that the picture was of him seated on his horse, Concho. He included this link to his website: http://historicaloldwest.org/index.html

I got a real kick out of this --- meeting (via correspondence, at least) the personification of one of my fictional characters. If you check out Lee's website – and I definitely encourage you to do so – you will learn much more about him and Concho, the skillfully trained rescue he calls "my faithful partner". They do authentic living history presentations/re-enactments all over the Southwest and serve as the Arizona ambassadors and flag bearers for the National Day of the Cowboy.

I really appreciated Lee getting hold of me and introducing me to the "real" O'Doul but, in so doing, I fear he may have gotten my hopes up for something more that will likely go unrealized … You see, I have also purchased and utilized Dreamstime images for some of the work I've put out under my own Bil-Em-Ri Media banner. In particular, I'm thinking of some of the "sexy babe" covers I've done for some of my crime shorts and the recent Joe Hannibal re-issues. (See below.)


 

You don't suppose there's a chance any of the models such as shown here might be contacting me with some inquiries, do you?
Nah, I don't figure so, either ...
But an old geezer can dream, can't he?