Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hopalong Cassidy

I'm reading The Rustlers of West Fork by Louis L'Amour. L'Amour was a favored writer of my youth. I loved his westerns and he certainly was an influence on my own style and on the characters I've created. But this isn't your usual L'Amour western. This is a novel about Hopalong Cassidy. For those who don't know, Cassidy was a rough-talking cowboy created in 1904 by Clarence Mulford. Mulford wrote a lot of stories about Cassidy, but the character became hugely popular in the 1930s and 1940s in a series of films where he was recast as a clean-cut, well-mannered hero. The character eventually made it onto TV in the very first network western series.

At one point, L'Amour, a respected pulp writer of the time who had not yet made much of a foray into novels, was asked to write some new Cassidy novels. In fact, he was recommended by Mulford, who turned the offer down himself. L'Amour wrote four, under the name Tex Burns, but then he spent the rest of his life denying that he'd ever written a Cassidy novel, even to his death.

Such things have a way of coming out, of course, and there were those who had long suspected the Tex Burns--Louis L'Amour connection. The four books have since been published under L'Amour's name, with forewords or afterwords by his son, Beau L'Amour. I have a feeling that Beau was instrumental in having these published, but I'm not completely sure.

The question to me is why L'Amour denied so vehemently that he'd ever written of Hopalong Cassidy. His son reveals that Louis never thought the books were very good, although in reading them they seem clearly to have the L'Amour touch. They are not great, and almost seem like drafts of what would later come to be the L'Amour style, but they are in no way embarrassing. Beau also thinks that his father may have lied initially and then felt like he had to keep on lying to keep the secret. Perhaps he lied because it was in his contract. These were strictly works for hire. Or perhaps he lied because, as I understand it, he had to revise the first couple of books after they were written to make the character more like that of the movies and TV show rather than like the original Mulford books, and it seems that this may have made him quite angry. I wonder if he felt somehow that he had betrayed his own ideals by doing so, although if so it's an amazingly mild betrayal. It's not like he wrote porno to survive, like a number of well known authors of today did in their pasts.

Anyway, if you want to read Louis L'Amour at his best, then don't pick the Cassidy novels. They are, in addition to "Rustlers," Trouble Shooter, The Trail to Seven Pines and The Riders of High Rock. Instead, pick books like To Tame a Land or The First Fast Draw or A Man Called Noon. But if you're a L'Amour completist, the Cassidy novels won't disapoint.

A final thought, L'Amour was told early in his career that he'd have to write under a different name, that American audiences just wouldn't read a western by someone with a Frenchy sounding name like L'Amour. I'm glad he proved 'em wrong.

8 comments:

Michelle's Spell said...

Charles,

I've always thought he was a master of plot, so much so that his books read quicker than almost anyone else's do!

Steve Malley said...

I used to *love* watching Hoppy on TV. He was an absolute favorite, right up until and through the year I was sick as a kid.

For some reason, after I recovered, the cowboy didn't come with me. Might be fun to check him out in print...

Susan Miller said...

My brother was a huge fan of this author. I'll add him to the stack of books that I need to read.

Once again, thank you.

Erik Donald France said...

Great story -- love this kind of stuff. My father is a huge fan.

the walking man said...

Louis who?

Donnetta Lee said...

Nothing beats a good western novel/movie. For some reason, they are timeless. Never read the Hopalongs but used to watch the TV series. (Getting older!)
Donnetta

Bernita said...

My brother loved him too.
Was it L'Amour who did some western short stories with characters from Greek myths?

Charles Gramlich said...

Michelle, yes, his books are very fast reads.

Steve, Donnetta, I never watched much Hoppy on TV, but I was into Gunsmoke, Bonanza, High Chaparral, and Big Valley.

Susan, Erik, I got started on L'Amour from my Brother in Law, who was a huge fan.

Walking man, dudeeeeee.

Bernita, I don't know if he ever did so deliberately but a lot of his plots have elements that might seem to be derived from Greek plays.