Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Favorite Book: A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE WESTERN FILM by William K. Everson

I don't know about you, but as a kid growing up in the 40's/50's, the movies were my escape from the ordinary humdrum of everyday existence. Not that growing up in downtown Manhattan was all that humdrum, but there was little to compare it to until I hit the movies and saw the musicals, sci-fi and westerns and thought for sure, there was another life out there somewhere of which I was being deprived. We didn't get a television until the mid-fifties - the first program I saw was a kid's show: Rootie-Kazootie. (To this day I remember the characters: Rootie, his girlfriend Polka Dottie, their dog Gala Poochie Pup and the bad guy Poison Sumac. HA!)

Anyway, TV wasn't as expansive as the movies then. The movies were treasure troves. In those days, it was truly exciting to go to the movies on Saturdays - double feature and ten cartoons for a quarter. Early television couldn't beat that. Of course the matron with a flashlight chased you out after the first few viewings, usually round about 2 or so. But if you went early enough you could see the films and cartoons over and over if you wanted to. In some theaters they didn't chase you out at all if you behaved yourself. The theater names still vibrate in my memory: The Tribune, the Superior, Loew's Canal. Ah, good times.

Westerns were my first love growing up. They were so exotic. So other-worldly. And those tall, taciturn, silent heroes....sigh! They knew how to take care of business, get rid of the bad guy and ride off into the sunset with the often simpering heroine. I wished the heroines weren't so simpering, and some of them weren't - Dale Evans, for one - but mostly we made allowances. But I have to admit, my favorite thing was the horseback riding. I could watch a good rider streak across the plains for hours. (I still can.) Roy Rogers was an especially smooth rider.

I loved watching horses galloping across the screen, riderless, accompanied by a stirring musical score. I loved watching cowboys and Indians duke it out. Loved the chase part, mostly. I knew the Indians were getting a raw deal, but I watched anyway. I even loved watching stagecoaches pounding across the prairie. To me it was all thrilling and exotic.

So, this book by William K. Everson is always nice reminder for me, of those happy days of yesteryear with a Hi-Ho Silver Away!! It was actually a gift in 1969 from my ex-husband and I still like to look through the pages. If you enjoy old fashioned westerns even half as much as I do - did - this is a book you might like to get your hands on.

A few of the chapter headings:
The Beginnings - And Bronco Billy.
John Ford: A Half-Century of Horse Operas
The First Epics
The "B" Boom
The Forties - A Peak of Popularity
The Fifties - And Radical Changes
The Sixties: Westerns, Westerns Everywhere, But...

There are tons of black and white photos (like these) from old movie favorites (lots of them starring John Wayne), some films more well known than others:

Three Godfathers with John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey, Jr. (1948)
Massacre River with Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun (1949)
Red River with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift (1948)
The Searchers with John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter (1956)
Tall in the Saddle with John Wayne and Ella Raines (1944)
Stagecoach with John Wayne, John Carradine and Claire Trevor (1939)
Gunfight at the OK Corral with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas (1957)

Dodge City with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (1939)
Shane with Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon deWilde and Jack Palance (1953)
Arizona with William Holden and Jean Arthur (1940)
Yellow Sky with Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark and Anne Baxter (1948)
Streets of Laredo with William Holden, William Bendix and MacDonald Carey (1949)
The Angel and the Badman with John Wayne and Gail Russell (1947)
Blood On the Moon with Robert Mitchum and Barbara Bel Geddes (1948)
The Big Country with Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston (1958)

Some of the early black and whites I saw later on tv, there were terrific movie channels then.

(Million Dollar Movie, The Early Show, The Late Show etc.) TV is how I became familiar with 1930's western star Bob Steele. I was a big Bob Steele fan. And Johnny Mack Brown (though I think I also saw Johnny Mack at the theater) and the hairy chested Lash LaRue and Red Ryder and Roy Rogers. Though I probably saw these guys in western serials in the theater early on as well. Oh, and who could forget Hopalong Cassidy? I certainly couldn't. And Wild Bill Elliot and Gene Autry and Tim McCoy and Hoot Gibson and Rod Cameron.

There's lots in this book about the very early westerns, westerns even before my time. But they're fun to read about anyway. And I loved reading about Yakima Canutt, the best stunt rider, stunt man that ever was, at least according to the experts. John Ford used him in many of his westerns. Canutt stunted for John Wayne and many, many others. He was known for his ability to fall off a horse creatively. He was an amazing man, who, despite his profession lived to a ripe old age.

Many of these westerns featured the early work of some of the best directors in films: William Wellman, Howard Hawks, John Ford, King Vidor, Robert Wise and the like.

A Pictorial History of the Western Film is the sort of book you want to spend a little time getting to know. The sort of book you can dip into time and again. And for someone my age, of course, it's the sort of book that brings back plenty of good memories.


  1. I loved your movie-going memories as a kid. Great post, and it sounds like a fun book.

  2. Jacqueline: It is a fun book! I've another one all about movie musicals and such. Lots of fun too. I'm glad you enjoyed my post - thanks! :)

  3. Hi...
    Found you while Googling "Streets of Laredo" (1940). First western I remember was "Red Ryder" a serial which I saw in 1943. I am currently burning 30's, 40's, 50's westerns from TCM, Western Channel (I have approx 200)... Some are hard to find, such as "Streets of Laredo".
    LOVE your blog!!!!

  4. Hi Charles, thanks for dropping by. I've been on a short hiatus but I'm back as of today.

    I loved westerns especially when I was a kid. They sure don't make 'em like they used to.

    'Streets of Laredo' is the one where a very young William Holden is the bad guy? Right? Can't remember.


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