Fourteen years ago I joined the Old West APA OWLHOOT (more on that anon), and started hearing about Clifton Adams. My fellow ‘hoots always touted him as a hardboiled western writer. Jeez, I’d think, that’s my meat. I need to read this guy. Then I’d forget - until the next mailing arrived with more praise for Adams - and then I’d forget again.
Well, Mr. Greg Shephard, the mad genius who is Stark House Press, solved that problem by sending me a review copy of his soon-to-be-published double dose of Adams, The Desperado and A Noose for the Desperado. So I read half of it. And whaddaya know? All those owlhoots were right.
Clifton Adams, I have since learned, wrote 50 novels and 125 short stories between 1947 and his death in 1971. The Desperado (1950) was his first novel, and it was a great start.
The hero/narrator of this one is a nineteen-year-old kid named Talbert Cameron, nicknamed “Tall.” Tall has the misfortune to be living in post-Civil War Texas, where carpetbaggers and southern collaborators are lording it over the true sons of the Lone Star State. After arousing the ire of the collaborators, he’s laying low on the family farm when another young rebel kicks the hornet’s nest, and a posse comes hunting them both.
Tall Cameron is now a desperado. The rest of the outer story involves plenty of shooting, killing, and miscellaneous owlhooting, complete with Indian fighting, cattle driving and an old-fashioned gunfight. But the inner story is about how that new life changes him without his realizing it.
The chief agent of that change is a sort of super-owlhoot called Pappy Garrett. Like Tall, Pappy is on the run through no (or little) fault of his own, but he’s been doing so long he is extremely damn good at it. With Pappy as a mentor, Tall becomes mighty good himself, but still harbors hope of returning to his farm and his girlfriend.
Adams’ prose is tough and tight, and the attitude, as advertised, is hardboiled. I like it, and I’m looking forward to Tall’s further adventures in A Noose for the Desperado.
The book got the low-budget Hollywood treatment in 1954, starring Wayne Morris. I haven’t seen it, but it’s pretty obvious the star of the screen story is Pappy Garrett (now called Sam) and Tall Cameron (renamed Tom), portrayed by Jimmy Lyndon, is a not-much-younger but much blander sidekick.
Now, as to OWLHOOT: Founded in 2003 by the notorious Cap'n Bob Napier, it’s a quarterly APA (Amateur Press Association) featuring wide-ranging discussions of all things West: Books, movies, TV, pulps, history, OTR, comics, music and whatever else that occurs to us. And it's done the old fashioned way - in print. This is how people blogged before blogs existed. Each member prepares his or her zine (yeah, we had a her once), prints copies and mails them to the Cap’n, who assembles the issue and mails it back. The current roster includes the following dangerous characters: Fred Blosser, Bill Crider, Dale Goble, Jim Griffin, Richard Moore, Thom Walls, George Kelley, A.P. McQuiddy, the aforementioned Bob Napier (all gents to ride the river with), and me. We’re open to new members. If you're interested in joining this wild and woolly crew, shoot me an email (email@example.com) and I’ll provide details.
This time, we find Davy breaking into song in the halls of Congress (Gee, who wouldn't?) as he patches up the crack in the Liberty Bell. The album jacket credits "Scotty MacGregor with the Plymouth Players," so I can only guess that's Scotty singing the TV theme and the rest of the songs.
For the rest of the story, you'll want to check out this great book, which I reviewed HERE, with comments by Allen J. Wiener HERE, a never-before-published letter by old Davy HERE, and more news and reviews HERE.
And while you're at it, you might as well listen to DAVY CROCKETT AT THE ALAMO and a sampling of Cowboy Slim's flip-side yodeling songs HERE
Have you read A Gent from Bear Creek and the rest of the Breckenridge Elkins saga? If not, you oughta! I like everything Howard wrote (except maybe the detective stories), but this series is my favorite. This is a paper read by Jeffrey Shanks at the 2011 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference.
I've long considered Tai-Pan (along with Shogun) one of the two best books I've ever read. (My favorite book is Red Harvest, of course, but that doesn't make it the best). On this return trip, I read it with my ears, and its lustre remains undiminished. Tai-Pan one takes place in 1841, as the British take possession of the island of Hong Kong. (They've just concluded a small war, in which they sailed upriver to Peiking and forced the Manchu emperor to sign it over.) Our hero is Dirk Struan, head of a sea-going trading company whose main business is opium smuggling. (According the novel, the opium trade is what keeps the British government afloat. China had gained a stranglehold on the British economy by demanding nothing but bullion in payment for tea, but once traders started smuggling in opium from India, and demanding bullion in return, the trade balance swung in Britain's favor.) "Tai-Pan" is a term taken to mean "supreme leader," and Struan is not only Tai-Pan of his own company, but THE Tai-Pan of the China traders, because his is the supreme trading company. The Chinese have therefore taken to calling it the Noble House. (In the novel Noble House, a sequel taking place 120 years later, we learn that to the Chinese, "Tai-Pan" is a title given to the overseer of a whorehouse, and they are much amused by western barbarians using thinking it's a term of honor.) We're often in Struan's point of view, but a great deal of the book (I'm guessing at least three-quarters) is in the point of view of others. Many others. Some are Europeans, some Chinese, some Eurasians. All are richly developed characters, and all have their own secrets and motivations, and intricate roles in the plot. The plot itself is masterful. There's always a big, compelling story question forcing you to read on, and by the time that question is resolved (to your great satisfaction), another equally powerful story question has you by the throat. It's just one hell of a great book. I'm now on my second run through Noble House (also in audiobook form). It involves descendants of the characters in Tai-Pan, who still cast their giant shadows over Hong Kong. While I'm enjoying the plot and vast cast of this one, too, it's a lot longer than Tai-Pan (the Noble House audiobook runs 54 hours, versus 35 for Tai-Pan), and feels bloated. There are many digressions that seem unnecessary, and some scenes are as long as novelettes. Though I'm only a quarter of the way through, my feeling is that would be better at half the length. I'll let you know. Tai-Pan was made into a movie in 1986. Never seen it. I'd say it's about time.
This 1962 LP was, I believe, the first appearance of any of the Bonanza gang on record. They followed up with a similar effort called "Christmas on the Ponderosa." Lorne Greene went on to record several albums of his own. Pernell Roberts did an album of folk songs. Dan Blocker released two talkers, one on his own called "Tales for Young 'Uns," and another with singer/actor John Mitchum (brother of Robert). Michael Landon did a couple of singles as an attempted teen idol. Some reviewers think this album is silly. I found it better than expected. You Be Da Judge.
Here's another story from Mike Britt's favorite website (and fast becoming one of mine), comicbookplus.com. This one is from the first Ziff-Davis issue of Ellery Queen, from Spring 1952. Thanks to "fett" for uploading it to the site. Don't know who did the art for this one, but I like it - especially the inks. The cover above is by the great Norman Saunders.
In 1963, inspired by Revel''s success with a model kit of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's; Rat Fink, the Hawk Model Company began its line of Weird-Ohs and Silly Surfers. And after Allan Sherman recorded a song about Rat Fink, Hawk answered with a whole album of tunes about their own characters. This is, as it says on the label, "Music to Make Models By." The music on Side A, the album jacket says, is performed by "The Silly Surfers with Shary Richards, and Side B is credited to "The Weird-Ohs with Shary Richards." Surprisingly, some of these songs don't stink. Give them a a listen and see.
Near as I can tell, Hawk never issued models of "Cowabunga Surf's Up" or "Gremmie Out of Control." Did they ever intend to? Beats me. Here are pics I grabbed off the 'net of the others. As you'll see, the skill and imagination of each individual modeler has a big impact on the result.
This third and final book in the Manny DeWitt series looks more like a spy novel than the first two. This was 1967, spies were big, and I have to think Gold Medal was wishing this was a spy book and wanted would-be buyers to think so. And yeah, there are some spooks in it, sniffing around after the "gadget" of the title, but Our Man Manny is definitely not a spy. He doesn't think like one, doesn't act like one, and doesn't narrate his adventures like one.
DeWitt thinks, acts and narrates like no one I've encountered before. He's a lawyer who is amused with life, but perpetually annoyed with the people and problems it throws at him. That amusement manifests itself in a lot of wry, clever and nicely crafted narration. As for the people who annoy him most, the chauffeur/smart ass dwarf in The Spy Who Was Three Feet Tall and the pilot/chauffeur/lecher in this novel, they annoyed me too. And his problems? They are in due in large part to his boss (another annoying character), who withholds vital information when sending him on assignments, for no reason other than eccentricity. DeWitt's sidekick in this one reminds me of the perpetually drunk guys who both assist and annoy Rex McBride and other Cleve F. Adams heroes. The difference is that Adams was able to rein them in, so that they annoyed only the hero.
On the plus side, DeWitt's adventures take him to many interesting locales (in this case Honduras, Ireland, London, New York, Chicago and Tennessee), and Rabe's prose is consistently fine. If you're in the right frame of mind for DeWitt's attitude and humor, and have the patience to let the story unfold, you might find this to be a great read.
The Stark House Press Manny DeWitt Omnibus is now officially available. I talked about Girl in a Big Brass BedHERE, and The Spy Who Was 3 Feet TallHERE.
Here's another old LP that's been hanging around the house for a coon's age without getting a listen. Until now. It's a you-are-there dramatization of what might have gone down at the Little Old Big Horn, suitably bowdlerized for us kids. Cap'n Bob will dig it. Gobe won't. Will you? I have the "True Action Adventure" treatment of The Alamo, too. Watch this space.
Four versions of this tune (one of my two favorite songs) reached the top ten in 1955. Bill Hayes made it to #1, while Tennessee Ernie peaked at #5. The others were by Fess Parker and Mac Wiseman (we'll be hearing them later).
Based on the number of published novels, W.T. Ballard has to be ranked as one of the most productive of "Cap" Shaw's Black Mask Boys. After his Black Mask days, he went on to write mysteries under his own name and others, and westerns as Todhunter Ballard and others. As of 1979, the year before his death, Steve Mertz tells us he had written 95 novels, more than a thousand shorter works, and fifty film scripts. In 1958, with Death Takes an Option, Ballard began a new series starring the private detective team of Tony Costaine and Bert McCall. And for reasons unknown (at least to me), he chose to write under the pen name Neil MacNeil.
The gimmick of two private eyes for the price of one was a good one, and the book covers play them up as partners. But based solely on Death Takes an Option (I've yet to read the others), Costaine is the boss, and does 90% of the detective work. McCall pops in and out, less often than I'd like, doing secondary investigative work, drinking, being irresistible to women and providing comic relief. In short, he's not really a partner - he's a sidekick. Not that there's anything wrong with that. While Costaine is your stock hardboiled P.I., being smart, tough, handsome, and flexible in the morality department, McCall is a free-spirited giant who talks like a hipster. He calls Costaine "Dad" (as in "Daddy-o"), and sums up philosophy with the line, "Three things I don't dig. Finks, falsies and fags." This being 1958, Ballard wasn't worried about offending the LGBTQ community, and an effeminate thug and his partner are referred to as "Rosebud,""blond queen,""daisies" and "girls." There's also plenty for women to object to. Meeting the secretary Costaine is assigned, he immediately addresses her as "Kitten,""honey" and "sweet." There are also naked ladies in this book - and naked men, too - none of whom show the slightest inhibition.
Costaine and McCall specialize as business detectives, and in this case they're hired to find out why a company accountant has committed suicide. The job leads them from California to Las Vegas, with a side trip into the desert. It's all competently told, and the patter between Costaine and McCall is entertaining. I would have liked a little more of it, and a little more involvement from McCall, but Ballard wrote the book without asking my opinion. The Costaine and McCall series continued for four more books, pictured here. In a 1979 interview conducted by Steve Mertz (you can read the whole thing HERE), Ballard said this about the series: I developed the idea and editor Dick Carrol was enthusiastic. Then he died and Knox Burger took over. Burger was wary of the MacNeil byline because he knew the real Neil MacNeil of Washington. D.C., and my use embarrassed him although it was an honest family name for me. Knox did his best to kill the series. However, the books were popular and went back into reprint over which Knox had no control. It dragged on until Knox felt it was safe and then did kill both the nom and the series. I had no recourse. Knox left the house soon afterward, but the series was gone.
This film was planned as a theatrical release in 1990, but was so bad it was delayed two years and then released direct to video. Still it has folks like Darren McGavin, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox in it, so how bad can it be? Well, it has Billy Mumy in it, too. You've been warned.