Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 3

Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 3

A silver lining to spending this spring at home has been time to watch more Westerns – and also more time to read about them!

I previously shared recommendations of titles from my “Western Film Book Library” last summer and fall. This seemed like an opportune time to write about some additional favorites, especially as anything of interest can be ordered without leaving home.

Below is a rundown of more books I’ve enjoyed, along with mentions of a couple of newly arrived titles I’ll be reading soon.

The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962 by David Meuel is a terrific overview of what I referred to in my December column as “Noir-Tinged Westerns.”

The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962 by David Meuel
The Noir Western: Darkness on the Range, 1943-1962 by David Meuel

Meuel’s book, published by McFarland in 2015, covers most of the key films of this subgenre, which often feature conflicted or morally ambiguous heroes. The excellent titles discussed include Ramrod (1947), Pursued (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), I Shot Jesse James (1948), and more. The author provides both critical analysis and information on the filmmakers behind the movies, including directors such as Andre de Toth, Raoul Walsh, Samuel Fuller, and Robert Wise.

One of the real treasures of my collection is a signed first edition of The Years of George Montgomery.

The Years of George Montgomery, co-written by Jeffrey Millet
The Years of George Montgomery, co-written by Jeffrey Millet

This book is much more than a memoir, it’s an amazingly detailed 288-page record of Montgomery’s life as a film star, artist, and family man. Cowritten with Jeffrey Millet, it’s an oversized volume with glossy pages, packed with movie stills, photographs of fan magazine pages, and personal photos of Montgomery’s family and artistic creations, including furniture, sculptures, and paintings.

The book begins with marvelous old photos chronicling Montgomery’s life growing up in a big family on a Montana ranch. His riding ability led to him landing a job on his second day in Hollywood, riding a horse in Conquest (1937); that in turn led to his long acting career, which included many Westerns.

Cowboy star “Wild Bill” Elliott has become quite a favorite of mine in the last few years, and I’m fortunate to have two books on him on my shelves.

Bill Elliott: The Peaceable Man by Bobby Copeland, and Wild Bill Elliott: A Complete Filmography by Gene Blottner
Bill Elliott: The Peaceable Man by Bobby Copeland, and Wild Bill Elliott: A Complete Filmography by Gene Blottner

The first book, Bill Elliott: The Peaceable Man, was written by Bobby Copeland and published in 2000. It includes a detailed overview of the actor’s career and filmography, along with quotes from those who knew Elliott and an introduction by one of Elliott’s costars, Peggy Stewart.

Wild Bill Elliott: A Complete Filmography by Gene Blottner, published in 2007, is an even bigger book in terms of both the number of pages and physical size. I just received this title, purchased in a sale by publisher McFarland & Company, and I can’t wait to read it. The alphabetical filmography includes listings for movies from Elliott’s earliest career days as an extra and bit player of the ’30s, telling the reader where to spot him in those films. Elliott’s starring Westerns are gone into with considerable detail. This looks like both a fun read and an excellent reference; Blottner also wrote the book on Universal-International Westerns which I recommended last summer.

Hollywood Hoofbeats: The Fascinating Story of Horses in Movies and Television has terrific photos dating from the earliest days of movie Westerns.

Hollywood Hoofbeats: The Fascinating Story of Horses in Movies and Television by Petrine Day Mitchum
Hollywood Hoofbeats: The Fascinating Story of Horses in Movies and Television by Petrine Day Mitchum

Author Petrine Day Mitchum is the daughter of Robert Mitchum, whose own experiences in Westerns ranged from small parts in Hopalong Cassidy films to starring roles in a number of Westerns. I loved learning more from the author about Buck Jones and Silver, Ken Maynard and Tarzan, and all the rest. Mitchum’s chronicle of horses throughout movie and TV history also includes a look at horse stunt work and how the humane treatment of horses progressed in the film industry over time.

Cowpokes ‘n’ Cowbelles and Cowboy Cliffhangers are a pair of oversized paperbacks by Donn Moyer which I discovered in the gift shop at the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine.

Cowpokes 'n' Cowbelles and Cowboy Cliffhangers by Donn Moyer
Cowpokes ‘n’ Cowbelles and Cowboy Cliffhangers by Donn Moyer

These are amply illustrated books which are also great references. Cowpokes ‘n’ Cowbelles focuses mainly on supporting Western players, with photos and brief biographies of actors such as Morris Ankrum, Myron Healey, Fay McKenzie, Joan Woodbury, and many more. It’s a great book to page through when you spot a familiar face in a Western but can’t quite place the name!

Cowboy Cliffhangers is subtitled A Listing of All Sound B-Western Chapter Plays From A to Z, and it’s been an enormously informative reference for an aspect of Westerns I have only just begun to learn about and enjoy. It seems like there’s always more fun stuff to discover when it comes to movies in general and Westerns in particular!

Radio on the Range, edited by Jack French and David S. Siegel, is subtitled A Reference Guide to Western Drama on the Air, 1929-1967. Like my new Wild Bill Elliott acquisition, this book just arrived thanks to a McFarland sale, so I’ve only just begun to delve into it.

Radio on the Range, edited by Jack French and David S. Siegel
Radio on the Range, edited by Jack French and David S. Siegel

Various authors, including the editors, contributed essays describing the history of a wide variety of radio Westerns, and they also include information on surviving recordings and scripts. Although the book’s focus is on “old-time radio,” I believe it will be of great interest to movie Western fans because the radio shows feature so many well-known film actors; Tales of the Texas Rangers (1950-52) starring Joel McCrea and Hopalong Cassidy (1949-52) starring William Boyd are just two examples.

Believe it or not, I have several additional book recommendations which may well form the basis for a Part 4 at some point down the road. Westerns are a rich topic for film histories, and I love the extra levels of enjoyment reading about them adds to my viewing. I hope my fellow Western fans will enjoy checking out some of these titles along with the films they discuss.

Favorite Western film book recommendations from readers are always welcome in the comments!

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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12 Responses to Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 3

  1. Jerry Entract says:

    Another nice one, Laura!
    The only books reviewed above that I have are the two Elliott books, the Gene Blottner one being much more substantial and a book I return to as reference.

    All the books look really interesting. Maybe especially the George Montgomery book. He was an interesting man as well as actor. I am currently working my way (in order) through his TV series, “CIMARRON CITY”, which I am certainly enjoying. Many of the episodes I had not seen since 1961.

    The book by Bob Mitchum’s daughter should also be nice. I wonder if she makes note of the fact that each of these famous horses (Topper, Silver, Trigger etc) had doubles which were used for different aspects of shooting?

  2. Laura Grieve says:

    Thank you so much, Jerry! I’m so glad to know you enjoyed it. And it’s great that you have both the Elliott books, especially as you played such a big role in interesting me in his films.

    I think you would be fascinated by the Montgomery book, it’s so detailed and personal. I couldn’t guess how many photos are in it, but it’s a lot!

    I have the Timeless DVD set of CIMARRON CITY but haven’t delved into it yet. I love some of the guest stars I’ve read are on the show!

    I haven’t read it since I first got it, but I remember the “horse” book as being quite detailed, describing how some horses were specially trained for falls or swimming, and also that although the public thought Roy Rogers had only one Trigger, there were really two!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  3. Lyson says:

    Look forward to picking up one of the Bill Elliott books and perhaps the Radio one as well. I too have the Cimarron City set – and have scheduled it for November viewing. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the opening episode which has Fred McMurray starring. I’m a big Fred fan and I’m going to try to find that online somewhere if I can.
    Enjoy your columns here and your blog site. I learn so many things of interest and pick up movies and books as well. For example, the Virginia Mayo autobiography was simple and enjoyable – I re-read the applicable sections after viewing one of her movies.

  4. Jerry Entract says:

    Hi Lyson
    Is that the Timeless set of “CIMARRON CITY” you have? If so, it should have all 26 episodes. Shame you are missing the opener ‘I, The People’ with Fred just terrific in it.

    • Lyson says:

      Hi Jerry:

      I think it was put out by Timeless – I tried to put my hands on it to check – to no avail. It definitely though did not have all the episodes – it started with Terror Town – which is the second episode- and I think had about 16 episodes.

      • Jerry Entract says:

        Lyson, I know exactly what you have because I bought the same set quite a while ago. It has 12 episodes put out initially by Timeless.
        Later they issued the complete series of 26, which I decided recently to treat myself to during lockdown.

        Believe it or not but the complete series is thinner and takes up less shelf space than the earlier issue!

        • Lyson says:

          Hi Jerry:

          One quick question – was the picture quality the same or possibly better on the full set? One thing I read , which may have been a surmise, was that Timeless initially had some issues accessing the full series with acceptable picture quality. Not sure if true or not.
          And good on you as there Aussies might say for treating yourself. We’ll be a long time gone:)

          • Jerry Entract says:

            Hi Lyson
            Picture and sound quality just fine on the episodes I have seen so far. They state that some episodes cut off before the end credits have fully rolled. Minor quibble, certainly not enough to be put off buying.
            Go for it, Lyson, and get that first episode at last!

  5. Laura Grieve says:

    Lyson,

    Thank you so much for the kind words. The thing I enjoy most about writing on classic movies is helping others find “good stuff” to enjoy and so I’m truly delighted to hear if a reader has enjoyed things discovered via my column here or my blog. I appreciate you taking the time to share that!

    I really need so many more hours in the day to catch up with all the good viewing I have ahead! CIMARRON CITY sounds just great, Jerry!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  6. Walter says:

    Laura, another good write-up and because of your descriptions, these books look good too me. I especially recommend to everyone THE YEARS OF GEORGE MONTGOMERY(1981) it is a treasure. I have a first edition also, which is signed to Rene and Doug, from 1991. George Montgomery was a true Renaissance Man. I haven’t read any of the other books, but hopefully I will in the future.

    As I read your write-up, it triggered some nostalgic memories of the first books that I read, as a youngster, which involved anything to do with the entertainment arts. I read a lot of biographies at that time, but where I lived, out in the rural hinterlands, there wasn’t much about movies or TV shows. Anyway, as an eleven year-old I read back to back WILL ROGERS: IMMORTAL COWBOY(1950) by Shannon Garst and
    ROY ROGERS: KING OF THE COWBOYS(1955) by Frank Rasky. I really enjoyed those two biographies that I checked out from the White River Regional Library.

    I look forward to your next write-up.

  7. Laura says:

    Hi Walter! Please forgive the delay in responding more quickly, somehow your note slipped through the proverbial cracks. I’m delighted to hear from you and have you add your endorsement of the marvelous George Montgomery book. How fantastic you also have a signed first edition!

    I hope you’ll have the opportunity to check out some of the other books mentioned, and I’d love to know your thoughts if you have the chance.

    What wonderful memories of your early reading of entertainment-related books. It especially struck a chord as one of the first books I remember in that regard is DALE: MY PERSONAL PICTURE ALBUM by Dale Evans Rogers – I vividly remember attending a booksigning for it with my mother at Lighthouse Christian Bookstore in Long Beach, CA, circa 1971. I was thrilled as I watched Roy and Dale in afternoon TV reruns in that time frame.

    I also remember reading WILL ROGERS: YOUNG COWBOY in the Bobbs-Merrill Childhood of Famous Americans series, by Guernsey Van Riper. It was first published in 1962; I would have read it around the late ’60s/early ’70s. So our early entertainment reading was very much in tune, if not exact matches!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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