Western Roundup: Western Film Book Library
I love to watch Westerns, and I also love to read about them!
A variety of books helped make me the classic film and Western fan that I am today. In this column, I’ll take a look at some of the books which shaped my interest in Westerns from an early age, as well as some more recent titles I have especially enjoyed.
One of the earliest books to expose me to Westerns, going back to childhood years, was A Pictorial History of the Western Film by the great historian William K. Everson. Like some of the other books to be discussed here, I first read it thanks to my local library, then later acquired my own copy.
The book was first published in 1969, with my copy from The Citadel Press being a softcover dating from 1975. Everson’s book is chock full of movie Western history, covering silents and early sound Westerns, the “B’s,” and the evolution of the Western through the ’60s.
As a young teenager exploring classic films, the photos were probably even more important to me than the text; in that pre-VHS (let alone DVD!), pre-cable, and the pre-Internet world, the stills helped to visually open up a world of films I could only dream of seeing one day. I often made lists of movies I’d like to see, based on the photos and descriptions; some would eventually turn up on television (often edited and always filled with commercials) and a few were screened in 35mm at the Los Angeles revival houses our family frequented, but many of the films depicted have only become part of my life in more recent years, thanks to cable TV and DVD. In fact, I’ve realized reviewing the book for this post that I will really benefit from a reread at this juncture, having been able to see so many of the films discussed in recent years!
Another key book in my movie Western education was The Western Film by Charles Silver, published in 1976 as part of the Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies. That series, edited by Ted Sennett, had many wonderful titles by additional authors such as Leonard Maltin, Foster Hirsch, and Jeanine Basinger and was a big part of my early film education. I own over 50 titles in the series! The Western Film is a genre survey which, like Everson’s book, exposed me to Western film history and some of the greatest titles and stars.
The book which started it all for me in terms of John Ford Westerns was undoubtedly The Western Films of John Ford (1974) by J.A. Place. With the exception of Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), which I grew up watching on TV regularly, this book was my first exposure to all things Ford. While I have always found some of the author’s analysis overwrought — I feel that sometimes “A door is just a door is a door” rather than having deeper meaning — the film plots, author insights, and other information made me long to see the movies described; the beautiful, well-chosen stills whetted my appetite even more.
The Western Films of John Ford was one of my very favorite film books in those early years, one of the titles I finally owned after checking it out of the library countless times. I also own the author’s The Non-Western Films of John Ford and many other Ford books, but this was the book which first made me think “I’ve got to see these movies!” Paging through the book today, it’s hard to believe there was a time when I hadn’t seen the movies described; I never take it for granted that I now have the ability to watch any of the films whenever I want.
Pyramid editor Ted Sennett authored Great Hollywood Westerns, an oversized 272-page coffee table book published in 1990. I didn’t have either VHS or cable TV until later in the ’90s — instead, I was an early adopter of the Beta format! — so while I’d seen a good number of Westerns by that point, the book still left me dreaming of many others I hoped to see one day. The book also contains extensive text on movie Western history.
Don Miller’s Hollywood Corral: A Comprehensive B-Western Roundup was written in 1976, then freshly edited by Ed Hulse and Packy Smith for republication in 1993, adding additional essays by other historians and an all-new selection of photos. This big 559-page book is filled with terrific info, including a wonderful chapter on Western locations by Dave Holland, who also wrote On Location in Lone Pine (1990). This book is a must-own history for fans of “B” Westerns.
Switching to relatively recent books, below are a few of the titles I love today, both for reading and for reference.
Those who read my column on Universal Gems know how much I love Universal Westerns!
I first read Universal International Westerns, 1947-1963 (2000) by Gene Blottner thanks to the kindness of my friend Toby Roan of the great blog 50 Westerns From the 50s. The book was so invaluable that I later had to get my own copy. It contains cast and crew listings, locations, plots, background notes, and excerpts from original reviews for the 114 Westerns released by Universal in this time period. Needless to say, it’s a must for those who share my love for these movies.
Western historians Michael G. Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers have published two remarkable books, Westerns Women (1999) and Ladies of the Western (2002).
These books contain detailed interviews with a total of 101 actresses who appeared in film and TV Westerns. Jane Adams to Virginia Vale, Julie Adams to Marie Windsor, and so many more, sharing their individual memories of making Westerns. A Western filmography is also provided for each actress. These books are essential reading for serious Western fans.
Finally, two newer titles in my collection, Six-Gun Law (2015) and Six-Gun Law 2 (2018) by Barry Atkinson. The first book covers the Westerns of Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy, Joel McCrea, and George Montgomery, while the second one covers Rory Calhoun, Rod Cameron, Sterling Hayden, and Richard Widmark.
These books are so new to my collection that I’ve only read a small portion of each one, but I’m so impressed with the depth of the information included that I wanted to mention them here.
Both books are thick paperbacks with fairly small print, and they discuss the actors’ Western films in considerable depth. While I have other good books on Scott, McCrea, and Murphy, being able to read up on the films of Western stars like Montgomery, Calhoun, and Cameron is a Western fan’s dream come true, given the relative dearth of information published on their movies. I haven’t agreed with all of Atkinson’s opinions, but I respect them, and once again books are causing me to jot down lists of Western titles I need to watch!
Needless to say, this survey barely scratches the surface of worthwhile books, including titles on specific actors, and I intend to write about additional “Western movie books” in a future column…or two!
In the meantime, I hope readers will share some of their favorite book recommendations in the comments.
Happy Western viewing…and reading!
– 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.