Western RoundUp: Western Film Book Library – Part 6
It’s been over a year since my last “Western Film Book Library” post, and in the intervening time I’ve made several interesting additions to my library, so this seems like a good time for a fresh look at some books on the Western genre!
For those who might be new to this topic, my past columns with additional book recommendations are linked at the bottom of this column.
The Heroine or the Horse: Leading Ladies in Republic’s Films by Thomas Burnett Swann is one of the earliest titles I acquired when I was first building my film book library as a teenager. It was published by A.S. Barnes & Co. in 1977. Despite its age, used copies of this book are readily available online for reasonable prices.
The Heroine or the Horse isn’t entirely focused on Westerns, but since Westerns were a Republic Studios specialty, a significant number of the films discussed in the book are from that genre.
Some chapters group several actresses for discussion, such as a chapter on John Wayne‘s leading ladies; another chapter on “superstars” features actresses such as Hayworth, Crawford, and Stanwyck. Vera Hruba Ralston, who married studio head Herbert Yates, receives her own chapter, as does author favorite Adela Mara. The book contains varying amounts of biographical background mixed with information on the films the actresses made at Republic.
This 134-page book is filled with black and white photographs. At the time I first read it, many of the films and actresses seen in the photographs were completely unknown to me, which made it both educational and a tantalizing guide to films I might one day have a chance to see. Today I’m much better acquainted with most of the actresses discussed, but there are still many films mentioned in the book which I’d like to be able to see; Republic “B” films are not always easy to access!
Those Great Cowboy Sidekicks, like several other books I’ve discussed here over the years, was a find at the Lone Pine Museum of Western Film History. It was written by David Rothel, who also wrote the wonderful book on Tim Holt which I recommended here in 2019.
The book can be found with very different covers, including the two above, as it’s been republished a couple of times since its original publication in 1984. It was most recently republished for the Lone Pine Museum by Riverwood Press in 2013; that edition runs 354 pages.
The book is divided into three sections, with the first one focusing on the “Big Three”: George “Gabby” Hayes, Smiley Burnette, and Al “Fuzzy” St. John. The second chapter covers more familiar faces such as Richard “Chito” Martin, Andy “California” Clyde, Lee “Lasses” White, Fuzzy Knight, Raymond Hatton, and more. The final chapter of “strays” has even more actors who appeared as Western sidekicks during their careers, including Gordon Jones, Slim Pickens, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, and Sterling Holloway.
The book’s photo spreads are quite beautiful, as seen above, and the photos also make the book a great resource for anyone trying to place a familiar face seen in a Western. The book contains a lot of good biographical information unlikely to be found elsewhere, including really interesting primary source interviews with both actors and relatives. Western filmographies are included as well.
The Films and Career of Audie Murphy, America’s Real Hero by Sue Gossett is yet another treasure found in Lone Pine. The museum does a remarkable job carrying not only recent books but older titles, such as this paperback from Empire Publishing, originally published in 1996 and republished in 2003.
Along with some biographical background, the book covers all of Murphy’s films in three- to four-page spreads which include the credits, a plot synopsis, and additional information such as a film’s critical reception. I particularly liked that each film’s locations are included, since that topic is always of particular interest to me.
While some of the material such as plots can be found online these days, the book was written by someone who clearly admires Murphy and it has many good photos, making it a nice career overview and companion to Robert Nott’s Last of the Cowboy Heroes, which was discussed in my 2021 book roundup. It’s worth noting that director Budd Boetticher and two of Murphy’s sisters were among those thanked for their support in the book’s opening acknowledgments.
John Wayne Was Here: The Film Locations and Favorite Places of an American Icon by Roland Schaefli was a key resource for me in finding the Rio Grande (1950) locations in the Moab area which I shared pictures of earlier this summer.
John Wayne Was Here is an impressive 313-page book published by MacFarland, and after using it this year I can say it is the book for anyone interested in Wayne locations as well as significant places in Wayne’s offscreen life, up to and including his gravesite in Corona del Mar, California.
For Rio Grande the book even provided the precise highway mile markers we’d need outside Moab, Utah. The book was remarkably helpful for our locations hunt, and it’s also an interesting read with plentiful photographs.
Where God Put the West: Movie Making in the Desert – A Moab-Monument Valley Movie History by Bette E. Stanton is one of two books on movie locations I came across in the gift shop at Arches National Park this summer. It was published by the Canyonlands Natural History Association.
I really liked this 184-page book, which as the title indicates covers the film history of both Moab and Monument Valley. Having now been to both locations made the book especially meaningful for me. It goes into considerable historical detail, with fairly small print, and contains unique photographs I’ve never seen anywhere else, such as the cast of Rio Grande on location at White Ranch outside Moab.
The book contains some excellent Western film history and will also be useful on future movie location visits.
Cinema Southwest: An Illustrated Guide to the Movies and Their Locations by John A. Murray is the other book I found at Arches National Park, and like the previous title it was published by the Canyonlands Natural History Association.
This 196-page book has heavy pages and glossy photographs, including many in color. It groups locations for seven states, from California to Texas. Although the southwestern U.S. locations naturally lead to most of the films discussed being Westerns, non-Westerns are covered as well.
Cinema Southwest includes a number of what I consider “newer” films, but the amount of information on older movies is substantial enough that I found the book worth my while. Like the previously mentioned location books, it also has useful information for visitors, such as describing for readers exactly how to get to Movie Road in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine.
A tidbit I was fascinated to learn from this book was that Clint Eastwood‘s High Plains Drifter (1973) filmed at Mono Lake, a site I’ve drive past countless times over the course of my life. That movie is now on my “watch” list!
For more ideas on Western film books, please visit my lists from July 2019, November 2019, May 2020, January 2021, and July 2021.
– 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.
Very good choices. I’d love to get my hands on that Audie Murphy book. And The Heroine or the Horse is a book I’d just by for the title alone.
Laura, thank you for your very informative write-up on books that are interesting too me, especially the movie location books. I’ll be on the lookout for them and the others.
Take care and have good health.
I love this theme, Laura, because I also love books around the movies (and have since childhood though back then there were very few).
The only book you review today that I have is David Rothel’s “THOSE GREAT COWBOY SIDEKICKS”. I also have Rothel’s fine books on Tim Holt and Roy Rogers. Plus – his “THE SINGING COWBOYS” which obviously covers the big stars like Gene and Roy but also lesser-lauded examples. I particularly like that he wrote quite a bit about the two men that had the best voices – Rex Allen and Eddie Dean, both of whom sang both western and Country. Really fine singers.
Those books on varied locations would be of real interest to me too!
Margot, Walter, and Jerry, thank you all so much for taking the time to read my column and share your comments!
Margot, THE HEROINE OR THE HORSE really is a fun title, isn’t it? Hope you can check out the Murphy book at some point. I have sure come to appreciate him immensely over the years.
Walter, I hope you’ll be able to enjoy some of these books in the future! Movie locations are of greater interest to me with each passing year. Visiting the places where movies were filmed adds such an interesting dimension to watching them.
Jerry, I don’t have Rothel’s Roy Rogers book and have added it to my list. I’m glad you have his SIDEKICKS book, it’s such fun to read.
Best wishes to you all!