Monday, October 7, 2013

A book to fly west with

One of the books I read, mostly on airplanes, during my recent excursion through the Rocky Mountains was one called The Hollywood West: Lives of Film Legends Who Shaped It, edited by Richard W. Etulain and Glenda Riley. The 2001 book, a collection of short biographies of actors and, in the case of John Ford, a director, most responsible for how most of us picture the Old West in our minds.

I liked the book, in part, because it describes some of the places we visited on our bus tour, most notably Monument Valley, where Ford filmed Stagecoach and several other pictures starring John Wayne, another of those written about in The Hollywood West. Our tour guide mentioned that if you pay close attention you'll notice the stagecoach going past some of the same scenery again and again. Most of us don't notice it, however. Our son appears as an extra in The Shawshank Redemption (it was his summer job one year when he was in college), yet when my wife and I watch the movie we often miss him, even though we are watching for him, because it is so hard not to focus on the actors with the speaking parts.

Another thing I liked about the book is the obscure bits of trivia the various authors toss into the mix. For example:

-- Max Aronson (silent film star Bronco Billy Anderson) got his start in westerns by lying about being an expert horseman. When he tried to mount a horse for the first time on screen, however, he approached the horse from the wrong side and was thrown.

-- Tom Mix, who played a hero in so many western movies, went AWOL from the Navy and was officially a "deserter" throughout his lifetime.

-- As a girl, Dale Evans (Francis Octavia Smith) fantasized about marrying Tom Mix one day. Instead she married another movie cowboy, Roy Rogers.

-- You can tell the good guys from the bad guys in Gene Autry movies by how characters refer to the hero. Friends call him Gene. Enemies call him Autry.

-- Barbara Stanwyck, who feminized the Hollywood western, was afraid of horses.

-- Jay Silverheels played the Lone Ranger's trusty Indian sidekick Tonto in 221 television episodes, but his real name was Harold J. Smith. He didn't legally change his name until 1971.

This rather obscure little book also covers such people as Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Katy Jurado, Iron Eyes Cody and Williams S. Hart. It's a good way to pass the time while flying west.

Monument Valley

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