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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Louis L'Amour Hopalong Cassidy Novels - Background

In the spring and summer of 1950, Hopalong Cassidy's Western Magazine published 4 new novels about a classic character, written by a new writer named Tex Burns. The books were commissioned by Doubleday's Double D Western imprint. The titles of the novels were The Rustlers of West Fork, Trail to Seven Pines, Riders of High Rock and Trouble Shooter.

Clarence Mulford created the cowboy-hero, Hopalong Cassidy, who later appeared in 118 TV episodes and films (acted by Bill Boyd). Between 1906 and 1908, Clarence wrote a series of magazine stories that were collected into a book called Bar 20. These stories were set in the American western frontier in the 1850s-60s and included several characters, including Bill Cassidy, who became known as "Hopalong" because of a pronounced limp that resulted from a bullet wound. From 1906 - 1941 Clarence wrote more than two dozen novels about Hopalong and the Bar 20 ranch characters. In addition to the limp, Hoppy always had the black outfit, white horse, and nickel-plated guns in the books and films. The author agreed to let the production studios clean up the "foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, but basically realistic character" from the books to make him acceptable for the screen.

Clarence retired from writing in 1941, after which 30 Hopalong movies were made. Doubleday organized a magazine that would be dedicated entirely to stories about Hoppy (and support the movies that were coming out). Clarence declined to come out of retirement to write the books, but agreed to select his successor. The editor of Better Publications recommended several of their magazine writers to Clarence, including a young Louis L'Amour (who had been writing for the magazine for 10 years). Clarence chose Louis to write the new novels for the magazine. According to the Afterword to The Rustlers of West Fork, by Beau L'Amour, Louis L'Amour's son, at the time Louis was living in Los Angeles, writing for magazines, and subletting the room he was living in.

Louis agreed to write the Hopalong novels, and even to follow the Bill Boyd on-screen version of the character and the very detailed plot instructions put forth by Better Publications. Louis later referred to these books as works for hire, and looking back, the publisher certainly controlled the tone and content of the novels. According to a January 4, 1950 letter, these stories were to include Hopalong as "a free lance trouble shooter, drifting along and settling range, town and other western problems.... There may be a slight woman interest in the stories, but it should be handled so that it is more a case of hero worship ... let's forget the limp."

The publisher even created the author name that it wanted Louis to use for these works, Tex Burns. The copyright for one of the four Hopalong Cassidy stories above, though, ended up being filed as "Louis L'Amour" rather than Tex Burns. According to Louis's son's speculation, at some point a fan, editor, reporter or someone else asked Louis about writing the Hopalong Cassidy books. Louis began denying the books because of the interaction with the publisher and then he felt he had no choice but to continue to deny writing them. The books weren't officially acknowledged, according to http://www.answers.com/topic/louis-l-amour, until the family re-published the books 3 years after Louis's death.

Nevertheless, these four books are part of the earliest published writings of an author who would go on to sell more than 225 million books around the world. As part of the Louis L'Amour collection, these books come with a request. Just before his death, according to the afterword, Louis asked Beau to include a request in his final book for all his readers. "Dad wanted to ask you, whoever are, to go out and plant a tree. He didn't care what kind and he didn't care where you put it. He only cared that thousands of trees are cut down every day and few are ever replaced....Louis wanted you to do this for yourself, to do this for your future."

Tomorrow we'll start with the first of the four reviews of these unusual books, the Rustlers of West Fork.

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Sharon said...

How cool is that. Over the years I've read several of his books, but it is fun to find out how he started.

Teddyree said...

Really interesting history behind the books and I loved that you included the request Louis made to his readers.

Mark said...

In reality this is huge review! I just want to read this book. I hope it will become my one of the favorite book.


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