Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Harry Whittington's novelization of the Elvis Presley movie Charro! is among his best work in the Western genre. Interestingly, the cover blurb calls the book a novel, not a novelization—a subtle, but deceptive difference. Only Whittington’s name appears on front cover, perpetuating the deception of a novel. On the title page, small print indicates the book is based on a story by Frederick Louis Fox. This type of treatment was very unusual for a novelization—presenting it as if the movie was based on the book instead of the other way around.

There is also another related oddity…Charro! is the novelization of an Elvis Presley movie. This should have been considered a huge marketing coup. But if so, why is there no tie-in photo of Elvis in his role as Charro on the cover? Why is there no mention of it being an Elvis movie—not even on the back cover? Inquiring minds want to know.

Perhaps there were contractual issues regarding the use of Elvis’ image. Maybe there was a dispute between the publisher and the movie studio over the novelization. Or possibly the book was so much better than the final shooting script, it became an embarrassment to the director/screenwriter of the movie.

There is also a chance the situation ensued because Whittington put the original sex and violence from the treatment back into the novelization. This, as stated, didn’t mesh with the director’s puritanical standards, which had originally caused the sex and violence to be removed from the treatment. Whatever the reason, Charro! is a less than inspired movie. It is, however, an inspired example of a genre Western, a novelization, Harry Whittington’s writing chops.

Charro! isn’t only an outstanding novel. The Gold Medal first edition paperback has an awesome cover by Ron Lesser. Known for his iconic posters for Clint Eastwood films, Lesser illustrated covers for hundreds of paperback westerns, mass market softcovers, and movie posters.

What makes this particular cover exceptional is the addition of the illustrated dancehall girl on the holster. The first time I saw the cover, I thought the dancehall girl was an aftermarket doodle. But it is an example of Lesser’s gift of artistic genius—He gleaned the detail of the dancehall girl on the holster from the novel, then added it as a unique touch. The illustration was also reused on the British paperback edition of Rio Bravo by Gordon Shirreffs (not to be confused with the movie of the same name). It's also interesting to note that the Ron Lessor cover illustration also shows up on one of the movie's promotional posters. It was also used on a number of foreign editions.

To take timely advantage of a movie’s initial release, many novelizations are written based only on a brief script outline known as a treatment. As a novelization’s author is rarely privy to the full elements of characterization, mood, and tone of a finished film, a novelization can be substantially different. The best novelization writers rely on their own imagination to flesh out motivations, plot points, and even create new characters in order to produce a coherent story. In the hands of a top pro like Whittington, the novelization can become a special entity all its own—as with Charro!

Charro! is an excellent novel based on a bad film. Whittington developed his story from a film treatment entitled Come Hell, Come Sundown by Frederick Louis Fox. The title for the film was later changed to Charro!—An odd choice since charro is a term applied to Mexican horseman, particularly those who participate in rodeos. As the character of Charro (portrayed in the movie by Elvis) is neither Mexican nor a horseman, and there is nary a rodeo in sight, it is nothing more than a cool moniker.

Fox’s original treatment, Come Hell, Come Sundown, contained many violent and sexually related scenes. The director of the movie deemed these too objectionable and excised them from the final script. Whittington didn’t have any such proclivities, putting all the sex and violence back in when he wrote the novelization, making his book much better than the film on which it is based.

The conflict at the heart of Charro! revolves around a gold-plated Mexican cannon belonging to Emperor Maximilian, which has been stolen by an outlaw band. The Mexican army, various Mexican thugs, and bounty hunter Jess Wade are after the $2,000 reward for the return of the cannon. As the story progresses, the outlaws want to ransom the cannon back to the town from where it was stolen. By this time they have trapped Wade into working with them as they use the cannon to terrorize the town into capitulation. Tension and violence soak Whittington’s take on the story, written with the lean muscular prose for which he was renown.



Laurie Powers didn’t know her grandfather, Paul S. Powers, had been a prolific pulp fiction writer until 1999 when an internet search on pen name Ward M. Stevens led her down a trail of discovery.

From the mid-1920s until the late ‘40s, the elder Powers crafted dozens of stories, mostly for Street & Smith’s Wild West Weekly, but also for Weird Tales, Thrilling Western, Thrilling Ranch Stories, Texas Rangers, and Rio Kid Western.

For fifteen years, his popular characters Kid Wolf and Sonny Tabor pounded through the blood and thunder-filled pages of Wild West Weekly, thrilling readers across the nation, and setting the stage for Powers’ 1949 novel from Macmillan, Doc Dillahay.

Doc Dillahay was released as a Bantam paperback as Six-Gun Doctor.

In 2005, Golden West released Desert Justice, four Sonny Tabor novellas in hardback, followed in 2006 by a Dorchester edition published under its Leisure Western paperback imprint.

In 2007 came Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street, a never-before seen memoir penned by Paul S. Powers, edited and with additional material by his grand-daughter.

It’s a splendid package put together by the University of Nebraska’s Bison Press, full of behind the scenes family anecdotes that also shares Laurie’s roundabout journey as she reconnects with living family members and their shared literary legacy.

Together, Desert Justice and Pulp Writer not only paint a portrait of western short fiction at the zenith of its popularity, but also offer a look behind the yellowed pages at one creator’s hardscrabble life.

What they don’t offer is an over-abundance of Paul’s fiction.

Enter Altus Press with Riding the Pulp Trail, a 2011 collection of six old Powers tales from the pulps, packaged together with six new tales never before published, and written after Wild West Weekly closed up shop. A fascinating collection for western fans, these tales span a number of years that saw popular tastes change dramatically. 

Heroes went from clean-cut white hat-wearing paper cutouts to dimensional characters of complexity and grit. Life moved on, and Powers rolled with it, infusing his unique brand of humor, action, and characterization into stories that continued to entertain for decades to come, and—with this collection—well into the 21st century.

Altus followed up with more Powers in 2013, collecting his Weird Tales and noir stories under the title, Hidden Ghosts.

Meanwhile, inspired by the work she’d done, and with a continuing love for the pulps, Laurie Powers recently penned Queen of the Pulps, a biography about Daisy Bacon, editor of Street & Smith’s Love Story Magazine. All highly recommended.


Monday, December 30, 2019



The latest issue of True West Magazine (January 2020) is a stampede of articles and information focusing on Wyatt Earp, the legend, the debunkers if the legend, and the truth that lies inbetween...

Sunday, December 29, 2019


An earlier post on the Sixgun Western Podcast blog introduced Western fans to the amazing current Western fanzine Hot Lead. Copies of hot lead are available on Amazon and continue to be published on an irregular basis (thus the term fanzine despite Hot Lead’s otherwise amazingly professional publication). However, there have been other Western fanzines of note. In October 1980, the slick size Western Magazine debut in the British newsagents and the first Western genre information magazine was born. Western Magazine’s consultants Mike Stotter and David Whitehead along with editor Dennis Winston formed a formidable trio of Western fans determine to produce the kind of genre magazine they themselves would want to read.

Today, longtime school friends Whitehead (aka: Ben Bridges) and Stotter are bestselling Western writers. They are also the dynamic duo behind Piccadilly Publishing, which has given new life in ebook form some of the most popular and best-loved Western and action-adventure series fiction of the last forty years. But in 1980, as struggling writers, they idolized the group of British writers known as The Piccadilly Cowboys. These hard living wordslingers had introduced new life into the staid Western genre with ultra-violent stories of six-gun justice and unrepentant anti-heroes. Western Magazine was a vehicle to unite the vast audience of Western fans by providing a monthly wealth of related Western articles and reviews—and exclusive stories from the most popular Western series of the day.

Prior to Western Magazine there had been a number of Western fiction digests such as Luke Short Westerns, Zane Gray’s Western Magazine, and Louis L’Amour Western Magazine. Trading on the bestselling Western writers’ names on their masthead, these were strictly fiction magazines (details below). Western Magazine, however, was refreshingly different.

Each issue of Western Magazine included short stories from the mega-popular Western writers of such Western series as Edge, Herne the Hunter, Morgan Kane, Breed, Bodie the Stalker, Steele, Hart the Regulator, and Sudden, but there were also many non-fiction articles featuring the guns of the West, bloodthirsty Indian tribes, real-life desperados, and overviews of other popular characters in Western fiction. There was even a beautiful pull-out poster of Annie Oakley for those who found Playboy centerfolds too tame.

Unfortunately, starting a new magazine of any kind is an exercise in tilting at windmills. Western Magazine was no exception and bit the dust at High Noon on Main Street after only four issues. But those four issues are a gold strike of Western lore. Copies of Western Magazine occasionally show up on e-Bay, but prices can range from reasonable to ridiculous. 

March 1994—January 1996
Issues: 12
Publisher: Dell Magazines
Editor: Elana Lore
Format: Slick
Price: $2.95
Page Counts: 104pp
Frequency: Bi-Monthly 
Louis L'Amour Western Magazine lasted for only 12 issues with only one containing a story by L'Amour (July 1995 issue.) There is also a very scarce special advance preview copy, distributed in November 1993, as a gift to members of the Western Writers of America. This advance preview copy does not contain the interview with John Jakes found in the regular premiere edition. The cover, inside layout, advertisements and page numbering was also a bit different. 

  April1954—October 1954
Issues: 2
Publisher: Dell Magazines
Format: Digest
Price: $0.25
Page Count: 128
Frequency: Quarterly

Nov 1946—Jan 1954
Issues: 82
Publisher: Dell Magazines
Editor: Don Ward
Format: Digest
Price: $0.35
Page Count: 128
Frequency: Monthly
After ceasing publication in 1954, the magazine would be resurrected in 1969 for 31 more issues under the title Zane Grey Western Magazine (the slight change in title from Grey’s to Grey).
Oct 1969—Sep 1974
Issues: 31
Editor: Cylvia Kleinman
Format: Digest
Price: $0.75
Page Count: 128
Frequency: Monthly