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Saturday, February 29, 2020

WESTERN NOVELS—WYOMING JONES


WESTERN NOVELS
THE WYOMING JONES SERIES
RICHARD JESSUP
WRITING AS
RICHARD TELFAIR
There are only a handful of western series characters from the glory days of Fawcett Gold Medal, and one of them was written by Richard Jessup under his Telfair pseudonym. Jessup’s capable of strong, even great writing, and on a sentence by sentence level, he’s masterful.

His plots can be a little hit or miss, though, or sometimes a little too simple. The first and the third of the Wyoming Jones books, while hard driving and action packed, don’t have a whole lot under the hood. In the first, Wyoming Jones, we meet the title character and his adoptive father Curly, then follow Jones on a book-length revenge quest after Jones is forced by circumstance to kill Curly. Jones is after the man who put Curly in the position causing Jones to perform a mercy killing. It’s strong stuff, but is a little flimsy to sustain an entire book without additional complications—and apart from Jones tracking the killer from place to place, there aren’t any. Even with some capable writing, it’s just a solid C.

The third book in the series, Wyoming Jones for Hire, starts out strong as Jones wanders onto the range of a territorial cattle baron. After a tense standoff, the two become fast friends—except Jones and the baron’s wife are as drawn to each other as Lancelot and Guinevere. The rest of the novel takes its slow time getting us to the eventual affair and the eventual showdown between the two former friends. Once again, the structure is a little too flimsy to sustain an entire book, even one that’s only 142 pages long, and I give this one, like the first, another solid C.

But Day of the Gun, ah, now that’s the standout. Coming in at a B+ or maybe even an A-, it flirts with being a western classic. There are a number of threads in this one and they all deliver the goods. Jones has just resigned as deputy in a town where he was hoping to settle. But a band of confederate heisters has arrive, lying in wait to ambush a shipment from the confederate treasury. Throw in some canny Apaches who’ve been waiting for a chance to take revenge on the town, a scheming gunman who’s after the treasure for himself, and some great secondary characters with plans of their own, and you end up with one page-turning, dynamite western. 

If all the Wyoming Jones books had been more like Day of the Gun, the character could have sustained a long series and would undoubtedly still have a loyal fan base.

CONTRIBUTOR: HOWARD ANDREW JONES

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

THE SIX-GUN JUSTICE PODCAST


THE SIX-GUN JUSTICE PODCAST 
The scheduled release of Six-Gun Justice Podcast Episode Two is next Monday March 2, 2020, on all your favorite podcast platforms.

If you haven’t yet listen to Episode Zero (the preview show) or Episode One (the official debut), you catch up anytime...


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

TV WESTERNS—A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH


TV WESTERNS
A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH
An exceptional thirty minute TV Western, the thirty four episodes of A Man Called Shenandoah graced the network schedule between September 1965 and  May 1966. Shenandoah was a sophisticated adult-skewing Western. Featuring tight scripts full of dramatic twists, the show consistently chose cerebral plotlines over simple action.

Robert Horton plays a gunfighter shot by an old nemesis (Richard Devon) and left for dead, half-naked, on the trail. Thinking there might be a reward, the two saddle bums who discover him drag him to the nearest small town. There, the would-be Samaritans are disappointed when no one knows who he is, nor is his face on any wanted posters. He is nursed back to health, but when he recovers consciousness, he too has no memory of his name, his past, or who shot him.

Diagnosed with amnesia by the town doctor, he takes the name Shenandoah before being forced into a gunfight and killing the one man who might have told him who he is. With trouble brewing, Shenandoah leaves the town to roam the West in search of clues to his identity. Along the way, he learns he was a Union officer during the Civil War, and might have been married. In the final episode, Shenandoah has to settle for being told, "It's not always important who you are, but it's always important what you are."

Robert Horton previously co-starred on Wagon Train with Ward Bond from 1957 to 1962. When Wagon Train ended, Horton didn’t want to do another Western and initially turned down A Man Called Shenandoah. After a stint in New York doing theater, Horton bumped into the show’s creator E. Jack Neuman, who had previously written scripts for Horton. At Neuman’s urging, Horton reconsidered and signed on.

E. Jack Neuman had been involved with many Western TV shows before creating A Man Called Shenandoah. Neuman’s co-producer was William M. Fennelly, who had produced an earlier excellent Western with the same high standards and attention to detail—Trackdown, starring Robert Culp. Unfortunately, viewers used to traditional shoot-em-up Westerns didn’t know what to make of Shenandoah, quickly developing their own version of amnesia and forgetting to watch.

The show was cancelled after two seasons, but I recently watched it on DVD, and found it fascinating. Amnesia was a traditional TV trope in the ‘60s and ‘70s, my favorite example being Coronet Blue starring Frank Converse. This cliché didn’t matter when it came to Shenandoah as the episodes are so sharply written, directed, and acted. They have an edge, a silent stiletto of social commentary transcending their era.

The stories are as relevant today as when they were filmed. The early episodes of Gunsmoke have much the same impact, as did other early Westerns, but eventually societal censors began to soften the edges of the shows so as not to offend advertisers. The result was generic Pablum for the masses who didn’t want to think about hard problems. The TV Western, like the West itself, would have been better left wild.

On Wagon Train, Horton’s character rode a big, beautiful blanket appaloosa. After several episodes of A Man Called Shenandoah, the same horse became his mount again for the rest of the show’s run. For the show’s theme song, Horton, who had a strong background in musical theatre,  re-worked the lyrics to the traditional American folk tune Oh Shenandoah.

In 1967, Columbia Records released an album by Horton of Western standards, including his reworking of Oh, Shenandoah. The other songs on the album included High Noon, Riders In The Sky, King Of The Road, Wand'rin' Star, They Came To Cordura, They Call The Wind Maria, Houston, and El Paso.