Monday, August 31, 2009

Gun Play: Marx Six Shooter

Looks authentic, don't it? But it's really a cap gun, and less than four inches long to boot. Marx marketed their line of Miniature Firearms in various ways. You might find them strapped to a card, in a plastic box with the name of the gun engraved on top, or in a set with other guns. The set this came in includes a detective .38 and a tommy-gun, in addition to other Old West weapons. The Six Shooter breaks open like a real gun for loading caps, and you fire by pulling back the hammer. For some reason Marx made relatively few full-size cap guns, and nearly all of those were lightweight plastic with metal triggers and hammers. Part of the joy of toting a cap gun was feeling the weight of metal on your hip--and in your hand, so Marx missed the boat on that. On the other hand, these miniatures were cool because you could sneak them into school.

Cap'n Bob's Corner: Gun Quick & The Desert Desperadoes

More musings from the reading machine otherwise known as Robert S. Napier, author of Love, Death and the Toyman. This time he tells us about...

Gun Quick & The Desert Desperadoes, by Nelson Nye (Zebra 1978. Originally Phoenix Press 1942. pb) Here’s a treat, a 2-in-1 from a second-tier publisher of vintage reprinted stories. Gun Quick is about a loner who takes on a greedy big shot in gold country. The Desert Desperadoes is about a man who wants to hang up his guns but can’t. Both are pretty good smoke burners but my favorite part of each was the names of the characters. In book one we have Cibecue Toler, Walker Ide, Bronc Eads, Coffin Quelch, Six Key Joe, Jed Stobbins, Click Marvel, Handsome Charlie Haxton, Vilas Forney, Ed Jowls, The Can’t Rest Kid, Dode Glayson, and an hombre known as Pinto Vest. The hero is plain old Dave Shannon and his love interest is Beth Glayson. If you want to read this book it would help to know what a saturnine smile is because it pops up at least a half-dozen times.

Book two is no slouch when it comes to colorful handles, either: Ivory Ames (our hero), Zede Shoan, Streak Wombold, Turk, Praggon, Whisperin’ Curp, Brazos Finn, Scar Arnold, and a Chinese servant named Ah Sung. Oh, and there are also a bevy of saturnine smiles. At this great remove the stories seem dated and simple, but they’re entertaining and the action never slows. A fun diversion if you want some light reading.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Davy's Bookshelf: Fighting Davy Crockett

One of many Crockett comics I don't own, but I sure like lookin' at the cover. This was an Avon one-shot from 1955. The value on this one seems to run from $8-100 depending on condition. The autograph is that of Ray Kinstler, one of Avon's premier artists. Around this time he also began painting Avon paperback covers, including many westerns. In the years since he's done the official White House portraits of two presidents, a well-known iconic portrait of John Wayne, and much more.

A Zane Grey Fighting Double Feature

The Fighting Westerner is a good title for a cowboy flick. Trouble is, it ain’t one. Course, if they’d used its true Zane Grey title, “Golden Dreams,” it would have bombed. Even though this was made in 1935, it looks and feels about 15 minutes out of the silent era. A couple of silent movie veterans play the old folks, and haven’t quite gotten the hang of talkies. It’s a contemporary story about a mining engineer (Randolph Scott) and a mystery at a uranium mine. The only thing western about is that Randy wears cowboy duds and rides a horse. To emphasize this, he walks around the house a long time in his chaps. He eventually gets into a fistfight and may fire his pistol a time or two, but the film is really just a silly melodrama, complete with a guy in a black slouch hat and opera cape who slinks around like The Shadow.

Fighting Caravans (1931), another Grey tale, is much more fun. Turns out young Gary Cooper had more personality than old Gary Cooper. The real stars of the movie, though, are a couple of drunken scouts played by Tully Marshall (as Jim Bridger) and Ernest Torrence. This was sort of a sequel to the 1923 silent movie The Covered Wagon, which featured the same two scouts. Reminded me of The Big Trail, made a year earlier with young John Wayne, partly because both wear funny shirts. It seems The Big Trail was a rip-off remake of The Covered Wagon. Wheels within wheels.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cap'n Bob's Corner: Who Rides with Wyatt

The Almanack welcomes mystery writer and western aficionado Cap'n Bob Napier, who will now discuss...

Who Rides With Wyatt by Will Henry (Bantam 1979; orig., 1954, pb). Wyatt Earp meets a kid with a fast gun and faster temper, takes him under his wing, but isn’t able to shape the young fool into walking the straight and narrow. The kid’s name: Johnny Ringo. From there on it’s pretty much a telling of the Tombstone/OK Corral legend. Somehow, the Earp women weren’t around for this story, but they weren’t needed and I suspect the author decided it wasn’t worth mentioning them. Will Henry is a first-rate writer and you can’t go wrong with any of his books. If you have a Wyatt Earp jones you’ll want to add this to your reading list.

Gun Play: Wyandotte Hopalong Cassidy

Didn't have one of these as a kid. Maybe that's because Hoppy wasn't my favorite TV cowboy. With his white hair and mature, sensible attitude, he seemed more like a friendly grandfather than a western hero. So given a choice, I was usually watching The Lone Ranger or The Roy Rogers Show instead. Now, having seen many of the early Hopalong Cassidy films, I see what all the fuss was about. There are two of these Wyandotte (see the Y & . brand on the grip?) Hoppys in my arsenal. This one is a real cap gun, while the other is a "non-firing" version. Apparently some states had goofy laws against caps, so some manufacturers catered to them with a wimpy hammer that would not strike a cap.

Friday, August 28, 2009

John Wayne Westerns Pt. 5: Ride Him, Cowboy.

After his escape from (or sacking by) Harry Cohn at Columbia, John Wayne landed a supporting role in boxing film for Paramount, then made another 12-chapter serial, The Hurricane Express, for Mascot. Wayne was under a non-exclusive contract which at the time paid $150 a week whether he worked or not. Since these serials normally took less than a month to film, it was a good deal, especially since the average American took home about $21 a week.

His agent then hooked him up with Warner Brothers. The studio wanted to remake several of their Ken Maynard silent westerns into sound films. The Maynard movies had been relatively high-budget, with great action sequences and lots of extras. Maynard had been a fine stunt man, with a signature trick of dropping under a galloping horse, hiding until his enemies thought him gone, then swinging up the other side into the saddle. Warners planned to build the remakes around these impressive action scenes, filling in with close-ups and dialogue scenes. Since Maynard was then under contract to another studio (and getting a little paunchy besides), Warners needed someone new.

The studio liked Wayne for the part, but he almost didn’t get the job because of his reputation as a drinker and skirt-chaser. Still, they signed him up and dressed him in outfits matching those Maynard had worn in the originals. They also teamed him with Duke, a double for Maynard’s famous horse Tarzan. The first picture filmed was Haunted Gold, with spooky elements, so they decided to start the series with the second film produced, the more traditional Ride Him, Cowboy.Ride Him, Cowboy (released in the UK as The Hawk) was a recycled version of Maynard’s 1926 film The Unknown Cavalier, based on a novel by Kenneth Perkins. The devil-horse Duke has been accused of murder, and Wayne saves him by proving he can be ridden. As Wayne sets out to catch the real killer (The Hawk), he’s framed as a murdering barn-burner and almost lynched.

The Crockett Lifestyle: Bike Seat Cover.

Be the envy of every Baby Boomer on the block when you strap this genuine cowhide seat cover onto your mountain bike, Harley or unicycle. Padded with genuine antique fleece to pamper your posterior. I can see the fighting Indian, log cabin and bear in the background, but if you can figure out the image on the lower left you have better eyes than I. Guesses?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Brave, courageous and bold.

Here's the officially licensed Marx Wyatt Earp stalking the Clantons on my back fence. Like Flint McCullough, he's about a $40 figure. I loved this show, and am still waiting for the complete series on DVD. That From Ellsworth to Tombstone collection they put out a couple of years ago was only an appetizer.

Riding with the Legends.

The line-up for what may or may not be called Where Legends Ride 2 was announced today, and Davy and I are proud to be included. Davy's especially proud, because he thinks the story "The Pride of the Crocketts" is about him. Well, it is, sort of. At least he's in it, sort of. Anyway, being a genuine legend, he's certain he'll be featured on the cover. Tsk, tsk. When the real book comes out, I'll tell him the illustrator used artistic license and put him in a cowboy hat.

Here's the full line-up, as announced by Editor Nik Morton. Congrats to all!

DEAD MAN TALKING – Derek Rutherford
LONIGAN MUST DIE! – Ben Bridges (David Whitehead)
BILLY – Lance Howard (Howard Hopkins)
HALF A PIG – Matthew P Mayo
BLOODHOUND – Courtney Joyner
BIG ENOUGH – Chuck Tyrell (Charles T Whipple)
ONE DAY IN LIBERTY – Jack Giles (Ray Foster)
ON THE RUN – Alfred Wallon
THE GIMP – Jack Martin (Gary Dobbs)
VISITORS – Ross Morton (Nik Morton)
THE NIGHTHAWK – Michael D George
DARKE JUSTICE – Peter Avarillo (Chantel Foster)
ANGELO AND THE STRONGBOX – Cody Wells (Malcolm Davey)
THE PRIDE OF THE CROCKETTS – Evan Lewis (Dave Lewis)
CRIB GIRLS – Kit Churchill (Andrea Hughes)
MAN OF IRON – Chuck Tyrell (Charles T Whipple)
CASH LARAMIE AND THE MASKED DEVIL – Edward A Grainger (David Cranmer)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ridin' the Culbin Trail with I.J. Parnham.

Since 2001, Ian (I.J.) Parnham has seen 17 Black Horse and 5 Avalon westerns published. His latest BHW, Riders of the Barren Plains, came out in July, and two more are scheduled for next year. His latest Avalon book, The Treasure of St. Woody, was released this month. He also wrangles two blogs, The Culbin Trail and Black Horse Express. You can even follow him on Twitter. This is one busy cowboy.

Is there a real Culbin Trail? Yep, sort of. It winds through the Culbin Forest, a huge park and nature preserve on the shoreline of the Moray Firth in northeast Scotland, not far from Ian’s homestead. According to the brochure, it’s a great place for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. They have sand dunes, mud flats, wild critters and tales of settlers who were wiped out in 1694 by a cataclysmic storm.

Ian’s Black Horse books involve a wide cast of characters, but the one who seems to pop up most is Sheriff Cassidy Yates. His Avalon books all feature a couple of gents named Randolph McDougal and Fergis O’Brien, whom he says were oddly inspired by the TV series Blackadder. On his website, you can read the first chapters of 20 different novels. Add them up and it's like getting a whole book free. Proud to have you perusing the Almanack, Ian.

Art Gallery: Davy and the B'ar.

Here's another of Davy's Somerville puzzles. Davy claims he wasn't aiming to hurt this bear. He just wanted to trim the hair in his ears, and the old fellow was ticklish. But seeing how Davy's autobiography (available now at Amazon and other fine book dealers) says he once killed 105 bears in a six-month period, I'm not entirely convinced.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wild Bunch Wednesday Story Challenge Part 4

This round robin story began three weeks ago and will be continued next week on some other brave soul’s blog. Could that be you? Comment below and stake your claim.

What has gone before:
Part 1 by I.J. Parnham
Part 2 by Jack Giles
Part 3 by Chuck Tyrell

Part 4 by Evan Lewis

Walt Arnside downed the last of his whiskey and placed the glass on the japanned table next to his chair. Bartlett’s remark buzzed about in his head, finding no place to light.

“Ever wonder how I made my fortune, Straight?” Bartlett hooked thumbs in the pockets of his silk waistcoat. A gold coin fixed to his watch chain caught the light and shone like a small sun.

Arnside dodged the question. “Ain’t a thing a man asks.”

“Or tells, unless he’s a damned fool. But I need your help. And your trust.”

Arnside’s eyes wandered about the private railcar. The plush carpet, velvet drapes and canopied bed looked like something out of The Arabian Nights. Bartlett had done well for himself, no mistake.

“I was raised by my grandfather," Bartlett said. "He was a queer old cuss, and more than half-mad. Claimed he’d once sailed with Jean Lafitte, but everyone knew that was hogwash.”

Arnside’s gaze settled on a painting hung between two windows. The subject was a high-prowed galleon, belled sails straining as she plowed a heavy sea. The ship’s side bristled with guns, and atop her mast flew the red and yellow flag of Spain. A treasure ship. Arnside’s pulse quickened.

Bartlett grinned. “The old fellow would sit for hours in his rocker, swilling rum and staring at that very painting. ‘A treasure ship,’ he’d mutter, ‘on dry land!’ Then he’d slap his knee and cackle, enjoying a private joke. After he died, I found an iron box under the floorboards. A box half-full of these.” Bartlett fingered the gold coin on his watch chain. “I kept one for luck, and I kept that painting, hoping to learn its secret.”

Arnside felt deflated. “But you said you knew…”

Bartlett rose and strode to the painting. “A month ago, the train hit rough track and the frame jumped from the wall, cracking free of the canvas. And what do you think I found?” He gave Arnside an owlish look.

A window exploded inward, showering Bartlett with glass. Bullets smashed into the opposite wall. More windows burst. The air was alive with singing lead, flying shards and acrid engine smoke. Bartlett gasped, clutched his shoulder and crumpled to the floor.

Arnside sprang from his chair, flattened next to a broken window. Five masked horsemen raced alongside the car, sixguns spitting fire. In one fluid motion, he drew his .45 and sent the nearest rider spinning from the saddle.

Bartlett lay on his side, his breathing ragged. A crimson stain spread over his fancy waistcoat.

Arnside’s gun crashed again, and a second rider pitched into the dirt. “Is there something you forgot to tell me?”

“I hate to say it, Straight, but you’re not the first man I asked for help.”

“Who was?” Arnside winced as a slug tore a chunk from his arm.

“You’re not going to like it.”

Arnside drew a bead on a third man, but the car lurched, spoiling his aim. Steel screeched on steel as the train began to slow.

“Damn it, Scoot! Who?”

A gas lamp shattered, raining hot oil over Bartlett’s bed. The comforter whooshed into flame. In moments the car would be an inferno.

Bartlett grimaced. “Zack Roden.”

A bullet scorched Arnside’s cheek, but he barely noticed. He felt like he’d swallowed a rattlesnake.

“If we survive this,” he said, “I’ll shoot you myself.”

Short Story Challenge coming soon!

As Oregon is apparently on the tail end of time, it's still Tuesday evening here. But in honor of all you wordslingers in the land of the Black Horse I've determined to post Part 4 of the Wild Bunch Wednesday Story Challenge tonight at 10pm, which is 6am London time. Come on back. I'll do my best to give you a wild ride.

Kid Wolf of Texas

If you’re not familiar with Paul S. Powers, scroll on down to the post of August 14 called "Paul S. Powers, King of the Wild West,” or take the shortcut by clicking here. The quick version is, he wrote four hundred and some stories for Wild West Weekly. Many were under the name Ward M. Stevens, and many featured Kid Wolf.

This book, collecting five novelettes loosely disguised as a novel, was published in 1930 by Chelsea House (a Street & Smith imprint) and reprinted in 2006 in Large Print only by Center Point publishing. I had to hold the book at arms' length to read it, but it was worth the effort.

Kid Wolf was sort of the Doc Savage of the Old West – a wealthy rancher who chose to ride around righting wrongs and punishing evildoers. And like Doc, he had no trouble finding plenty of both. I’ll be telling you a bit on my own, but in large part I’d like let you experience Kid Wolf for yourself. No amount of second-hand yapping can truly describe Power’s style.

Here’s our first glimpse of Kid Wolf and Blizzard: Together, man and mount made a striking picture; yet it would been hard to say which was the more picturesque—the rider or the horse. The latter was a splendid beast, and its spotless hide of snowy white glowed in the rays of the afternoon sun. With bit chains jingling, it gracefully leaped a gully, landing with all the agility of a mountain lion, in spite of its enormous size.

The rider, still whistling his Texas tune, swung in the concha-decorated California stock saddle as if he were a part of his horse.
He was a lithe young figure, dressed in fringed buckskin, touched here and there with the gay colors of the Southwest and of Mexico.

Two six-guns, wooden-handled, were suspended from a cartridge belt of carved leather, and hung low on each hip. His even teeth showed white against the deep sunburn of his face.

In the first tale, Kid encounters a man staked stretched out on his back, face up to the sun, with his eyelids removed and ants crawling over him. – He's still alive, but only long enough to warn Kid of a villainous gang leader known as The Masked Terror. The Terror’s plan, it develops, is to waylay a wagon train, and despite resistance from the man leading the train, Kid is determined to stop him.

Kid rides into Santa Fe, all the way to the palace of the Governor. Spotting a Spanish officer mistreating a peon, Kid cannot resist humiliating him. In a shooting match worthy of Wild Bill Hickock, the officer has a sombrero tossed into the air and shoots a hole in it. When the hat is tossed again, Kid Wolf fires off six shots, and all appear to miss. But, of course, it’s discovered all six shots went through the same hole. Needless to say, Kid Wolf foils the Terror’s plans and unmasks him. This is Kid at his absolute pulpiest.

In the second story, Kid is riding along when he sees a half-breed ambush and murder an innocent rider. Kid drags the killer into the nearest town, and is soon in the middle of another wild shoot out.

Kid Wolf is so appealing because he’s absolutely fearless and supremely confident in his ability with his weapons. In addition to his twin .45s, he has his Ace in the Hole, a big Bowie knife in a sheath sown into the back of his buckskin shirt. In times of need, he just reaches behind his neck, plucks out the Bowie and flings it unerringly into the heart of the villain of the week. Very cool.

In the third tale, Kid befriends a widow whose husband has been shot, her ranch hands paid to desert, and her cattle run off. Naturally, there’s a slippery gent in town eager to buy her ranch for bottom dollar. Next, he’s off to Skull, New Mexico, where he encounters such charming folk as rustler and bullwhip artist Blacksnake McCoy and his comparatively respectable boss, Gentleman John the cattle king.

The Kid’s roundup adventure involves a stagecoach rattling along the Arizona-New Mexico line when they’re pinned down by Apaches. A brave young soul rides to the nearest town, Lost Springs, and staggers into the saloon for help. He’s met with nothing but indifference, and when he calls the men cowards, their leader sends him sprawling to the floor. Enter Kid Wolf, sweeping the room with cool, calm eyes. “Isn’t it rathah wahm foh such violent exercise, gentlemen?” “Are yuh tryin’ to mind my business?” asks the bad guy. “When I mind somebody’s else’s business,” Kid Wolf drawls, “that somebody else isn’t usually in business any moah.” The young man from the stagecoach tells Kid his story, ending with “Won’t you help me?”

“Sho’,” Kid Wolf says. “I’ll throw in with you. And these othah men are goin’ to throw in with yo’, too!”

The men in the saloon stood aghast, open-mouthed. But they didn’t hesitate long. When the stranger spoke again, his words came like the crack of a whip:

“Get yo’ hosses!”

Garvey’s heavy-jawed face went purple with fury. That this young unknown dared to try such high-handed methods so boldly in Lost Springs—which he ruled—maddened him! His big hand slid down toward his hip with the rapidity of a lighting bolt.

There was resounding crash—a burst of red flame. Garvey’s hand never closed over his gun butt.
The stranger had drawn and fired so quickly that nobody saw his arm move. And the reason that the amazed Garvey did not touch the handle of his .44 was because there was no handle there! The young newcomer’s bullet had struck the butt of the holstered gun and smashed it to bits.

Garvey stared at the handleless gun as if stupefied. Then his amazed glance fell upon the stranger, who was smiling easily through the flickering powder fumes.

“Who—who are yuh?” he stammered.
The stranger smiled.

“Kid Wolf,” he drawled, “from Texas, sah. My friends simply say ‘Kid,’ but to my enemies I’m ‘The Wolf’!”

Monday, August 24, 2009

John Wayne Westerns Pt. 4: Two Fisted Law

Two Fisted Law (1932) was based on a William Colt MacDonald story. In this one McCoy is a rancher who gets cheated out his ranch and prospects for silver until he can settle accounts with the villains (one of whom is crooked sheriff Walter Brennan). Wayne plays one of McCoy’s ranch hands (that's him on the lobby card above, looking wistfully on as McCoy gets the girl). The most interesting thing about Wayne’s role is that he plays a character named Duke. In Wayne’s next western it’s the horse who’s called Duke. How the name came back to Wayne is another story.

Most discussions of this film (and Texas Cyclone) tell us that Wayne disliked Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn. But they don’t say why. The book The Young Duke by Howard Kazanjian and Chriss Enss offers an explanation. Cohn had signed Wayne to an exclusive five-picture contract, apparently intending to use him as the lead. One of the films was a romantic comedy called Men Are Like That with silent star Lara La Plante (The film is better known as Arizona). Unfortunately for Wayne, Cohn was in love with Miss La Plante. When rumors flew that Wayne was having an affair with his co-star, Cohn called him on the carpet. Wayne was in love with another woman (a young socialite) and denied the affair, but Cohn didn’t believe him. Cohn got his revenge by sticking Wayne with small supporting roles (including those in Texas Cyclone and Two Fisted Law) for the remainder of the contract. According to The Young Duke, Wayne’s final film for Cohn was The Drop Kick, playing a college football player who sells out his team (an insult to Wayne’s legacy as a USC football star). Great story, if true, but I can’t verify it. The Drop Kick was actually produced by Fox and released back in 1927, with Wayne as an unbilled extra. His only football drama for Columbia was Maker of Men, and I’ve found no other description of Wayne’s role.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who Are the Legends?

The world waits to find out. Editor Nik Morton has indicated there may be about 20 stories in Express Westerns' yet-to-be-titled follow-up to Where Legends Ride. Word has leaked from various sources that tales by Ian Parnham, Howard Hopkins, Gary Dobbs, Charlie Whipple and David Cramner have been accepted. (And if I've missed the announcement of any others I hope I may be shot.) If my finger-counting is correct, there are some 15 authors yet to be revealed. Nik has sworn to unleash the entire list upon the world on August 27. The suspense builds. Jeez, it's like waiting to learn the line-up for the next season of Dancing With the Stars. Davy and I offer a tip of our coonskin caps to all, named and unnamed.

Lone Ranger 2, Tonto 1

Yep, Tonto got shortchanged in the Marx Lone Ranger Ranch playset (from 1956). The set included two poses of the Ranger and only one of him. How could be expected to ride to town and get beat up when he was stuck in this cigar store pose? Still, these are very nicely detailed 60mm figures. You can almost see Clayton Moore behind the mask(s). And the separate soft rubber saddle and bridle make Silver look really cool. Everybody say "Hi Yo."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pecos Bill!

As proof of the Almanack’s redeeming social value, we invite you to enroll in this crash course in Texas History, Geology and Zoology. You’ll learn why the grizzly has no tail, why there’s gold in them thar hills, and why coyotes howl at the moon. You’ll discover the origin of the Rio Grande, how we got the Gulf of Mexico, and how the Painted Desert got its name. Professor Roy Rogers is assisted by The Sons of the Pioneers and the magical music and sound effects of Mr. Walter Disney. This record was adapted from an animated short included in the Disney feature Melody Time. Complete your enrollment by clicking right here. Once on the Kiddie Records Weekly site, begin your course by clicking on Week 15 of the list, or the Pecos Bill picture sleeve you’ll find on the right. Class time is approximately 19 minutes.

The Man With a Very Short Name

The mysterious Steve M resides in the UK. I know that much. From the interview he granted Joanne Walpole I learned that his love of westerns may have had its genesis in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and a series of books based on The Man With No Name. I know he reads about 6 books a month, not all of them westerns, and enjoys the Executioner. Beyond that, all I know is he’s been putting out one hell of a blog for the past year or so. Western Fiction Review delivers one entertaining review after another, punctuated with insightful interviews with folks like James Reasoner, Ed Gorman, Bob Randisi, Frank Roderus, Ralph Cotton, Jory Sherman… the list goes on. Oh yeah, I know one other thing. I’m glad he’s looking in on the Almanack.

Gun Play: Kilgore Roy Rogers

Many companies offered Roy Rogers cap guns, most are really expensive now. These Kilgores are a bit more common than most, and I'd put them in the moderately expensive category. In mint, unfired (meaning no cap residue) condition, as these are, I'd say the larger one might bring about $100 and the other slightly less. Beats me why no one ever made a Roy Rogers cap gun that resembled the gun Roy himself usually carried a silver-plated Peacemaker. The closest thing to it was the Fanner 50, featured a few days back.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Art Gallery: Davy visits the Alamo

Davy likes puzzles. Yeah, most of the ones he likes are kids' puzzles, but he had very little schooling, so you can do the math. Still, once he puts them together they look great framed and gracing the walls of our editorial offices. This one, made by the Somerville company, finds our hero striking a noble and thoughtful pose in Alamo Plaza, somewhere between the time Texas joined the Union and the plaza was paved to accommodate snowcone stands. Look close, and you'll spy pieces shaped like a bell, a saber and a flintlock pistol.

The Thrilling Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

Among his many favorite films, Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. lists Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Duck Soup, High Noon, and Murder My Sweet. Even though he failed to mention Monty Python & the Holy Grail and The Adventures of Robin Hood, this is obviously a man of refined taste. His blog Thrilling Days of Yesteryear (now going on 6) is a constant feast of news and commentary devoted to classic films and television, Old Time Radio, comic strips and related nostalgia—in other words, the coolest stuff on earth. Among other special features, you’ll find a handy guide to Classic TV Online, including Have Gun—Will Travel, The Cisco Kid, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger and many others. Thrilling is an understatement. Welcome aboard, Ivan!

Emulate the Saint!

Chances are you've already seen it, but this is one blog post that is not to be missed. Gary Dobbs' Tainted Archive article "How to Emulate the Saint on a Limited Budget" is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. And it's only the first in a series. Dang, I wish I'd written it!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

John Wayne Westerns Pt. 3: Texas Cyclone

Texas Cyclone (1932) was hardly John Wayne’s finest hour. But at least he didn’t have to play a corpse as in The Deceiver, or spend much of the movie in jail as in The Range Feud (both 1931). In the months since The Range Feud he’d had another small part in a football drama, appeared in two short subjects and starred as a carnival stunt pilot in the 12-chapter serial The Shadow of the Eagle. Now here he was back in a minor role in a B-Western, backing up Col. Tim McCoy. After snagging second billing behind Buck Jones in The Range Feud, he’s knocked down to fourth, and instead of playing the hero’s stepbrother, he’s merely one of several pals from Texas.

As the posters proclaim, Texas Cyclone belonged solely to McCoy. On the 1-sheet McCoy’s face is as big as King Kong’s, and on the 3-sheet he towers over the landscape like Paul Bunyan. John Wayne is just a name in the fine print. Wayne finally got his revenge in a foreign DVD release, where he’s the star.

As the story opens, McCoy wanders into a town where everyone seems to know him, mistaking him for a man five-years dead. Even the dead guy’s wife is fooled. The widow, of course, is losing her cattle to rustlers, so Tim calls in Wayne and his other Texas pards to help. Violence ensues, and there’s a big twist at the end to make everyone warm inside. Walter Brennan is on hand as the sheriff. Wayne reportedly didn’t like Tim McCoy, but I like him just fine. He always has a twinkle in his eye, and the way he shoots a pistol--by pointing the gun barrel straight up, then snapping his wrist forward as he fires--just has to make the bullets go faster.

Gun Play: Mattel Fanner 50

I had a lot of cap guns when I was a little kid. And now that I'm a big kid I have a lot more than that. But the number one choice for my holster has always been the classic Mattel Fanner 50. Introduced in 1957, the Fanner remained the anchor of the Mattel cap gun line well into the late sixties. The early Fanners, like these, had a realistic nickel finish. Several variations in finish, grips, size and function were introduced over the years. We'll take a look at many of them, and other nonlethal weapons from my armory, as the Almanack rolls merrily along.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jeff Smith, Spawn of the Spawn of the Spawn of Soapy.

OK, I’ll admit I’d never heard of Old West badman Soapy Smith. My first reaction was, Wasn’t that an old comic strip character? But no, I was thinking of Snuffy Smith. And there was once a strip called Soapy, drawn by Joe Musial, who sometimes ghosted Snuffy. But Jeff Smith’s Soapy was a real guy, a fascinating character, and Jeff’s great- grandfather to boot. Jeff’s book Alias Soapy Smith, The Life and Death of a Scoundrel is due out this month, and Jeff has done a truly incredible job of promoting it. He has an extensive Soapy website and a cool blog loaded with photos and factoids from Soapy’s life and times. All writers could learn from this. His efforts certainly worked on me. I look forward to the book. Thanks for joining us, Jeff!

The Crockett Lifestyle: Ashtray.

Imagine crushing your butts in one of these! Whether you're leadin' the wagon train (top), herdin' wild horses (bottom) or just relaxing in front of the TV enjoying John Wayne's Alamo,
this genuine fine china ashtray is the perfect excuse to stick with the habit. If they started remanufacturing these, smoking would probably become socially acceptable again. (Also makes a swell candy dish.)

Flashback: 1836

Over the last 175 years, some of the Almanack’s old files, including copies of many past issues, have been destroyed due to fire, flood, earthquake, Indian attack and other minor disturbances. We are therefore indebted to Mr. Bill Crider of Brownsville, Texas for photographs such as this, depicting the cover of our second issue, which he purchased as a child from the local trading post.

In case you are unable to decipher the caption beneath the illustration, it reads, “Col. Crockett’s Method of Wading the Mississippi.” When I asked Davy why he seemed to be wearing a skirt, he bristled and insisted this is merely a long-tailed coat. I suppose that’s true, as a good deal of squinting reveals a row of buttons extending down to the hem.

What follows are Davy’s introductory remarks to that second issue and an explanatory note regarding his most recent session in Congress.

“Go Ahead” Reader

My printer tells me how my Almanack has gone ahead like a steamboat and has been introduced into the first semicircles in the United States. I had no idee when I first begun to write for the public that I should have such luck. I begin to think I’ve hit on the right track, and so I keep on. I don’t doubt that I shall not only be able to tree a little change, but also a little fame into the bargain. It isn’t every member of Congress that knows how to authorise as well as to speechify. And it remains to be larnt whether I shall go down to posteriors with the most credit as a Congressman, or a writer.

Although I like moony nights for hunting yet I’ll be shot if I node how to calculate the time of the moon’s rising and setting. So I got a very good Gastronomer to do it for me. I spose my readers want to know how I’ve passed my time the last year when at home. I’ve built a new tan-yard, near my house for the purpose of tanning alligator’s skins, which my wife is making up into under shirts for the young ladies. Reader I must now bid you good-bye, and may God bless you, for I can’t.

The Reasons I Didn’t Speechify in Congress the Last Winter

I spose I owe some apology for not making more stir in Congress last winter, but the fact is that I had treed a confounded cold by sleeping in the same room with a damp traveler, while in Washington. My throat and jaws were so exflunctoficated with the influenza that I even snored hoarse. I was also suffering from a bite that I received from a tame bear which my wife keeps in her dressing room to scratch her back when it itches.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

John Wayne Westerns Pt. 2: The Range Feud.

Following his appearance in The Big Trail, John Wayne had parts in four non-westerns, playing a college student, an architect, an army lieutenant in love with his commanding officer’s wife, and a corpse. His next western was The Range Feud (1931), a Buck Jones picture. You’ll notice he got second billing, nosing out Buck’s horse Silver.

Buck plays Sheriff Buck Gordon (funny how often his characters were named Buck). He’s forced to arrest his stepbrother Clint Turner (John Wayne) for murder, then scramble to save him from hanging. Clint, you see, is accused of killing his girlfriend’s father, who is himself accused of rustling. Clint had plenty of motive, because the young lovers were from feuding families and forbidden to see each other. Romeo and Juliet on the range. Wayne and Jones remained friends until Buck’s death in 1942.

Nik Morton, one-time World Authority on Webb Patent Gas Sewer Lamps, and more.

Here’s Nik wearing his game face as he edits the upcoming Express Westerns anthology, which may or may not be called Where Legends Ride 2. Nik has multiple personalities. His first books were published under the name Robert W. Nicholson. He now writes westerns as Ross Morton (most recently The $300 Man), is half of an author named Faulkner Nicholson (Wings of the Overlord coming soon), and writes mysteries (the latest is The Prague Manuscript, with The Tehran Transmission due this year) under his own name. Assuming, of course, that Nik Morton is his real name. Heck, it could be Ernest Hemingway. He’s also a screenwriter, and has illustrated some of his own book covers. Much more at his website, and at his blog, WRITEALOT. Welcome to the Almanack, Nik!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Crockett Lifestyle: Slippers.

As you'll discover if you watch this blog long enough, it's possible to furnish your entire house and outfit your person from head to toe with Davy Crockett merchandise. Case in point: These classy fleece-lined slippers. Davy wants me to buy him a pair of these babies, but as they've been out of production since the fifties, they now cost the earth. Until I win the lottery, he'll have to struggle along with his 175-year-old mocassins.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Untold tales of Pete Duel.

To salute Joanne Walpole, the Almanack is pleased to present a few never-before- published second-hand memories of her favorite TV cowboy, Pete "Hannibal Hayes" Duel. The poop comes from my old friend Drew Bentley. Back in our high school days, he and I were each half (no, that's not a typo) of a rock band called The Strychnine Five (hear us here). Drew's now a member of the Nebraska Radio Personalities Hall of Fame. Back in the early 70s he was in a lounge band called The Entourage with Pete Duel's sister Pam. That's Drew in the upper right of the photo below, with the groovy muttonchops. I'll let you guess which is Pam. (If you click on the photo to bring up the big version, you'll see the family resemblence.) The band was touring Las Vegas and California while Alias Smith and Jones was on the air, and Pete would join them now and then to party.

On one occasion they went horseback riding. After the others had saddled up and ridden ahead, Pete was still getting Pam's young daughter Jennifer settled on a paint pony. Hearing a clatter of hoofs, Drew looked back to see Jennifer come riding into sight on the paint, her legs flopping every whichaway. After her galloped Pete, attempting a TV-style rescue. But he was too late. She fell, and the pony ran over her. Pete was frantic, thinking she was dead, but she escaped with a few bruises.

Another time they'd gone to a buffet. Pete was unshaven, wearing blue jeans and John Lennon-style granny glasses, probably thinking no one would recognize him. But a little girl wandered over to the table and said, "Are you Hannibal Hayes?" "Why, yes I am," said Pete, and signed an autograph. "That's what it's all about," he told the band. Within minutes the whole restaurant knew what was up, and a long line of admirers had formed.

The maitre'd at a snooty restaurant once turned up his nose at Pete, finding him too scruffy to seat. Pete proved he had the proper credentials by yanking out a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills.

My favorite tale involves Pete and The Entourage partying it up in a bar. Drew lost sight of him for a time, and finally discovered him up on a table in another part of the bar, roaring drunk and reciting the soliloquy from Hamlet.

A tip of the jug to Joanne Walpole.

Davy encourages you all to knock back a dram of good Tennessee corn licker in honor of Follower Joanne Walpole. Joanne rides the Black Horse trail as Terry James. Her first BH book, Long Shadows, was published in May, and her next, Echoes of a Gunman, is coming in February. She's also the instigator of Wild Bunch Wednesday, which looks destined to become an Internet tradition. Limber up your trigger finger and click here to peruse her fine blog.

Hopalong Cassidy and the Square Dance Holdup.

I'd seen this book/album kicking around flea markets for years, but never heard it until master webcrawler Bill Crider turned me on to a site called Kiddie Records Weekly.

The site offers you the option of listening to the record, downloading it, or viewing it like a storybook. It's the next best thing to being a kid again. I hope I'm not spoiling things by revealing the moral of the story. "Well kids," Hoppy says at the end, "that's the story of the Square Dance Holdup. Next time you go to a square dance, better not check your guns at the door. Never can tell when you might need them." Words to live by.

Clicking here will take you to the index of 2009 entries. You'll find Hoppy listed down on Week 28. Click there and you're good to go. There are half a dozen other western-related records on the site. You could peek at them all right now, of course, but I'll be featuring them one at a time over the next few weeks.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Flint McCullough drops by.

I snapped this pic of Flint lurking around my backyard, no doubt scouting a safe route to lead the Marx Wagon Train Playset through to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (which is about 10 miles from here). I guess the cats, dogs, crows, possums and raccoons looked pretty intimidating to a guy who’s only 2 ¼” tall. The train never came through.

Sadly, this figure is the only piece I own from that playset. Maybe I should say tragically, because if I had the whole set in mint condition it would be worth over $15,000. Flint by himself goes for about forty bucks.

You’ll be pleased to learn the real life Flint, Robert Horton, is still around and has his own website. Check it out. There are pics of some great Wagon Train collectibles and you get to hear him sing the show’s theme song. Unlike “golden throat” cowboys Hugh O’Brien, Lorne Greene and Nick Adams, Horton (now 84) was a real singer in his day. He was the male lead in 110 in the Shade, the Broadway musical version of The Rainmaker, which ran for 330 performances – and appeared in at least 30 other Broadway shows. He released three LPs.