Friday, July 12, 2013


This is a good book for two reasons: Louis L’Amour wrote it, and it’s about Hopalong Cassidy.

Although this appears to be L'Amour's very first novel, it sure doesn’t show it. I’ve read them all, and while my favorites are the pre-westerns like Sackett and Fair Blows the Wind, I’d rate this up with any of his straight westerns (and higher than some, because, as I mentioned, it’s about Hopalong Cassidy).

Beyond the book’s entertainment value, it’s interesting because of L’Amour’s thirty-year attempt to deny authorship. As Louie’s son Beau tells it in the afterword to the 1991 Bantam edition (and online HERE), it came about in 1950, when the folks at Doubleday developed an itch to publish some new Hoppy novels, and asked Clarence Mulford, who had retired in 1941, to write some new ones. He declined, but agreed to license the rights if a suitable writer could be found. Mulford found that writer himself, in the pages of the pulps, where L’Amour had been selling westerns and adventure stories for the past ten years.

Doubleday initially wanted L'Amour to pattern the character after William Boyd (shiny clean, with a black suit, silver-plated six-guns and hair to match), but he insisted on portraying him more in the Mulford mode, an ordinary looking red-haired cowboy. L’Amour won that battle (temporarily) and wrote the first two novels, The Rustlers of West Fork and Trail to Seven Pines, which were first published in the brand-new Thrilling pulp, Hopalong Cassidy’s Western Magazine.

Beau notes that the publishers insisted on a pen name, and eventually decided on "Tex Burns." Beau tells it like this:
Before the war, when Dad was writing adventure and sports stories, nobody had any objections to his using his own name. But in the mid '40's, when he started trying to sell Westerns, he ran into trouble. The management at Better Publications did not believe they could sell Western stories by a writer named Louis L'Amour. Westerns had to be written by a man who could have been a cowboy and everybody knew that cowboys had short, tough-sounding names: Luke Short, Max Brand, Will Henry, Brett Hart, Zane Grey. They told Dad that no one with a name like Louis L'Amour could ever sell Westerns - it was too hard to pronounce, too soft sounding, it was too, well . . . Foreign.

If the folks at Better Publications (the Thrilling line) actually said such a thing, Louie had to know it was bull. His western stories had been published under his own name in Popular Publications mags since at least 1940, and in the Thrilling pubs since at least 1946. While a few of those appeared under the pen name Jim Mayo, most were published as by Louis L’Amour. The more likely reason for the pen name, also mentioned by Beau, is that the publishers wanted to be able to carry on with another writer if L’Amour dropped out.

When the time came to publish the hardcovers, William Boyd was coming on stronger than ever, with a new radio show and a TV series about to start, and Doubleday insisted L’Amour rewrite sections of the first two novels to match the Boyd image. L’Amour crabbed, but complied to a degree. He changed Hoppy’s red hair to silver and let him ride Topper (at least a little). L’Amour still wasn’t happy, but went on write two more Hoppy novels for Doubleday, Riders of High Rock and Trouble Shooter.

For reasons not explained by Beau, the pulp mag died after two issues and the Doubleday series died after four. That seems odd, with the Hoppy craze in full stride.

Anyway, says Beau, “somewhere along the line” someone asked Louie if he’d written those books back in 1950, and he said no. And for the sake of consistency, he kept on saying no for the rest of his life.

In a recent issue of the Western APA (Amateur Press Association) OWLHOOT (more on Owlhoot HERE), Bill Crider mentioned that he had outed L’Amour as the author in an entry for The Dictionary of Literary Biography, based on a tip from Mr. Bob Briney. After a little poking around I also came upon this interesting stuff in the Fall 1980 issue of Paperback Quarterly. It's from the article “Louis L’Amour’s Pseudonymous Works” by John D. Nesbitt:

Of course, this stuff about shaping or tailoring Mulford stories is just so much stuff - apparently a last-ditch attempt to muddy the waters. I suspect John Nesbitt recognized it as such, but out of respect for L'Amour (after a discussion of other works) he  summed the article up thusly:

In a way, the whole thing is sort of sad. I’m glad these novels have been reprinted, and I’m certainly glad to know they’re by L’Amour. On the other hand, L'Amour went to his grave believing they would never see print under his name. Over the years, Doubleday had been gobbled up by his own publisher Bantam, and he trusted them to bury the books. But he’d been less than three years dead when Bantam, with the full cooperation of his son, started trotting them out in both hardcover and paperback. As you see, his name on the cover is HUGE. R.I.P.? Probably not.

Check out this week's Forgotten Books round-up at pattinase.


Linda Pendleton said...

That's very interesting. I had no idea that Louie L'Amour had written Hopalong Cassidy.

Anonymous said...

You would think that the Hopalong Cassidy pulp would have been a huge hit. But then, maybe the kids who watched the TV show and read the comic books were too young to read pulp magazines. And maybe adults were uninterested, because the B movies and TV show had given Hoppy an image as "kid stuff."

Evan Lewis said...

Could be. I've been reading Will Murray's great new history of pulp westerns, Wordslingers, and during the '40s and early '50s the other Thrilling magazines (like Masked Western and Rio Kid) were considered the most juvenile of the oaters. Both those mags hung on until the Spring of '53.

Charles Gramlich said...

I read this one and another Hopalong by L'Amour a few years back and enjoyed them both quite a bit. I've got copies on my shelves.