Friday, August 16, 2019

Forgotten Books: TALES OF WELLS FARGO by Frank Gruber (1958)

If I'd know this book would be so enjoyable, I'd have read it thirty-some years ago. It's been sitting on my shelf at least that long. But hey, it was worth the wait, and I got my money's worth, which was probably close to the cover price.

The eight stories here were adapted from screenplays for the TV series. Four of those original screenplays were by Gruber himself, three by Steve Fisher, and one by some other guy.

I don't remember watching the show as a kid. I figured that must be because it was on against something I liked better, so I checked. Nope. Mostly, it was pitted against Father Knows Best (maybe my dad insisted on that one), and in the final year against Perry Mason. What was I doing at the time? Maybe playing with my cap guns. 

Frank Gruber knew his beans when it came to Old West history, as he showed in his Simon Lash mysteries (reviewed HERE). So it was no surprise to see him bringing historical figures into the series.

In the tales based on his original screenplays, Wells Fargo agent Jim Hardie meets Billy the Kid, Lew Wallace, Belle Starr, and the Cherokee outlaw Blue Duck, while Hanging Judge Isaac Parker looms nearby. Other stories feature the Sundance Kid (though apparently not the same Kid who died in Bolivia), Captain McNelly of the Texas Rangers and John Wesley Hardin. That's a lot of history for 122 pages. 

And the stories are good. Hardie proves himself a good with his fists, his gun and his brain. He's tough minded, too. In one Gruber tale, a group of Virginia City vigilantes intend to hang a gang of outlaws. Most TV heroes would have a problem with that. Not Hardie. Though the story ends before the nooses come out, he clearly supports the plan. 

Curious, I did a little googling to see who played some of the famous folk. Robert Vaughn was Billy the Kid. Jeanne Cooper was Belle Starr. Chuck Connors was Sam Bass, and Lyle Bettger was John Wesley Hardin. Appears a lot of episodes are now on YouTube. I might have to check them out.  


James Reasoner said...

I never read this book, but I remember watching and enjoying the TV show. My dad would usually opt for Westerns over shows like FATHER KNOWS BEST and PERRY MASON. I love both those series now, but I'm glad we watched the Westerns back then.

TC said...

There was also a 1958 episode with Steve McQueen as Wild Bill Longley.

Speaking of Gruber featuring real historical figures in his stories, in his novel Peace Marshal, the hero meets Bat Masterson and Wild Bill Hickok, and Wyatt Earp is mentioned. And Jesse James (played by Dale Robertson) comes to the rescue in Fighting Man of the Plains.

I'm sure that Matt Dillon, the Cartwrights, Lucas McCain, and probably Paladin would have stood off a lynch mob.

Cap'n Bob said...

I watched this and also watched Perry Mason. Don't ask me how.