I always loved Westerns as a kid--and why not? I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas in the 1950s, and the nightly TV schedule in those days was chockablock with cowboys. In 1954-55, when I turned ten and eleven years old, the following shows were on every week during prime time: The Lone Ranger, Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Gene Autry, Frontier, Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Brave Eagle, Wanted, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, Gunsmoke. There were others during the daytime. And I should add Disneyland, whose most popular segment was Frontierland.
Another factor: My dad's family all lived in Oregon, and every few years we drove out to see them--drove across some of the very terrain I was watching on TV. How could I not become an addict?
I also loved Western movies and saw all that I could at the theaters in Enid (there were four downtown and two drive-ins, as well). Many of the B-Westerns appeared on the weekends, and I watched them with an affection that bordered on the inappropriate.
As I grew older, the Western gradually disappeared from the Tube (as we used to call it in the days of tubes) and from the theaters. But I never forgot.
Let's zip forward to the mid-1970s. Aurora, Ohio. Harmon Middle School, which opened for business during the 1974-75 school year. In those days, the Language Arts Department (I was chair at the time) offered not only a "regular" English class at each grade level but also electives. Teachers were free to create courses (ranging in length from 4 to 12 weeks) they thought would appeal to kids. And for a couple (few?) years I offered an elective on The Western.
Let's zip forward to today. Writer's Almanac noted that today is the birthday of writer Jack Schaefer (1907-91). I don't think I knew until this morning that he was born in Cleveland and went to Oberlin. (See his picture at the top of the page--and here's a link to today's Writer's Almanac.)
Schaefer's most famous novel--all due, of course to the film that would ensue--was Shane (1949). My own copy is a paperback, a 35th printing, and the photo here shows the very copy I used with my students back at Harmon. I didn't write in the book the date when I first read it (grrrr), but there are quite a few underlinings, including this bit of wisdom from the narrator's father:
There are some things you don't ask a man. Not if you respect him (38).
I should stop here to tell you a little about Shane. It's the story of a gunfighter (see title) who's trying to escape his old fiery life. He becomes a hired man out in Wyoming for the family of the narrator, who was but a lad when the events he tells about occurred. But, of course, Shane gets drawn into a range war--cattlemen vs. homesteaders--and the novel culminates with what would become one of the most famous gunfights in cinema history. Oh, and there is more than a suggestion that there's some electricity crackling between Shane and the wife of the homesteader.
Link to trailer for the 1953 film.
I see, by the way, that the entire film is on YouTube, as well.
TO BE CONTINUED ...