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|Born||Louis Dearborn LaMoore
22 March 1908
Jamestown, North Dakota, U.S.
|Died||10 June 1988
Los Angeles County, California, U.S.
|Pen name||Tex Burns|
|Occupation||Novelist, short story writer|
|Genre||Western, science fiction, adventure, non-fiction|
Louis Dearborn L'Amour (; March 22, 1908 -June 10, 1988) was an American novelist and short story writer. His books consisted primarily of Western novels (though he called his work 'frontier stories'); however, he also wrote historical fiction (The Walking Drum), science fiction (The Haunted Mesa), non-fiction (Frontier), as well as poetry and short-story collections. Many of his stories were made into films and John Wayne once made the assertion that L'Amour was the most interesting man in the world. L'Amour's books remain popular and most have gone through multiple printings. At the time of his death almost all of his 105 existing works (89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of nonfiction) were still in print, and he was considered "one of the world's most popular writers".
Louis Dearborn LaMoore was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, in 1908, the seventh child of Dr. Louis Charles LaMoore and Emily Dearborn LaMoore. He was of French ancestry through his father and Irish through his mother. Dr. LaMoore was a large-animal veterinarian, local politician and farm-equipment broker who had arrived in Dakota Territory in 1882.
Although the area around Jamestown was mostly farm land, cowboys and livestock often traveled through Jamestown on their way to or from ranches in Montana and the markets to the east. L'Amour played "Cowboys and Indians" in the family barn, which served as his father's veterinary hospital, and spent much of his free time at the local library, the Alfred E. Dickey Free Library, reading, particularly G. A. Henty, a British author of historical boys' novels during the late nineteenth century. L'Amour once said, "[Henty's works] enabled me to go into school with a great deal of knowledge that even my teachers didn't have about wars and politics."
After a series of bank failures devastated the economy of the upper Midwest, Dr. LaMoore and Emily took to the road. Removing Louis and his adopted brother John from school, they headed south in the winter of 1923. Over the next seven or eight years, they skinned cattle in west Texas, baled hay in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico, worked in the mines of Arizona, California and Nevada, and in the saw mills and lumber camps of the Pacific Northwest. It was in colorful places like these that Louis met a wide variety of people, upon whom he later modeled the characters in his novels, many of them actual Old West personalities who had survived into the nineteen-twenties and -thirties.
Making his way as a mine assessment worker, professional boxer and merchant seaman, Louis traveled the country and the world, sometimes with his family, sometimes not. He visited all of the western states plus England, Japan, China, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Arabia, Egypt, and Panama, finally moving with his parents to Choctaw, Oklahoma in the early 1930s. There, he changed his name to Louis L'Amour and settled down to try to make something of himself as a writer.
He had success with poetry, articles on boxing and writing and editing sections of the WPA Guide Book to Oklahoma, but the dozens of short stories he was churning out met with little acceptance. Finally, L'Amour placed a story, Death Westbound, in a magazine that was very much the Playboy of its day. "10 Story Book" featured what was supposed to be quality writing (Jack Woodford, author of several books on writing, is published in the same edition as L'Amour) alongside scantily attired, or completely naked young women. Several years later, L'Amour placed his first story for pay, Anything for a Pal, published in True Gang Life. Two lean disappointing years passed after that, and then, in 1938, his stories began appearing in pulp magazines fairly regularly.
Along with other adventure and crime stories, L'Amour created the character of mercenary sea captain Jim Mayo. Starting with East of Gorontalo, the series ran through nine episodes from 1940 until 1943. Surprisingly, given his later career, L'Amour wrote only one story in the western genre prior to World War II, 1940's The Town No Guns Could Tame.
L'Amour continued as an itinerant worker, traveling the world as a merchant seaman until the start of World War II. During World War II, he served in the United States Army as a Lieutenant with the 362nd Quartermaster Truck Company. In the two years before L'Amour was shipped off to Europe, L'Amour wrote stories for Standard Magazine. After World War II, L'Amour continued to write stories for magazines; his first after being discharged in 1946 was Law of the Desert Born in Dime Western Magazine (April 1946). L'Amour's contact with Leo Margulies led to L'Amour agreeing to write many stories for the Western pulp magazines published by Standard Magazines, a substantial portion of which appeared under the name "Jim Mayo". The suggestion of L'Amour writing Hopalong Cassidy novels also was made by Margulies who planned on launching Hopalong Cassidy's Western Magazine at a time when the William Boyd films and new television series were becoming popular with a new generation. L'Amour read the original Hopalong Cassidy novels, written by Clarence E. Mulford, and wrote his novels based on the original character under the name "Tex Burns". Only two issues of the Hopalong Cassidy Western Magazine were published, and the novels as written by L'Amour were extensively edited to meet Doubleday's thoughts of how the character should be portrayed in print.
In the 1950s, L'Amour began to sell novels. L'Amour's first novel, published under his own name, was Westward The Tide, published by World's Work in 1951. The short story, The Gift of Cochise was printed in Colliers (5 July 1952) and seen by John Wayne and Robert Fellows, who purchased the screen rights from L'Amour for $4,000. James Edward Grant was hired to write a screenplay based on this story changing the main character's name from Ches Lane to Hondo Lane. L'Amour retained the right to novelize the screenplay and did so, even though the screenplay differed substantially from the original story. This was published as Hondo in 1953 and released on the same day the film opened with a blurb from John Wayne stating that "Hondo was the finest Western Wayne had ever read". During the remainder of the decade L'Amour produced a great number of novels, both under his own name as well as others (e. g. Jim Mayo). Also during this time he rewrote and expanded many of his earlier short story and pulp fiction stories to book length for various publishers.
Many publishers in the 1950s and '60s refused to publish more than one or two books a year by the same author. Louis's editor at Gold Medal supported his writing up to three or four but the heads of the company vetoed that idea even though Louis was publishing books with other houses. Louis had sold over a dozen novels and several million copies before Bantam Books editor-in-chief Saul David was finally able to convince his company to offer Louis a short term exclusive contract that would accept three books a year. It was only after 1960, however, that Louis's sales at Bantam would begin to surpass his sales at Gold Medal.
L'Amour's career flourished throughout the 1960s and he began work on a series of novels about the fictional Sackett family. Initially he wrote five books about William Tell Sackett and his close relatives; however, in later years the series spread to include other families and four centuries of North American history. It was an ambitious project and several stories intended to close the gaps in the family's time line were left untold at the time of L'Amour's death. L'Amour also branched out into historical fiction with The Walking Drum, set in the 11th century, a contemporary thriller, Last of the Breed, and science fiction with The Haunted Mesa.
L'Amour eventually wrote 100 novels, over 250 short stories, and (as of 2010) sold more than 320 million copies of his work. By the 1970s his writings were translated into over 10 languages. Every one of his works is still in print.
L'Amour appears under the name of "Lew" as a minor character in the 2006 novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. The novel describes friendship and rivalry among pulp writers of the 1930s.
L'Amour also did some ground breaking work in the audio publishing field. For most authors, an audio publishing program is merely offering "books for the blind" or having an actor simply read a book of short stories or novel so that the "Audio Book" can be enjoyed while driving or doing similar activities. Many of the L'Amour titles have been produced in this so-called "single voice" style. In the early days, however, when the fledgling Bantam Audio Publishing (now Random House Audio) came to L'Amour about converting some of his old short stories into audio, he insisted that they do something to offer the audience more value than just having an actor read a bunch of old pulp stories. Together he and Bantam executive Jenny Frost created the concept of a series of "Radio Drama" style productions that would combine a large cast of actors, sound effects and music to produce a modern audio drama of each story.
The innovative team of David Rapkin (Producer) and Charles Potter (Director) was employed to produce a prototype show and L'Amour's son Beau came into the program as Supervising Producer. Between 1986 and 2004 the team had completed over sixty-five dramatized audio productions. Several different styles of show were produced over the years. The first several shows were "transcriptions", literal breakdowns of the exact L'Amour short story into lines for the different characters and narrator. Later productions used more liberally interpreted adaptations written by screenwriters, playwrights and a few film and theater students, who were taught the process by Beau L'Amour and the more prolific writers from earlier adaptations.
The majority of productions were done in New York City. In the early years the pace of production was six shows a year but in the mid-1990s it slowed to four. At this time the running time for all the programs was roughly sixty minutes. The cast members were veterans of the New York stage, film and advertising worlds and after auditioning for their parts came together for a rehearsal and then a day of recording the show. Sound effects were created by effects man Arthur Miller in the studio as the lines were being recorded and narration was done at the same time as well. All the elements were mixed live and by the end of the recording session the program was nearly finished, very similar to the live recordings from the great days of radio.
Although many of the programs were written and produced in a modified "Old Time Radio" style, attempts were also made to modernize the approach. Whenever the story material supported it a more contemporary style was used in the writing and more and more high tech solutions to the effects and mix found their way into the productions. While hiring and supervising the writers, mostly out of Los Angeles, Beau L'Amour created a few programs on his own. The techniques used by him and producer/editor Paul O'Dell were more in line with motion picture production, simply taping the voices of the actors in the studio and then recording the majority of sound effects in the field. This called for a great deal more editing, both in cutting the actor's performances and the sound effects, but it allowed for a great deal more control ... and occasionally the subject matter cried out for this approach.
In the mid-1990s a series of the L'Amour Audio Dramas was recut for radio. Louis L'Amour Theater played on over two hundred stations for a number of years. Several of the scripts from the L'Amour series have been produced as live theater pieces, including The One for the Mojave Kid and Merrano of the Dry Country.
The L'Amour program of Audio Dramas is still ongoing but the pace of production has slowed considerably. Beau L'Amour and Paul O'Dell released Son of a Wanted Man, the first L'Amour Drama in half a decade in 2004. Son of a Wanted Man is also the first Louis L'Amour novel to be turned into a drama. Considerably more complex than earlier shows it had a cast of over twenty mid-level Hollywood actors, a music score recorded specifically for the production and sound effects completely recorded in the field in many locations across the west. Produced as sort of a "profitable hobby" Beau L'Amour and Paul O'Dell created the production while working around their day-to-day jobs. Since this allowed them no more than nine or ten weeks a year, the show took four years to complete. According to the Louis L'Amour website the next production will be The Diamond of Jeru, a L'Amour adventure based in 1950s Borneo. The show is in the editorial stages (as of April 2011) but because of an even more ambitious production process than that of Son of a Wanted Man no release date has been announced.
During the 1960s, L'Amour intended to build a working town typical of those of the 19th century Western frontier, with buildings with false fronts situated in rows on either side of an unpaved main street and flanked by wide boardwalks before which, at various intervals, were watering troughs and hitching posts. The town, to be named Shalako after the protagonist of one of L'Amour's novels, was to have featured shops and other businesses that were typical of such towns: a barber shop, a hotel, a dry goods store, one or more saloons, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, etc. It would have offered itself as a filming location for Hollywood motion pictures concerning the Wild West. However, funding for the project fell through, and Shalako was never built.
When interviewed not long before his death, he was asked which among his books he liked best. His reply:
I like them all. There's bits and pieces of books that I think are good. I never rework a book. I'd rather use what I've learned on the next one, and make it a little bit better. The worst of it is that I'm no longer a kid and I'm just now getting to be a good writer. Just now.
The critic Jon Tuska, surveying Western literature, writes:
I have no argument that L'Amour's total sales have probably surpassed every other author of Western fiction in the history of the genre. Indeed, at the time of his death his sales had topped 200,000,000. What I would question is the degree and extent of his effect "upon the American Imagination". His Western fiction is strictly formulary and frequently, although not always, features the ranch romance plot where the hero and the heroine are to marry at the end once the villains have been defeated. Not only is there nothing really new in the basic structure of his stories, even L'Amour's social Darwinism, which came to characterize his later fiction, was scarcely original and was never dramatized in other media the way it was in works based on Zane Grey's fiction.
But Tuska also notes "At his best, L'Amour was a master of spectacular action and stories with a vivid, propulsive forward motion."
In 1982 he received the Congressional Gold Medal, and in 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded L'Amour the Presidential Medal of Freedom. L'Amour is also a recipient of North Dakota's Roughrider Award.
In May 1972 he was awarded an Honorary PhD by Jamestown College, as a testament to his literary and social contributions.
L'Amour died from lung cancer on 10 June 1988, at his home in Los Angeles, and was buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery near the Great Mausoleum in the Mausoleum Slope, Distinguished Memorial, Space 59 in Glendale, California. His autobiography detailing his years as an itinerant worker in the west, Education of a Wandering Man, was published posthumously in 1989.
He was survived by his wife, Kathy, and their two children, Beau and Angelique.
(including series novels)
In fictional story order (not the order written).
There are also two Sackett-related short stories:
Sacketts are also involved in the plot of 7 other novels:
Originally published under the pseudonym "Tex Burns". Louis L'Amour was commissioned to write four Hopalong Cassidy books in the spring and summer of 1950 by Doubleday's Double D Western imprint. They were the first novels he ever had published and he denied writing them until the day he died, refusing to sign any of them that fans would occasionally bring to his autograph sessions. His reason to his young son for doing this was, "I wrote some books. I just did it for the money, and my name didn't go on them. So now, when people ask me if they were mine, I say no." When his son asked if this was not lying he said, "I just wrote them for hire. They weren't my books."