A few months ago, back in the dead of winter, I found myself holed up in Southern Utah taking public assistance for a couple of weeks. As a result I had no control over what I watched on TV. This wasn’t a bad thing really, for I got a chance to watch a whole bunch of western movies, mostly from the 50s. Not only did I enjoy viewing the films, but also, I learned something about moviemaking and storytelling.
The movies I watched were Gun Glory (1957), The Last Wagon(1956), The Cattle King(1963), Fort Dobbs(1958), The Jayhawkers(1959), The Marauders(1955), The Sheepman(1958) and McLintock(1963). All except McLintock and the Cattle King were made in the 50s and McLintock differed significantly from the rest because it was a comedy, even though John Wayne starred as George Washington McLintock, the eccentric cattle baron. More about that particular film later.
A Common Theme?
What struck me most about the 50s Westerns was how quickly and easily the main characters changed partners. Even death of a spouse was often the catalyst for these changes. For example in the Jayhawkers, Fess Parker plays a man, just escaped from prison, who is headed home. Only problem is the woman in the house is not his wife, as she is buried nearby. No problem, for the moviemakers, because the homesteader, Nicole Maurey, ends of spending the entire film with Fess, as they try to find justice against the gangs of marauding men that are terrorizing the Kansas territory.
John Wayne In a Comedy
For the 50s movies, this seems to be a common theme among these Westerns, at least the ones reviewed in this article. Only with the sixties films of McLintock and The Cattle King, did I detect a more normal relationship between man and woman. The story of McLintock revolves around a powerful western couple, played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and their humorous escapades, as they try to reconcile their differences.
What’s Going On Here
The rugged reality of life in the Old West is definitely at work in a lot of these Westerns. The dangers were real, life was hard, and men and women could die suddenly for no logical reason. When tragic events like this did occur, survival may have quickly necessitated the relocation with a new partner of the opposite sex.
The Wars of the 40s and 50s
From 1942 till 1953, the U.S. went through two costly military conflicts. World War II was by the far the most deadly, but we should not forget the 50,000 soldiers, who perished in the Korean Conflict. Perhaps, some of the resulting turmoil on the home front is reflected in the Western movies that were being made in Hollywood.
The White Cowboy
For just about all of our cinematic history, the Cowboy has been white. Mel Brooks put a crack in this myth with his landmark satire, Blazing Saddles, but even today, the hero of the Western tends to a white male mounted on horseback. Basically, the conquest of the West was told by the victor. Many good movies have been made using these parameters, but there still remains other stories out there that could be successfully brought to the silver screen, both real and fictional, or somewhere in between.
I can’t believe it, already February has already arrived and now it is Groundhog Day. Currently, the weather out here in central Montana is a mixed bag. This morning was bright and sunny, but in the afternoon show squalls flew in from the west and at present are depositing a very thin layer of frozen precipitation along the banks of the Missouri River. I’m not quite sure what this means, but if my memory serves me right, Punxsutawney Phil always emerged from his winter hideout first thing in the morning. So it goes to say that the early morning weather determines the groundhog’s prediction; at least that’s the way it was in the movie. So I guess out here on the high plains we should expect another six weeks of winter weather, even though the ground is bare and the ten day forecast is for above average temperatures. Has anyone informed Punxsutawney Phil or any of his cohorts about Global Warming? Maybe, in the near future the possibility of global warming could be worked into the groundhog’s forecast.
February 2nd is a bit of anomaly as far as national holidays go, for not only is an animal involved in this holiday, but the animal involved (that’s the woodchuck) is able to give us (the human population) some long term advice that we might not be able to discern on our own. Considering the state of the human race today, this is no great feat, for mankind seems troubled with all kinds of modern malaise and could do with some good common sense advice. If you don’t believe me, all you have to is watch a few minutes of our presidential primaries. That should relieve all doubt.
It’s October again. So, when all is said and done, there is no denying it, it is a great month for sports fans. Pro hockey and basketball are just getting going, while football players have been involved in professional competition for over a month now. But the climax comes when the National and American League winners meet after a lengthy post season of elimination games. In the final meeting at the World Series, tens of thousands will attend each game, while millions more will watch the popular sporting event on TV.
The Humble Beginnings of Baseball
Most likely baseball began in settings similar to this prairie cornfield depicted in the popular baseball movie, Field of Dreams. The game was initiated in the 19th century and for years and years the sport attracted small crowds. As the sport became more popular, industrial and urban businesses often hosted teams and thus built playing fields and of course stands where spectators could come watch the game.
A Field of Dreams
If you want to rate the many movies that revolve around the world of baseball, both professional and amateur, a handful of films come to mind. These include Bull Durham, Bang the Drum Slowly, A League of Their Own, Damn Yankees and The Bad News Bears. Another baseball movie that continually receives high ratings is Field of Dreams. This is also the quintessential story that equates baseball with the writing profession, for in this story, one of the major characters is a man by the name of Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones). Although Mr. Mann does not write about baseball, he agrees to attend a baseball game, after he is approached by the main character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner). This starts a liaison between the two characters that lasts for most of the movie.
Stage To Big Screen
Though Damn Yankees was a successful and popular Broadway play, the story was also developed into a popular and entertaining movie. The original story revolves around a timeless Faustian tale, where an avid Washington Senators fan makes a deal with the devil, so that his team can beat those “Damn Yankees” and win the American League pennant.
Not many baseball stories make it on to the NYC stage, but this popular tale about the Yankees ran for several years on the popular Manhattan venue. The subsequent movie followed closely to the stage production, including many of the same musical numbers. Reportedly, a new version of Damn Yankees is in the works, starring Jim Carrey and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Writing and Baseball
Nowadays, there are a large number of sports and athletic contests that either produce a host of enthusiastic participants and/or bring in many spectators to witness the event. Strangely enough, none of these gatherings seems to summon forth the storytelling instinct better than baseball. Why is that? Certainly, there are more action-packed sports, but a good story does not succeed on fast action alone. It needs a good setting, strong characters and perhaps most important of all, conflict. And then somehow that conflict must be resolved before the tale ends.
Perhaps it is the structure of baseball that attracts the writers. Everywhere you turn, the game is measured. A baseball game consists of nine innings, where each team gets a turn to bat. Three outs ends one teams turn to come to the plate, hit the ball and perhaps score runs. Each batter gets three strikes before he strikes out and four bad pitches before he might move to first base. All of this is fine and dandy, but I guess the real essence in the contest, turns on how small incidents can determine the final outcome, where one team is victorious over the other. Just a dropped ball, a stolen base or a timely double play can change victory into defeat or vice versa. And that, my friends, is also the essence of many a good story.
Yogi Berra passed away this week. He lived to the grand old age of 90 until he succumbed a thing eventually takes us all. It’s called death. Though Yogi was a great player and manager, he also wrote books (nine by my count). Nonetheless, even though Yogi played in ten World Series (most ever), made the Baseball Hall of Fame and managed teams from both the National and American League that made it to the World Series, he will still be most remembered for his one liners. Now that’s testimony to the power of the spoken word. How many contemporary writers can claim to have had as much to say (and remembered) on the American psyche as Yogi Berra……Damn few.
Some Yogi-isms To Always Cherish
If I didn’t make it baseball, I wouldn’t have made it workin’. I didn’t like to work.
We made too many wrong mistakes.
All pitchers are liars or crybabies.
Little league baseball is a good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.
You can observe a lot by watching.
The future ain’t what it used to be.
You can’t hit and think at the same time.
It’s deja vu all over again.
When you come to a fork in the road take it.
I didn’t really say everything that I said.
And last but not least: “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
And as far as Yogi Berra’s funeral went, I haven’t read any press accounts, but I can only imagine that it was very well attended. And though we haven’t heard too much from the man lately (last book, You Can Observe a Lot By Watching, published in 2009) , nobody has captured the true essence of baseball as Yogi did with his catchy one-liners….that is…..back in the heyday before we had designated hitters and World Series games that are in competition with Halloween. Baseball just ain’t what it used to be.
It’s hotter than hell out here on the banks of the Missouri where the prairie meets the mountains. Thunderheads appear almost every afternoon now, but more often than not they drift on by, dropping their precious moisture elsewhere.
All of these things are sure signs that hot dog and ice cream sales are booming and that a spectacular and awesome fireworks display looms in the near future.
Happy Birthday America. How does it feel to be 239 years old?
Ready To Roll
I would like to say that this picture shows how I travelled around the country in recent years, but in reality, this is far from the truth. This partiçular image was made while walking down the street in Portland, Maine back in the days, when I had a studio apartment and an almost, full-time job, which enabled me to keep my friendly place of abode.
For several years I made a meager living writing content for an American internet company based in California. Since I was able to send in my work via e-mail and receive my pay through Paypal, I was able to travel freely (within my financial needs) as I produced my many short articles and filler pieces.
I knew I was skating on thin ice with this gig, but it was fun, so I continued with it until the inevitable actually happened, the number of writers had far exceeded the number of assignments available.
The end came so quickly that it caught be by complete surprise. I had just turned off my computer and left the Winnipeg Public Library, so I could withdraw my earnings and get a bite to eat. When I returned to the library and turned my computer back on, I found out that all my future assignments had been removed and that I needed to take an evaluation test. This turned out to be a polite way of dismissing me from the company.
I just happened to be in Winnipeg, Canada, when I found out that my services were no longer needed. So the very next day, I began my short journey back to the U.S. and my much longer quest for economic security.
This photo was taken at sunrise on the east side of Winnipeg as I headed back to the U.S.
New York City is a watery place, a geographic reality made visible by this photograph, which was taken from the deck of the Staten Island ferry. The Staten Island ferry has often been called the best free ride in America. I alsways ride it whenever I am in the city. The view of the Hudson River delta and the many islands that dot the bay are priceless, even to a New Yorker……….Wouldn’t this place make a great national park?
These pair of lions can be found guarding the stairwell to the second floor in the Boston Public Library. I love the grand old libraries of the Northeastern big cities, and not surprisingly the Boston one is a real doozy.
Having spent endless hours in this and many other similar institutions, leaves me with nothing but good words for the American library. Ben Franklin sure knew what he was doing when he started this system. Not only are they great places for the scholar, but they also tolerate the vagabond and bum, who just wants a warm place and a good magazine to read.
This picture of the Portland harbor with the oil tanker in the background was actually taken in the town of South Portland. This metropolitan area was my home for many years. The ferry rides here aren’t free, but they do take you to some inhabited islands, more reminiscent of Seattle than any other place in the U.S.
Philadelphia would be a great place to spend the Fourth. Not only do you have a spectacular fireworks display, but also the Liberty Bell can be found here, plus all that rich history that harkens back to the times when “The City of Brotherly Love” was the nation’s capitol.
Unfortunately, I was here in the spring, so I missed all the fireworks……But I did see Charles Barclay shopping in a local supermarket.
Niagara Falls, NY
No journey around the U.S. would be complete without a pretty picture of Niagara Falls. Actually I had to sneak across the border to Canada to take this picture.
The Little Pee Dee River
When I visit South Carolina my destination is the Pee Dee region of the state, which is situated in the Northeastern part of the state near the North Carolina state line. This picture was taken on the Little Pee Dee River.
I spent several beautiful autumn months in this midwestern capitol city. In fact, this photo was taken from the state capitol building, which sits on a high hill overlooking the city. The stately building has a shiny gold dome and a huge interior foyer, which you can climb by negotiating many series of narrow stairs.
The Des Moines river flows through town and in places is lined with huge, graceful cottonwoods.
Sioux City, Iowa
Thanks to a few reservations in nearby Nebraska and South Dakota, Sioux City is a bit of Indian Country stuck smack dab in the middle of Iowa’s cornfields. Maybe that’s why this pink house is here…..hopefully not. Anyway, visit Sioux City and you can have Native men ask you for extra cigarettes and spare change. Or you can head across the Missouri River and get a slightly rosier view of Indian life by visiting a powwow or a casino.
I liked Sioux City for its funky street graphics, long lines of freight cars and outdated architecture. It was a great place to have a camera. And of course like almost every declining downtown area, there were those brave, creative souls trying to fix the place up and bring in some new business.
Rapid City, South Dakota
I just spent a day in Rapid City, but I did get this really neat photograph of a grain elevator standing tall in the noon day sun. Then later in the afternoon I took a bus to Billings. I would have stayed longer, but there wasn’t much day labor work available and emergency housing didn’t look very appealing either.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
On my way to Sioux Falls, I got a ride with a trucker driving an empty hog trailer. He had just dropped his load in Wisconsin and was headed home, when he picked me up. He told me there were lots of construction jobs in Sioux Falls because the man on the TV said so. This was a story I often heard repeated, but when I got to the city, the only work I could find were day labor assignments unloading trucks.
One day a mover showed up outside the labor office, needing help. It was a clandestine offer, but I needed a way out of Sioux Falls, so I rode with the trucker to Rapid City, where we filled one small household with furniture and then parted ways.
In Billings you get your first real glimpse of the Rockies. Still, it’s a high plains kind of town, situated about 50 miles north of the Little Bighorn battleground. Off to the northeast is the North Dakota oil patch, which helps drive the local economy. Stir all this together and still you can get a little taste of the Old West here.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is named after its earlier counterpart in New Mexico. Las Vegas (NM) started out as a stop on the Old Santa Fe Trail, but grew substantially when gold and silver were discovered nearby. In its heyday, Las Vegas (NM) had the reputation of being one of the wildest town in the West, but today it is a quiet Hispanic settlement on the eastern flank of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Perhaps, a 100 years from now, Las Vegas (NV) will be a quiet Hispanic city and some other western place will earn the title of “Sin City”.
This city used to be a very nice place, but today it is sometimes referred to as “Alber-crack-ee”. Still, the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Lab are located here, drawing a lot of professional people to the area.
These pictures were taken along Old Route 66, which is locally known as Central Ave.
Taos is an interesting mountain town that has grown a lot in the past years. The traffic through town can be horrendous, especially during ski season, but the town is still worth a visit.
To escape all this madness, just drive west to the Taos Gorge bridge, where you can gaze across stunning landscape, like you see here.
Located just north of Santa Fe amidst several Indian pueblos, is Espanola, one of the Hispanic strongholds within New Mexico. On a drive through town the place looks a little rough and tumble, due to the antiquated storefronts in the downtown area. A few are closed down, but many still support active businesses.
These places stand in stark contrast to the big chains found out by Walmart and Lowe’s. For the creative photographer the old storefronts are a visual gold mine, for they harken back to an era, when local businesses dominated small towns like this. Here, I photographed a farm supply business that looks more pioneer than Spanish, but yet this place is open and ready for business.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest and highest state capitol in the U.S. It is also where the Santa Fe trail ended and the Camino Real (Royal Road) into Old Mexico began. Later on, the California Trail became a reality and so the small crossroads grew.
Today, it is a cultural hub for artists, new age entrepreneurs, Ed Abbey fans and well-to-do desert rats. Though this milieu of higher minds is on the decline, their presence is very noticeable. And, if you spend any time here, you are bound to cross paths with the thriving local Hispanic and Southwestern Indian cultures that have lived in the region for many centuries and more.
For me, cheap motels have been a godsend. They offer a nice alternative from camping out or staying at a rescue mission. Having the space to yourself is wonderful, although the down side is that they are still rather expensive are usually require a full time job to pay for the luxury. This particular picture came from a place I stayed at in Billings, for a few weeks.
Duluth is the birthplace of Bob Dylan, though he wasn’t known by that name when he was born here back in the forties. To honor the singing bard, the city has renamed a downtown street, which is now known as Bob Dylan Way.
The first time I saw the Bob Dylan Way, I was pretty well down and out…..so much so that I spent the first night camped out on a park bench, watching the oil freighters come cruising through Duluth’s vertical draw bridge at the wee hours of the morning.
Then I borrowed some money from a distant relative, so I could spend a night in a motel. Finally, I left town and hitchhiked to the Twin Cities. I guess I was living the Bob Dylan Way.
The Twin Cities
I did the hostel thing in Minneapolis, at least until I ran out of money and had to head south using a 100 dollar bicycle as my means of transportation. Despite all the high rises downtown near the river, Minneapolis and St. Paul, too, have a lot of wonderful green spaces and natural lakes, where you can go swimming.
This year Veteran’s Day falls on a Sunday. This is a good deal for Vets, for some businesses (such as restaurants) that offer free services – or gifts – on Veteran’s Day, may wait until Monday, while others will observe the 11th as the true holiday. Either way active and inactive servicemen can enjoy the best of both worlds and enjoy a free meal – or whatever – on two days instead of one. No matter what you choose to do on this national holiday, thanks for serving the country. Special thoughts go out to those who have risked (and sometimes lost) their lives in foreign conflicts. Today, we still have Afghanistan ongoing as a military conflict, while Iraq, which claimed over 4,000 American lives, has been complete and silent for almost a year. Hopefully, no new military venture surfaces in the near future, but the world is a dangerous place, so no telling what may happen.
And here is a solemn reminder – in the form of a color photograph – about how much grief and sadness a long war can bring down upon a nation. The picture is of a replica of the Washington Vietnam War Memorial, as it was displayed at Old Orchard Beach on Memorial Day, maybe ten years ago. The shadows and reflections were only partially visualized at the time the picture was shot, but they definitely give the photograph an eerie quality.
The House of Seven Gables in Salem, Mass is a genuine 17th century sea captain’s mansion and by some streak of good fortune cannot considered to be one of the many Mardi Gras-Halloween tourist traps that have come to dominate this once-notorious American city. Every October this seaside Boston suburb goes all out to celebrate All Hallows Eve. In fact, a sure sign that Halloween season is quickly approaching are the numerous brightly-colored outhouses plastic outhouses that line the street to accommodate the large street crowds that find Salen a nice place to spend the last day of October.
Meanwhile over on the north shoreline quietly stands the House of Seven Gables with an intriguing silhouette that mildly suggests some of the mysteries that Nathanial Hawthorne penned to the building. This famous house has been a non-profit venture, since 1910 when Caroline Emmerton took over the place and started the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, which has restored the unusual house to somewhat resemble its original condition with a few amusing exceptions that were put in place to match the storyline of Hawthorne’s popular novel.
For all you architectural purists, a one-cent shop was added on the first floor, as was a secret staircase. Visitors today can climb the secret staircase (it is quite believable, but alas not part of the original design) from its hidden entrance in the wood closet in the living room and arrive in the second floor hallway of the very interesting colonial domicile. In fact the entire house is an architecture treasure and worth viewing for that reason alone.
Nearby at the harbor, is the Friendship, a realistic replica of the actual ship that plied the four seas until it was seized during the war of 1812. Today it spends much of its time in the Salem port, but in the golden years of sail, these watercraft ventured around the world, trading as they went. These ships made small fortunes for sea captains like John Turner, who built the house in 1668 (OK, that’s a little bit early for such a big ship, but you get the idea).
Nathanial Hawthorne was born just around the corner from the House of Seven gables in 1804. His father was a sea captain, who died at sea when Nathaniel was 4 years old, and his grandfather was Judge Hathorne (Nathanial changed the family name slightly supposedly to avoid direct association with the infamous ancestor)who presided at the Salem Witch Trials and reportedly was one of the few involved who never regretted his participation or showed any remorse. So you it is easy to see that when Nathanial graduated from Bowdoin college in Maine and returned to his native Salem as a young man aged in his early twenties, he most likely had a lot on his mind.
The House of Seven Gables was Hawthorne’s second popular novel, following close on the heels of The Scarlet Letter, a literary effort that is probably more popular today. The Seven Gables is a story about family shame and redemption, a topic that Nathanial understood very well because of his grandfather the judge. Readers should realize that the story that Hawthorne placed on the seven-gabled house does not parallel the real-life events that its actual residents experienced. Instead it is a colorful look at the inner world of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the early 19th century.