Author of the Month: Louis L’Amour
Louis Dearborn L’Amour was an American author. 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), nonfiction (Frontier), as well as poetry and short-story collections. Many of his stories were made into movies. L’Amour’s books remain popular and most have gone through multiple printings. At the time of his death some of his 105 existing works were in print (89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of nonfiction) 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.
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.”
During World War II, he served in the United States Army as a transport officer with the 3622 Transport 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 (July 5, 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 Louis 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.
When interviewed not long before his death, he was asked which among his books he liked best:
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.
L’Amour eventually wrote 89 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 20 languages.
Every one of his works is still in print.
Biography pulled from Wikipedia.