MORE EARLY INFLUENCES IN LEARNING FILM HISTORY

For no other reason than just for fun, the idea of exploring early influences on both my writing, as well as my love of movies that resulted in Lee Marvin Point Blank, is something I decided was worth exploring just a little more.
I have a vid memory of watching Richard Schickel’s PBS series The Men Who Made the Movies back in the 70s when I was VERY young. Up until then, I never even gave much consideration to the importance of the director to a film and the concept changed my thinking, dramatically.

Extremely rare program for the PBS seres, THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES.

In fact, Some of the subjects in Schickel’s series, such as Raoul Walsh and Bill Wellman, proved even more fascinating than the films they made!
An even greater example of early influences is a series books put out by Citadel Press entitled “The Films of…” and the very first one picked up was the beat up hardcover seen below….

THE FILMS OF JAMES CAGNEY, my 1st Citadel Press title which I still own.

The entire series (each title of interest of varying quality) was a revelation to this young star struck movie fan. Imagine for a moment you’re looking for any well illustrated information on the stars, genres, and periods of filmmaking that you love, long before the days of the internet, and you stumble up this rack at the local mall’s book store….

Citadel Press book rack as seen in at the local mall back in the 70s & 80s.

I was so enthralled by these titles, I even sent away for the full catalog so I could discover what all the titles were that existed and find out what they had to offer….

Citadel Press catalog of “Films Of..” books.

I was so bold at such a young age, I even went so far as to write the publisher and ask if I could write  book called The Films of Steve McQueen. I was politely told that one was in the works but thanks for the offer. They were right, of course. One did come out…about ten years later.

Back of the rare record given to me by author Tony Thomas.

The existing titles varied in quality, as I said, but I noticed several of the best were authored by the same very prolific writer. His name was Tony Thomas and for reasons I can no longer recall, I was fortunate to meet up with him in his home in southern California. I was extremely impressed with his kind demeanor, countless soundtracks shelved on the wall (many produced by him!) and his amazing patience with me. In fact, He simply handed me several soundtracks as we spoke and signed them all! As you can see by the scans below, I still have them. What he wrote remains a treasured possession. I wonder if anybody does that kind of thing any more…..

Tony Thomas inscription on the back of his soundtrack album To Robin Hood.

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NATIONAL READING DAY! EARLIEST INFLUENCES

I recently discovered that since March 2nd is Ted Geisel’s birthday (aka Dr. Suess) it has been designated National Reading Day in his honor. Wonderful idea, in my opinion. Such designation has actually got me to thinking of my own earliest influences when it came to what got me interested in reading and eventually writing, specifically Lee Marvin Point Blank.
I don’t know about the current generation but being a Baby Boomer, I started reading before I even started school thanks to Sunday comic strips, comic books, oversized magazines such as LIFE and LOOK, and, of course, Playboy…I jest…kind of. Actually, the very first full classic I remember reading was one I still enjoy to this day…..

First page of the first full book I remember reading. Illustration by Dave C. Mink.

When my older sister was born in the mid-50s, like many parents, mine had the presence of mind to purchase a multi-volume set of encyclopedias. My two older sisters would use them for homework but I found them to be a wondrous source of simple reading enjoyment for hours on end. The reason had to do with the fact that they were not your ordinary set of encyclopedias broken down by the alphabet. These were unique in the each volume was dedicated to a specific area of interest: My personal favorite? Famous People of All Time, as seen below. Terrific stuff.

The cover of Volume 9 of the 10 volume set of THE NEW WONDER WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA. I have no idea when or why I slashed and ‘X’ over it. Stupid kid that I was.

The ten different volumes in the set of encyclopedias that enthralled me, number 9 being a personal favorite.

 

My fascination with individual lives of achievement was enhanced by the likes of the following….

Published in 1960 by read by yours truly about 10 years later.

The first multi-biography I ever read. Never knew it would lead me to eventually write one myself!

I can remember reading these books over and over and over, until the got in the condition shown in these scans. Obviously, I still have these books as they have a sentimental value for me. But there’s more to it than that, as well. With the advent of the digital age, do kids nowadays get the same tactile sensation and feeling great satisfaction in turning the last page and smiling when the closing the book having read it all? Somehow I doubt it.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: LAWMEN OF THE WEST

My lengthy and ongoing research into Lee Marvin Point Blank yielded some unexpected benefits, for example authoring several Young Adult titles for Lucent Books, such as Lawmen of the West for their History Makers series.
How it came about, was more serendipity than Kismet. In need of a job after being laid-off from the small publishing company I worked for, the wife of one of the brothers in The Bastard Sons of Lee (BSOL) informed me of the writing she was doing for Lucent. She then put me in contact with an acquisition editor there and we discussed possible titles in their various series. Lo and behold, I discovered they had several young adult biographical series that needed authors so I jumped at the chance to do Lawmen of the West for their History Makers series.

The cover for my young adult multi-biography LAWMEN OF THE WEST, part of Lucent Books’ History Makers series, published in 2005.

It might seem an odd choice for this Brooklyn boy, I grant you, but I figured being a a movie fan might help me enjoy exploring the lives of some of the individuals often depicted on screen. What the series required seemed daunting at first but then again, what new project isn’t? The form of a multi-biographical series actually dates back to Plutarch in the 1st Century, who wrote volumes within the theme of comparing leading Romans to ancient Greeks. Not too daunting a challenge, right? Each chapter needed to have not only a worthy individual who’s life is briefly explored, but most importantly, a specific theme within that life that has to be emphasized throughout the span of that lifetime. Such a requriement not only gave me pause, it nearly had me giving up!

Copyright and Table of Contents for LAWMEN OF THE WEST.

Luckily, once I began exploring the possible inclusions, the theme actually seeped into the work itself. As noted in the table of contents seen above, the subtitles told the tale of the themes within. I chose the subjects, did the research, wrote ’em up and then created introduction(s) and bibliographies. The only one I had to drop (due to length), was Alan Pinkerton, the Scottish immigrant who helped create the Secret Service following Lincoln’s assassination and the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, the one with the big eye on their business cards.

The section on the last years of Wyatt Earp that is not nearly as talked about as the O.K. Corral.

There was some necessary obvious choices, such as the likes of Wyatt Earp, first and foremost. In researching his legacy I not only discovered how reluctantly he became a lawman (the perfect theme) but also how vindictiveness made him more like Michael Corleone than Matt Dillon. His later years were also just as intriguing but less written about, as well.
Along the way, I developed personal favorites. Topping the list for me was Bat Masterson.

The opening section on the chapter on Bat Masterson, who was a personal favorite of the author.

Not only a legendary lawman but a spinner tales in which he probably never did really kill anybody but created a reputation that entered a room long before he did. His final days as a NY sports writer was yet another fascinating twist. Bitter at the end of his life, the day he died he was found slumped over his typewriter with what could have been his epitaph freshly typed onto the page: “There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose the ginks who argue that way hold that, because the rich man gets icier the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter, things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”
The creation of these researched biographical sketches taught me much about what life writing is all about. The themes fleshed out and executed within, kept me in good stead in researching and writing about Lee Marvin and other figures since. It also proved that biographies had changed MUCH since I was a kid. For example……

A staple of young adult bios if they can be done is the dead body of an individual, always a crowd pleaser.

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