Authorial Denial: Louis L’Amour and Hopalong Cassidy

This year for my birthday, a friend gave me a copy of The Rustlers of West Fork, a Hopalong Cassidy novel written by Louis L’Amour.  In the note he included with the book, my friend wrote: “I know you are interested in ‘writerly’ things, and I thought the book’s Afterword might pique your interest.”

Denial Denied

My friend was more on target with his gift than he knew.  I’ve read a lot of Louis L’Amour novels in my time.  For a while, I probably read almost as many of these as I did mysteries – although not as much as SF and F.   I tried other Western writers, but none of them caught my interest in the same way .  Zane Grey was too dry, I recall.   I don’t even remember any of the others by name.

But Louis L’Amour caught my interest.  I had a better insight why when, a good number of years ago, I attended a panel on writing heroes.  The late David Gemmell mentioned Louis L’Amour’s Sacketts as classic heroic figures.  Even the somewhat morally grey “Clinch Mountain Sacketts” –  who might gamble or run scams or even turn outlaw for a while –  were there for their friends and family  when the chips were down .

Gemmell’s words resonated with me.  It was this larger than life heroism set against a relatively realistic background (L’Amour did a lot of historical research) that kept me coming back to Louis L’Amour’s work when the rest of his contemporaries failed to hold my interest.

For years I had heard rumors that L’Amour had written several Hopalong Cassidy novels he fiercely denied having written.  However, until my friend’s gift arrived in the mail, I hadn’t seen any of these.  Needless to say, I was interested.  First, I started the novel.  It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t up to L’Amour’s standard.  Curious as to how much of this was due to writing in someone else’s “world” – for the setting of an established series character is as alien a world as any in SF or F – I turned to the “Afterword” by Beau L’Amour.

It begins with the words: “My father was Tex Burns.  He’s gone now, so I feel it’s time to stop denying it.  I really don’t think Tex Burns ever did anything he needed to be ashamed of; all he did was lose an argument.  Nonetheless, Tex Burns was persona non grata around our house.”

Tex Burns, of course, was the pen name under which Louis L’Amour wrote four Hopalong Cassidy novels.

For those of you who are not familiar with Hopalong Cassidy, here’s a short description.  He began as a character in a series of pulp western stories by Clarence E. Mulford.  In those stories, he was (to quote Beau) a “rough-talking, red-haired cowpuncher named Bill Cassidy.  He got the nickname Hopalong after he was wounded in the thigh by a bullet.”

In 1935, Hopalong Cassidy was brought to the screen played by William L. Boyd.  The character changed dramatically.  Not only was he cleaned up quite a bit, he wore a black costume, rode a white horse, and carried nickle-plated guns.  This costume nicely showed off Boyd’s silver hair – another change from Mulford’s red-head.  The limp also vanished.

According to Beau, Louis was chosen by Mulford himself as his successor.  Louis was in one of the “down” phases that haunt every writer and took the job.  Almost immediately, however, he was pressured to write the character not in the Mulford tradition (as he had assumed he would), but in the Boyd tradition.  Louis eventually gave in to pressure from the people with the paycheck and re-wrote.

I fancy, however, you can see his resistance in the text.  First, he finds a way for Hopalong to get rid of the showy white horse, Topper.  I remember reading in one or more of the Sackett novels that a real western man would never ride a white horse, since it was too showy.  At the time, I thought it was a slam on the Lone Ranger and Silver.  Now I suspect the true target was Topper.

A slight aside here… One of the things that I find amusing about visual story-telling media – whether movies or television or comics – is that physical elements a prose writer could never get away with are accepted with loving tolerance by those who enjoy these story-telling forms.   The classic example is the Superman / Clark Kent divide.  Would a pair of glasses and a slightly different hairstyle really work as a disguise?   It wouldn’t but it did, setting up legions of thinly disguised heroes and heroines, as well as plots that depend on people not recognizing their best friends if they change their clothes and put on glasses.

I think Louis L’Amour felt much the same about the likelihood of the showy Hoppy managing to survive for longer than a few minutes in the trigger-happy Wild West of fiction, especially with the legions of enemies he must have accumulated.  Therefore, Hopalong’s all-black attire is never mentioned and the nickle-plated guns only reluctantly.  The silver hair becomes a descriptive detail that gives Hoppy away to his enemies.  And at one point  Hoppy is described as “slope-shouldered” – not exactly a compliment, especially given Louis’s fondness for slim-hipped, broad-shouldered heroes.

Beau L’Amour says the Hopalong books weren’t bad.  I can’t agree.  The prose is exceedingly sloppy.  At one point, the hero drop-ties his mount by dropping the bridle – not the reins, as this device is more usually described.  The body-count is astonishingly high.  The structure, dictated in part I am sure by the fact that the books were serialized first, is episodic and a bit disconnected.

But should Louis have denied that he wrote them?

Personally, I don’t think so.  I think he could have used these novels as a means of explaining to his legions of fans just how hard it is to be a writer, especially with the erratic pay. He could have talked about the penalties of work-for-hire, especially when media pressure enters the picture.  But he didn’t, so Tex Burns haunted him for the rest of his life.

What would you do if you were in Louis L’Amour’s position?  Lots of neo-writers these days publish on-line under pseudonyms.  Do you think this will come back to haunt them?

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6 Responses to “Authorial Denial: Louis L’Amour and Hopalong Cassidy”

  1. Debbie Smith Daughetee Says:

    I have a number of friends who use pseudonyms; some because they are known for one kind of writing and are doing something in a different genre, and some for the reasons you outline in your post. I have to say that I can relate to L’Amour’s position. In a set of different circumstances, I’ve wanted to take my name of an episode of a show I’d written. The Writer’s Guild allows for pseudonyms when you’re unhappy with the end script. But this is because of mishandled rewrites, and I couldn’t remove my real name without insulting my executive producer and ultimately putting my job (and career) in jeopardy.

    That being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a pseudonym on work that disappoints you. I can’t see how this can come back to haunt an author. The very fact that they didn’t use their own name on a book telegraphs the fact they don’t think it is their best work.

  2. Alan Robson Says:

    Graham Greene used to divide his books into two classes – novels and entertainments. Today, perhaps, Graham Greene would only publish novels. Maybe the entertainments would be written by Peter Browne…

    Greene didn’t think that his entertainments lacked value, and he certainly wasn’t ashamed of them, he just thought of them as being somehow different in kind.

    I don’t think there’s any intrinsic reason for thinking that pseudonymous books might come back to haunt an author and many authors have happily admitted to their pseudonyms. They might even turn into money spinners — Lawrence Block is currently republishing (under his own name) the soft-porn pulp he wrote under a variety of pseudonyms in his early, struggling years!


    -Alan

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    I wonder if it’s easier to publish fiction under a pseudonym than to publish non-fiction that way.

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      It probably is – for non-fiction, generally, you need credentials, and faking credentials is guaranteed to cost you credibility. OTOH, Deep Throat managed just fine with a pseudonym. I guess it depends on what your publisher is willing to stand behind – a muckraking sensational scandal told first-hand is going to sell in stacks, especially with the publisher saying ‘we know who wrote this, but we can’t tell you to protect him, her or it’. Nobody is going to touch a manual on Explosive Ordnance Disposal unless they know exactly who wrote it, and no reputable publisher would even try to sell it under a pseudonym anyway.

      Conversely, the way the business works currently it can be impossible to sell fiction without using a pen name.

  4. janelindskold Says:

    Good points from both Debbie and Alan on pseudonyms. I can especially see it as a signal that “I’m disappointed in this” and “this is my other identity.”

    I still the Louis L’Amour was wrong to run scared from Tex Burns — but he could have used Debbie’s explanations to tell about how the business really works.

  5. paulgenesse Says:

    Hi Jane,

    Good discussion. Thanks for sharing that story. I had no idea. Personally, I would use a pseudonym if I wrote a certain genre that was different from the one I normally wrote. If I was Louis L’Amour I would used the pseudonym for sure, especially if the books were not so great. Why ruin his good name? He knew he’d become a better writer eventually. At least he hoped. I did enjoy reading L’Amour’s “Haunted Mesa” by the way.

    Paul Genesse
    Author of the Iron Dragon Series

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