It’s that time of year again. Every Fourth of July I bring back this blog I wrote back in 2012, which extols the virtues of Mr. Jean Shepherd and his famous story of Ludlow Kissell and the Dago Bomb that struck back. This year in the last few days I found there were a lot of searches for this particular blog entry, which is really great. More people should know about Jean Shepherd and what he wrote and talked about. As a special Independence Day treat, I’m including an audio recording of Shepherd on WOR Radio reading the story. You can download it here. So without further ado, have a great Fourth and enjoy this classic, and very funny story.

Hey, Gang, How’s it hanging? The Fourth of July, the day we celebrate our Independence in the U.S., is here once again.  Amidst the continuing threat of terrorism, war in Afghanistan,  some of the worst hot weather we’ve had in recent years, wildfires out west, a society fragmented by political differences, and a struggling economy, we’re still hanging in there.

For me part of the Fourth of July tradition includes family gatherings, patriotic movies on Turner Classic Movies, a barbecue, some time at the local swimming pool, fireworks of course, and a reading from Jean Shepherd’s classic book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Some of you may know who Jean Shepherd is, others may not. Most people familiar with the name know him from the classic holiday film, A Christmas Story, which is based on Shepherd’s book. This is the movie about Ralphie (who is really Shepherd as a kid), growing up in Indiana, and wanting more than anything in the world a Red Ryder BB gun. The movie is shown in a 24-hour marathon every Christmas on one of the Turner Cable Channels. It’s Shepherd’s voice you hear narrating the story.

The real insiders know Shepherd from the nightly radio show he had from the late fifties to the mid-seventies on WOR radio in New York. Every night he would come on the air, alone and unscripted and talk. It wasn’t like talk radio today, though. He didn’t take phone calls. And he didn’t have a political ax to grind. He just sat alone and told stories. When he wasn’t telling stories, he did social commentary, or read haiku to “cheap guitar music.” Some of the stories he told ended up later as short stories in Playboy magazine and became the basis for the novel and two films: A Christmas Story, and My Summer Story. 

Among the many tales Shepherd told of growing up in the Midwest, one about an historic incident that took place in his neighborhood on the Fourth of July is one of my favorites. Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb That Struck Back, describes one hot Independence Day when the town drunk (the term alcoholic wasn’t widely used back in the 1930s) showed up in the middle of his street carrying a lethal looking firecracker that in those days was known as the Dago Bomb. This was not an anti-Italian appellation, Shepherd explains, but was actually pro-Italian, the ne plus ultra of fireworks. In more effete circles is was known as an aerial bomb. It was big and looked like one of those non-existent firecrackers that show up in cartoons. It had a warnings on it, that indicated it should only be used by professionals.

So this one Fourth of July Ludlow Kissel appeared on the heat-shimmering horizon, “weaving spectacularly, and carrying a large paper bag as carefully as a totally committed drunk can. He was about to celebrate the founding of our nation, the nation which had provided such a bounteous life for him and his.” No one paid much attention as he inched his way from lamppost to lamppost and fire plug to fire plug and went into his house. He came out minutes later with the largest Dago Bomb anyone had ever seen. It was the first all-black Dago Heister anyone had ever laid eyes on and was suspected of actually being made in China!  Later some witnesses would argue that it wasn’t a firecracker at all, but was some sort of mortar shell.

Kissel staggered out to the middle of the street, set the firecracker on the ground and tried to light it. Neighbors peered nervously through windows, others came out on their front lawns. Several attempt to light the fuse with a match failed and a kid came up to Kissel with a lit punk and handed it to him. A crowd gathered. He lit the fuse, the crowd drew back. The fuse sputtered out and Ludlow lit it again but being too soused to know what he’s doing, he just stood there. “Hey Kissel, for god’s sake! It’s lit,” somebody yelled. “What’s lit?” Kissel said. He staggered around and knocked the Dago Bomb over and it went off.

Do I have to tell you what happened next? The expelled cartridge shot through the crowd, which ran for cover, and landed under Kissel’s front porch. It blew the porch off, then skittered next door, took down a neighbor’s rose trellis and ended up finally exploding under another neighbor’s car. Total devastation!

When it was over Kissel was still there in the middle of the street, on his knees and made his statement, which is even today part of the great legend. “My God! What a doozy!”

That was Jean Shepherd’s America. A different America in many ways from ours to be sure, but in some ways maybe not that different. We still watch fireworks, have barbecues, eat too much, and drink too much on the Fourth. We still have that urge to light that fuse and see the ultimate firework display of all time. Shepherd died in 1999 and I often wonder what he would say about our world today if he was still sitting behind the mic in a radio studio. He always knew that life was insane and that civilizations come and go, and most of us will be unremembered after we pass on. Probably he’d advise us to keep our sense of humor about it, and remind us,  as he always did to: “Keep your knees loose, and your duff close to the ground!”

I hope your Fourth is a doozy.

The-Long-Goodbye-poster-square

“Marlowe, I’m in a jam.”
“You’re always in a jam, Terry.”
“You gotta help me out, pal.”
“I thought I killed you.”
“That was the movie.”
“Oh, yeah.”
“You were a better person in the book.”
“A real sucker, you mean?”
“No. A real friend. A knight of the round table.’
“Those days are gone, my friend. They went out with dial telephones.”
“I need to get across the border.”
“Commit another murder?”
“No. I need a sex change operation. My new wife won’t stay with me unless I transgender and we have a same sex marriage. They do it cheaper down there in Old Mexico.”
“She mean that much to you?”
“Yeah, dammit.”
“Got it bad, huh?”
“Think I’m crazy, Marlowe?”
“It’s okay with me. “

***SPOILER ALERT***

The premium cable movie channels have hit the wall. In an effort to present drama you won’t find on free TV or basic cable, HBO, Showtime, and Encore are providing what is being ballyhooed as “cutting edge” drama, Shows like True Detective, true_1Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan, and Penny Dreadful are part of what some critics are calling a new Golden Age of TV. But how “golden” and “cutting edge” is it?

Let’s start with the format of these shows. It is far from original. The format is basically the same as the average daytime soap opera. Multiple story lines revolve around a group of interconnected characters, each with his own specific “problem.” The problems are weirder than you find on daytime television but as taboos fall the gap between them is shrinking.The cable shows have the benefit of being able to be more graphic in image and language than network TV.  And with the extended time they have, the creators of these shows can kill the better part of an hour with long, overwritten scenes that would bore anyone to tears, if they didn’t throw in a big helping of weirdness mixed with violence along with all the endless, despairing dialogue.

One thing the characters in these shows can do is talk. Talk, talk, talk. And when the writers get bored with the tedious conversation, they try to revive a sleeping audience by ending the episode with a totally incongruous, almost senseless cliffhanger. The most outrageous example of that was last night’s True Detective ep which finished with Colin Farrell’s police detective character Ray Vercoro getting two point-blank blasts from a shotgun right in the chest. A guy in a Birdman outift shot him. Speculation is that somehow he survives (maybe it was rock salt!). Maybe he will, but I don’t care. For me the series cannot survive a cheap stunt like that.

The original True Detective was a novelty. Nic Pizzolato’s script was daring, and fresh. But by the end of its run, even the novelty of Matthew McConnehy’s abstract dialogue full of off-the-wall philosophical musings, wasn’t enough to save a weak, unsatisfying ending. And seeing him do his act on Lincoln Navigator commercials really left a bad taste.

But in the end, that’s what we have to remember. Commercialism is what it’s all about. The gory, violent spectacles of Game of Thrones, the weird sexuality of Penny Dreadful, the moral malaise of Ray Donovan don’t do much in terms of shedding any light on the human condition, but they bring big ratings.

These dramatic series are being hailed as the new Golden Age of TV. But there seems to be one important ingredient missing from the new era. Writers of the original Golden Age of the 1950s through the early sixties, writers like Rod Serling (Requiem for a Heavyweight) Paddy Chayevsky (Marty, Network), Stirling Silliphant (Route 66 and Naked City)– these writers dealt with difficult subjects, even took some controversial positions (Silliphant once wrote a story that semed to condone mercy killing). But no matter what the story was about, they always looked for some kind of affirmation by the end of the tale. They almost always gave the viewer some hope that no matter how rotten things were someday they might be better. And there was usually a warning that if they don’t get better, it’ll be our own fault.

The writers of the current crop of cable dramas seem to have thrown in the towel, and are enjoying their despair. Maybe that’s not really the fault of the writers. Maybe it’s just a reflection of the times we’re living in. We’ve all thrown in the towel. Things are going to hell, and unlike previous generations we don’t think there’s anything we can do about it. That sense of powerlessness, compared to the optimism of the past, could be unconsciously what these shows are revealing to us. Art imitates life, after all.

Mordecai

ON THE ROAD TO RIO MUERTO

When the long shadows of day turn into night
And the Wolf Moon climbs the ebony sky,
Out of their crypts and tombs they rise
Thirsting and hungry — the vampire riders.
.
On fearsome steeds they thunder
Searching for prey on the haunted road.
The unwary traveler, the late-night reveler
Must beware when the vampire outlaws ride.

For when the riders come
Galloping demon-like down the terrible night.
All they meet will die.
All they meet
On the road to Rio Muerto.

(c) Copyright John M. Whalen 2015

Get your copy of Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto here.

(For Flashback Friday I thought I’d reprise this piece from August 2012. A look at a weird little movie with Johnny Weissmuller and Ann Savage, one of the queens of low-budget noir.)

The other day Turner Classic Movies featured a full 24 hours of movies starring Johnny Weissmuller. Of course the majority of the films shown were his MGM and RKO Tarzan flicks. That’s cool. Seems appropriate for a hot August day with the locusts clicking outside and the temperature and humidity in my neighborhood not much different from what you might find in the African jungle. But what made the Weissmuller tribute interesting was what happened in the wee small hours of the night, after the kids had gone to bed and only the hopeless insomniacs were up.

When they ran out of Tarzan movies, TCM started showing a couple of the less-often-seen Jungle Jim movies Johnny made when he got too old to play the Lord of the Jungle. Around 5:00 a.m they rolled out Pygmy Island, perhaps the wildest, craziest, strangest movie in the 15-film series.

Jungle Jim was originally a comic strip character created by the legendary Alex Raymond, who also created Flash Gordon. Universal made a serial based on the comic back in the 1940s, starring Grant Withers. The character didn’t reappear in film until the late 1940s when Columbia started cranking out the low-budget features starring Johnny W. The series as a whole is entertaining, but they were definitely made for the Saturday matinée crowd, back when they had Saturday matinees, and Columbia stuck to the usual jungle movie formula for the most part. But when they got to Pygmy Island, the fifth film in the series, something happened. I don’t know what, but this particular entry isn’t like any of the 14 other films at all.

The story starts when the U.S. government sends Major Bolton (David Bruce) to the jungle to find a missing pilot, whose dog tags were found by Jungle Jim floating on a raft alongside a dead white pygmy, killed by an arrow presumably shot from the bow of a Bush Devil, a member of an evil jungle cult. There is also a rope found on the raft made of some mysterious plant fibre that won’t burn or break that the U.S. government wants to get its hands on as a defense weapon. However, a “foreign power” also wants the plant that the fibre comes from. Steven Geray plays Leon Marko, the owner of a jungle trading post, who is really a secret agent for the unnamed “foreign power.” His henchmen are played by Tris Coffin and William Tannen, veteran actors who worked in numerous old serials and low-budget films.

When you’re watching movies like this you have to make allowances—overlook little technical glitches. For instance at the beginning of the film, a newspaper flashes on the screen with the headline: OFFICER BELEIVED VICTIM OF INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACY. That’s right, the word “believed” is misspelled in the headline. But that’s a minor point. Next we have a flashback scene showing Jungle Jim’s discovery of the dog tags and the raft with the dead pygmy. Clearly visible is a string that some off-screen crew member is pulling to bring the raft toward Jim over on the river bank. I blame high def TV for that. You weren’t supposed to see that. Probably wouldn’t have noticed it on standard def.

But things pick up right after that with a crocodile in pursuit of the raft, and the dead pygmy, who probably looks to the croc like a good before lunch snack. Jim dives in and fights the crocodile with a knife. Good crocodile fight. You have to give one star right off the bat to any film featuring Weissmuller fighting a rubber crocodile.  Nobody did it better.

Then Major Bolton arrives and teams up with Jim to find Captain Kingsley, the missing pilot. Well, get ready for the first shocker. The pilot turns out to be Captain Ann Kingsley. “She’s a woman?” Jim asks in deadpan surprise. (Johnny wasn’t the most expressive actor of his time.) Not only is she a woman but she turns out to be played by none other than actress Ann Savage! You know who Ann Savage is, right? She played the most evil femme fatale in all movie history in another low-budget classic, “Detour.” Yeah, that Ann Savage. I guess her movie career didn’t go so well after “Detour,” to end up in this turk— er, I mean classic.

Here Ann plays the heroine. But she looks just about as fed up and disgusted with life as she did in Detour. From the look on her face, she probably wanted to kill her agent for getting her the part. We first find Ann amongst the titular pygmies of Pygmy Island, a tribe of about a thirty midgets. Judging from their ages, it would seem that perhaps director, William Berke, got day passes from the Woodland Hills Nursing Home for the retired Munchkins of The Wizard of Oz. The pygmy leader, Makuba, is played by Billy Curtis and you can spot an uncredited Billy Barty in some scenes, as well. In order to get off the island and join up with Jungle Jim and Major Bolton, and to avoid the arrows of the Bush Devils, Makuba tells Ann to lie down on a raft and  he’ll cover her up with branches. There is something so weirdly hilarious about this scene, and the way she lays there while Billy Curtis piles the branches on her and himslef—and something so pathetic that her career had brought her to this–I can’t begin to describe it. Makuba says: “Now look like driftwood. But we not!” It’s a wild moment and worth another star. Give Ann Savage some credit. She stuck it out.

The pygmies in this movie, by the way, are another weird touch. For one thing, they all wear long black wigs and leopard skin loincloths. And they are very adept at swinging through the trees on vines, like a bunch of mini-Tarzans. There are several scenes of them doing so, with Johnny Weissmuller looking up at them nostalgically, perhaps remembering the old days. He too may have been wondering what the hell happened to his movie career.

Truly one of the highlights of the movie comes later when Jungle Jim must cross a wide ravine on a rickety rope bridge stretched between two cliffs. He and his pet chimp, Tamba, start across, but all of a sudden what comes out of the jungle on the other end of the bridge??? You guessed it. A killer gorilla. Okay, any film with a guy in a gorilla suit automatically gets another star. So we’re up to three stars already. The fight scene that has Jim hanging from the swaying bridge with Tamba jumping up and down on the gorilla’s head as the beast stomps on Jim’s fingers with its feet is mind-blowing. It is also probably the scene that inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg when they were putting together “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”– if they would only man up and admit it.

Well, I  could go on and on about “Pygmy Island.” There’s a great elephant stampede scene, mucho fisticuffs and shoot outs between Jim, Major Bolton, and the vine-swinging pygmies and the evil trader/secret agent Marko and his men, who by the way were really the ones posing as Bush Devils.  Finally during a climactic battle, Jim and one of Marko’s henchmen fall into a pool of quicksand. Another star for scenes with quicksand in them.

As you can see, Pygmy Island is a film not to be missed. A whacked out, four star classic. I urge you to keep checking your TV listings for TCM’s next showing of this bizarre little movie. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

 HILLYER-1936-The-Invisible-Ray-El-poder-invisible-4

*** SPOILERS***

The Invisible Ray (1936) was on TV last night, hosted by Svengoolie. It teams Boris Karloff with Bela Lugosi and is one of the lesser known films from Universal’s golden age of horror. There is a lot that could be said about this movie, but to me on of the most fascinating aspects of it is the mad-scientist character played by Boris Karloff.

Janos Rukh, though an insane, radiation-poisoned mad man at the end, is nevertheless a sympathetic character. He’s a brilliant scientist who leads an expedition to Africa and discovers a power previously unknown but suffers the consequences of that discovery by exposing himself to harmful radiation. But more than that he has a human failing. He believes the world underrates him. And when he makes his breakthrough he believes others are stealing his discovery, taking credit and profiting from it. None of which is really true.

Isn’t he like most of us? Don’t we feel we’re not really appreciated by our peers? Don’t the fools know the magnitude of our genius? They’ll learn. Mwhahahaha! Even though his friends have no bad intentions, Rukh’s paranoia forces them to turn against him. Even his loving wife (Frances Drake) turns away and is driven into another man’s arms.

Rukh sets about killing all the members of the expedition that led to his discovery. Only Rukh’s mother, whose blindness he cured with the invisible X-ray, stops him from killing his wife and her lover. When he realizes what has happened it is too late. The radiation starts to burn him up and he leaps through a window to a flaming death.

There are aspects of the screenplay worth study. Such as the use of the X-ray to see past events, as when Lugosi’s character, Dr. Benet, uses it to look into one of Rukh’s victims’ eyes and discovers Rukh’s face was the last thing he saw. And a poetic touch comes with Rukh’s vision of the statues at The Church of the Six Saints in Paris as the six members of the expedition.

It’s an unusual story and like they say, they just don’t make them like they used to.

U1apVUBsI’m about to put the barbecue on but can’t resist today’s rant. The Movies! TV Network Channel has gone and done it. They’ve created a new garbage word to plug their tired, worn-out schedule of old movies. This Sunday their going to have a Billy Wilder ICONOTHON. Which translated into English means their showing three of the same old flicks they’ve been showing for months–Stalag 17, Sabrina and Sunset Blvd. But this time it’s an ICONOTHAON. Gaaaggh!

The digital TV age has only made television worse with these digital subchannels that keep recycling ancient dogs of the past. Some offend by taking vintage TV shows and speeding up the tape so they can get more commercials in. The voices are slightly higher pitched than normal. But I digress.

George Orwell was right about the abuse of language as a tool of the power structure. Newspeak is the lingua franca of our time.

Happy Memorial Day and don’t forget Sunday. We’re on for the ICONOTHON.

Hunting Monsters final frontI am about to do something they say you should never do. I’m going to reveal the secrets of a magic trick. I’m going to show you how to cleverly adapt one of Shakespeare’s plays into a pulp fiction story– so cleverly, in fact, that no one ever knows it unless you tell them.

“Hunting Monsters Is My Business– The Mordecai Slate Stories,” has been out in paperback and Kindle since November 2014. It’s selling well, and has garnered some terrific reviews, for which I am very grateful. But so far no reviewer and no reader out there seems to have caught on to what is really going on in one of the stories in this collection. The so far unnoticed fact is that one of the tales in the book is actually an adaptation of a Shakesperean play.

In a way it’s not surprising that nobody has caught on to it yet. The connection between the story and the play is hard to see, if you’re not looking for it. Readers of what is generally called pulp fiction (horror, western, fantasy, or space opera) are not expecting too much in the way of classic literature in their stories. So when it comes along it tends to just zing on by without much notice.

Shakespeare has been adapted numerous times and in various ways, especially in the movies. Some of his work has even been translated into the cinematic equivalent of pulp fiction– low budget B movies. For example, MacBeth was redone as a gangster flick (“Joe MacBeth” with Paul Douglas);  Othello became a taut crime drama starring Patrick McGoohan (“All Night Long”); and Hamlet was adapted by Edgar Ulmer as a psychological melodrama (“Strange Illusion”). And there are others. Kurosawa has done period Japanese versions of MacBeth and King Lear. Recently Patrick Stewart starred in a western version of King Lear called “King of Texas.”

So why not a Mordecai Slate story based on a Shakespeare play? Why not, while we’re at it, mix Shakespeare, Slate and zombies all together? The result is one of the strangest concoctions in the Mordecai Slate canon– the novella “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.”

Prospero_and_mirandaOne of my favorites of the Bard’s plays has always been “The Tempest.” The play tells the story of Prospero, a wizard who lives on a deserted island with his daughter Miranda. He is really the Duke of Milan who was deposed by his jealous brother and cast out to sea in a boat. Prospero with the help of a spirit Ariel is developing his magical powers so he can return home and reclaim his rightful place. Along with his a daughter Miranda he also has a deformed servant named Caliban. It’s a complicated story with lot of cross plots involving deception, romance, and most of all magic.

There are a lot of fantastic elements in The Tempest that I thought might be adaptable as one of Mordecai Slate’s monster hunting stories.  I first came up with the idea of Slate searching for a missing friend, a former monster hunting colleague,named Tom Carlson. In the story Slate discovers his friend is most likely being held prisoner by a weird character who lives in a fortress-like house of stone on top of a mountain in Texas. Count Pierre LeCoulte is French/Haitian and similar to Prospero, the wizard in The Tempest, he is an adept in the black arts, in this case the black art of voodoo. He’s been kicked out of Haiti, as Prospero had been exiled from Milan. The difference is that he lives on a mountain top instead of an island at sea.

There’s a gold mine in the bowels of the mountain his house is perched on and the miners digging gold for him are zombies kept under control by LeCoulte’s voodoo and by a mutant named Thorg, my version of Caliban. Like Prospero, LeCoulte has a beautiful daughter, Mireva, who he keeps locked up in his fortress. His main objective is to develop his voodoo powers, amass a gold fortune and like Prospero return home to wreak vengeance on those who plotted against him.

There are other parallels in the story, such as the fact that Caliban’s mother was a witch named Sycorax. In a twisted way she shows up at the end of the story in the form of Lady Taratu, LeCoulte’s late wife. Prospero had Ariel a spirit who helps him perform magic. LeCoulte has his dead wife’s spirit helping him develop his voodoo powers. And in a way you might say that Cha-Qal-Tan, Slate’s Apache Spirit guide, is his version of Ariel. There are probably other corresponding symbols and characters, Sheriff Morgan Jacks and his deputy Mojave might be Antonio and Alonzo, though that might be a stretch.

I included several deliberate references to the play in the story as a hint at what I was doing. For example on p. 208 of the paperback, LeCoulte says he wants to tell Slate a little something about himself. “As the playwright wrote,” LeCoulte says, “What is past is prologue,” a direct quote from the play. On page 189 he refers to life as “a tempete– a tempest, blowing us this way and that.”

And of course the story begin with the epigram, “This thing of darkness/I acknowledge mine,”another quote from the play.

And thusly was “The Tempest” transformed magically into “Hunting Monsters Is My Business.” As you can see the clues are all there. Now that you know how the trick was done, maybe you’ll enjoy the story better. Or maybe not. It’s more like an inside joke, than anything else, but now you’re in on it. If you’re a writer you might want to try this little stunt yourself. But be careful, if you try it. Voodoo is nothing to fool around with.

Bill_Tilghman_1912Lawman Bill Tilghman was one of the legends of the Old West. In 1878 he was asked by Bat Masterson to serve as his deputy in Dodge City, where he earned the respect of Masterson, as well as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. In 1889 he moved to the Oklahoma Territory, one of the most lawless areas of the frontier, and became one of the  lawmen known as “The Three Guardsman.” They were credited with 300 arrests, including the elimination of The Wild Bunch. Tilghman single-handedly captured the outlaw Bill Doolan, and is probably most well known for the capture and arrest of the female outlaw duo Cattle Annie and Little Britches. He retired from the law in 1910.

There have been many films made about the lawmen of the Old West and the outlaws they chased, but despite Tilghman’s amazing career he has been mostly overlooked by movie makers. Only three motion pictures have been made about him, one of which he produced, directed and acted in himself. That’s right. After his retirement, he decided to make “The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, (1924)”  a silent film, which he said was an authentic western, not like the Hollywood variety– a true story based on the facts of his life.

The second film about him was “Cattle Annie and Little Britches, (1981)” in which Rod Steiger played Tilghman. I’ve never seen that one, but the other night I was lucky enough to catch the third film that was made about him. In 1999 Sam Elliott produced and starred in “You Know My Name (1999) for the TNT network. It is considered the definitive Bill Tilghman biopic and perhaps Sam Elliott’s greatest role. The film begins near the end of Tilghman’s life, in 1924, at the point where he was filming his movie and ran short of money. He’s offered a job as sheriff in the lawless town of Cromwell, OK, where Prohibition era gangsters were overrunning the place. At the age of 70 with a wife and two kids, whom he left behind in the nearby town of Chandler, he took the job and returned to law enforcement.

The film is fascinating just for the visual images of cowboys and gangsters, horses and automobiles, and the sound of cowboy music mixed with jazz bands. Tilghman’s main antagonist is Wiley Lynn (Arliss Howard), a cocaine-addicted Fed who in fact works for the gangsters. Howard’s performance is way over the top, but definitely is effective in showing the depravity of Cromwell, where prostitutes and drunks parade up and down the main street at all hours of the day and night.

btill

Elliot’s performance is masterful. His granite-hewn face and deep, rumbling voice embody the iron-willed sheriff as no other actor working today could. But while he could be tough as nails facing down men with Tommy guns, there’s a touching scene where he tells his son the time, when he was a boy, he saw Wild Bill Hickock. One legend reflecting on another. For anyone interested in the Old West, this John Kent Harrison-directed film is one not to be missed.

Slate and Tilghman

william_tilghman

William Tilghman by Harold Holden

Now, here’s why I bring all this up. While there haven’t been many movies about Tilghman there have been a few novels based on his life, including Matt Braun’s “Outlaw Kingdom,” James Reasoner’s “West of the Big River,” and several others. But in case you think that’s the only fiction that’s ever been written about Tilghman, I hasten to point out that “Samurai Blade,” one of the stories in my “Hunting Monsters Is My Business” collection takes place in Dodge City and features Deputy Sheriff Tilghman as one of the characters.

In this story, Monster Hunter Mordecai Slate is summoned to Dodge by the mother of a soldier shot down in a saloon after he goes berserk while holding a Samurai Sword that was hanging Hunting Monsters final frontover the bar. The spirit of a vengeful Samurai hovers over Dodge. When Slate checks in at the sheriff’s office he finds Bat Masterson out of town and Tilghman behind a desk, looking up at him and asking, “What are you doing here? You know Bat hates your guts.”  In my version, Tilghman has a more pragmatic view of the law than Bat or Wyatt and since the soldier’s death occurred south of the Deadline, he wasn’t too concerned about it. “Things have a way of working themselves out down there,” he tells Slate.

Slate goes about his usual business of wreaking mayhem and uncovering dark secrets. Tilghman shows up at the end aghast at the carnage Slate has wrought, but satisfied that only evil doers have paid the price, he let’s Slate go, saying, “I told you things have a way of working out down here.”

And so that’s the story of how Mordecai Slate met Bill Tilghman. Did it really happen? Who knows?  Legends had a way of bumping into each other in the old days.

writeratworkA week or so ago I spilled coca cola into my computer terminal. It went in through the ventilation holes and totally fried the computer. I got the dreaded BLUE SCREEN. Then it went black. The computer had died. The worst thing about it the first few chapters of the new Mordecai Slate book were gone with the computer. I had violated my number one rule to always, always back everything up. Things around here have been weird and chaotic for various reasons and I just didn’t take the extra step of backing the file up. I thought I had lost it for good. I told myself I could rewrite it, but you never can remember exactly what you wrote the first time.

I just let the computer sit in my office. People said go get a new one or take into the shop and see if they can fix it or retrieve your files. I was too depressed to do anything. But after a few days I just had this feeling that I should try to see if it would come back on its own. I started it up and the first time nothing happened. Same thing for the next few days. After a week suddenly I could hear the fan and the drive moving but nothing on the screen. Another few days later the Gateway logo came on in black and white. But that’s all.

I thought that was as much of a comeback as it was going to make. But today I tried it and lo and behold! It’s back. I am writing this post on it. First thing I did was store the Slate story on a flash drive and print it out. The computer is slow and sluggish but seems to be picking up speed by the hour.

Needless to say I am a happy camper today. I guess the lesson is KEEP THE FAITH, BABY. Gateway made me a believer.

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