I’m a couple of days late, but better late than never. Jan. 9 marked what would have been actor Lee Van Cleef’s 90th birthday. Van Cleef, as many readers and reviewers have pointed out bears a striking resemblance to the man pictured in the book cover above. It’s no coincidence.
When I first began writing the Mordecai Slate stories for Miles Boothe’s Legends of the Monster Hunter series, I started out knowing I wanted a protagonist who could be called neither good nor bad. He’d be a bounty hunter but one who happened to specialize in outlaws of the supernatural variety. He had to appear rough enough to handle the kinds of evil he’d be up against, but also smart and clever enough to be able to think his way through situations, keeping his mind focused on what was most important to him– the bounty money being offered.
As soon as I began “The Last Payday of the Killibrew Mine,” the first of his adventures, when Slate rides into the Alaskan town of Beaver Junction, I saw Lee Van Cleef’s gaunt and wolfish figure sitting on a buckskin horse. I knew he was Mordecai Slate. He’s been the inspiration for the character ever since.
The practice of using western film heroes as inspiration for new fiction is nothing new, especially in Europe. When I was in Germany about 10 years ago, I was amazed at all the western pulp magazines available on racks in stores and on the streets that had newly drawn pictures of Clint Eastwood, Jason Robards Jr., Jack Elam and other stars of mostly Italian westerns on their covers. For a time westerns were more popular in Europe than they are in the U.S. Maybe they still are.
I gave cover artist Laura Givens pictures of Van Cleef to use as a starting point for the character’s appearance and she came up with an excellent rendition, that also somehow suggests the features of another western character from the past, Richard Boone as Paladin, from Have Gun Will Travel.
So, while it’s a little late, I want to wish Lee Van Cleef, wherever he is, a belated happy birthday. Let me celebrate the occasion by raising a glass of tequila and quoting these words from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
“But you know the pity is when I’m paid, I always follow my job through. You know that.”