Writing the Creative Western Story

While the average western story conjures up names like Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, such works of fiction need not be confined to the realm of traditional westerns. Case in point: “Bonanza” television episodes “Hoss and the Leprechauns” written by Robert Barron, and “Sam Hill”, written by David Dortort. The former title is self-explanatory, but the latter is about a friend of the Cartwrights named Sam Hill who also happens to be a mystic (portrayed by Claude Akins). These stories were not the first of their kind, for the concept of creative westerns existed during the early twentieth century.

For an idea of what earlier creative western stories looks like, here are three different ones made into silent films starring our subject, Tom Tyler:

“Lightning Lariats” – written by F. A. E. Pine and George Worthing Yates

“The Sonora Kid” – written by J. G. Hawks and Percy Heath

“Red Hot Hoofs” – written by George Washington Yates Jr.

“Lightning Lariats” (1927) is about a young king (Frankie Darro) named Alexis who has been exiled from his kingdom of Roxenberg and made his way to the western part of the United States with his governess. They meet Tom Potter (Tom Tyler) who becomes the guardian of Alexis and falls in love with his governess (Dorothy Dunbar) but is also the target of a jealous girl. In this case, we have the exiled foreign leader element (which by chance later recurred in popular sitcoms like “Gilligan’s Island”) which adds the twist to the western story.

From Moving Picture World, January 22, 1927:
Lightning Lariats Film Review

“The Sonora Kid” (1927) welcomes the Old English characters of King Arthur and the Round Table into the western plot. Quite possibly one of the most original stories of its time – a lobby card from that period depicts two knights jousting – the story opens with Tom the cowpuncher reading a book of King Arthur Tales to the ranch dog, Beans. As an employee of Arthur Butterworth’s ranch (of course the ranch owner also has a very English-sounding name), Tom soon finds himself wearing a suit of armor and challenging a wealthy millionaire from San Francisco (also in a suit of armor) in a jousting match for the hand of Butterworth’s daughter Phyllis (Peggy Montgomery).

The Sonora Kid lobby card

From Shamokin News Dispatch, Shamokin, PA, September 10, 1927:
The Sonora Kid theatre news item

“Red Hot Hoofs” (1926) is centered around a boxing ring set out west, with one of the boxers, Tom Buckley (Tom Tyler) surviving three rounds with a heavyweight champion (Al Kaufman) – and wins the thousand dollar offer made him. Tom of course gets to showcase his athletic prowess (at the time he already won two Amateur Athletic Union weightlifting awards) and also finds himself getting involved with a bank robber and of course a girl (Dorothy Dunbar) who he ends up rescuing. Incidentally, the boxing match element recurs in Tom Tyler’s 1936 talkie, “Rip Roarin’ Buckaroo.”

From The Courier-News, Bridgewater, NJ, April 15, 1927:
Picture of Tom Tyler in Red Hot Hoofs

From Photoplay, January 1927
Tom Tyler in Red Hot Hoofs

When considering a unique twist in writing a western story, do not be afraid to experiment with different outside elements, no matter how outlandish they may sound at first glance. So long as the plot is clearly defined and the story engaging for the reader, several different elements can be combined to create a unique western story.

Writing Fan Fiction: Past and Present

Modern fan fiction has existed since the early twentieth century when the biggest name Hollywood stars figured in stories that appeared in small publications frequently purchased by fans themselves. One popular publishing company, El Gato Negro (Barcelona, Spain), manufactured series of booklets with colorful covers, inside illustrations, and stories about actors. More often than not there would be a whole series of these booklets containing ongoing stories, similar to the film serials of the 1920’s through 1940’s, which were purchased and saved as collectibles. Below is an example of an early work of Hollywood fan fiction:

The Adventures of Tom Tyler King of the Cowboys

The title reads: “The Adventures of Tom Tyler, The King of the Cowboys” published by El Gato Negro circa 1930, and the booklet is sixteen pages long although the first page starts at page number 113, which is fair to assume this is one of a number of series (the last page of the booklet has FIN at the bottom, which means The End). To complicate matters, there is no indication of a volume number on this particular issue. The first page of this booklet appears below:

First page of Tom Tyler King of the Cowboys

A few characters in the story are mentioned: Tom Tyler himself, and his pal Chispita – a nickname for his frequent silent film co-star, Frankie Darro. The plot itself is a typical western story involving bandits, Indians, money, and the sheriff. The writing style is simple, and the two illustrations in the booklet (one appears below) provide a visual of our hero in the story.

Illustration of Tom Tyler King of the Cowboys

Even though this particular booklet is only one of a series, it gives us an idea of what fan fiction was like back in the early 1930’s. How does this translate to fan fiction of the twenty-first century, using a popular actor of the 1920’s and 1930’s? Following is an example, the opening segment of a story set in the west but with some unusual elements not found in your average western:

Damsel in Distress

Tom Tyler of the Cattlemen’s Association was making a call on a client who filed a claim about his stolen cattle. Since it was a local call, Tom left after lunch during the day to visit his client, a Bill Leek, who recently bought a farm including livestock in Arizona. Tom rode on his white steed, Lightning, and because the weather was beautiful, started to sing a quaint little cowboy song. As he rode along he wore a wide-brimmed black cowboy hat, a dark blue button down shirt, jeans rolled up at the cuffs to show off his brown leather boots and silver spurs, and his gun and ammo belt. As he passed by a rocky crevice, he attracted the attention of a young lady with long brown hair, wearing a feminine cowboy outfit: a cotton white shirt with rounded collar, pale blue embroidery down the front on either side of the buttons, and blue jeans with tan ankle boots. She also wore a light blue scarf with a western pattern in the fabric. She looked at the man pass below her, thinking him to be very handsome, and smiled when she saw him smile. Sitting upon her painted horse named Daisy, she scrambled down the rocky crevice and started to follow Tom. She heard him continue to sing and waited until he finished. Being so quiet, Tom did not hear someone follow him until he finished his song. Then she started to sing in a beautiful soprano:

Copyright 2016 “Damsel in Distress” by Mary Haberstroh.

So while the storytelling style here too is simple, it is clearly modern, set outside of time, with the remaining story combining elements from the 1970’s and 1990’s to present-day 2016. Needless to say, fan fiction can be simple or complex, as creative as the writer desires it to be.

Identifying film scenes from arcade/exhibit cards and reconstructing film plots and synopses

Arcade and exhibit cards have a fascinating history of their own – they were originally manufactured by Exhibit Supply Company in Chicago and distributed through vending machines for a penny per card. These cards would often be tinted in different colors ranging from red to blue, green, purple, even aqua. Many arcade and exhibit cards dating back to the late 1920’s and 1930’s would depict film scenes in addition to portraits of actors and actresses. Sometimes these film scenes might bear just the star’s name but not the film they were from. For example, here is an arcade card from my personal collection bearing the following print:

“Tom Tyler helps Buddy capture the bandit”

Arcade card

Buddy here is child actor Frankie Darro, who co-starred with Tom Tyler in FBO movies of the mid- to late- 1920’s. The actress here remains unidentified. By doing some research in the Lantern Media database, the scene on this arcade card matches that with a screen capture (or film still) in Motion Picture News, December 19, 1925:

Motion Picture News December 19 1925

The movie scene on the arcade card is from “The Wyoming Wildcat”, 1925. If this movie was to have a plot or synopsis written up, the information from this arcade card could be included. A review of “The Wyoming Wildcat” might be a little more of a challenge although the person writing the review could make a reservation with the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique in Brussels to view it on the premises since they own a print of this silent film. So while collecting arcade and exhibit cards can be an interesting hobby, their historical value and usefulness to writers of film should never be discounted.

Here is Tom standing upon his horse Flashlight, a portrait of them both from “The Wyoming Wildcat”:

Saving and Labeling Newspaper Clippings for Research Purposes

A writer is researching on Newspapers.com, happily searching and clipping away (the website has an awesome clipping feature), accumulating information for a project. What is the best way to keep these clippings (usually saved in PDF format from Newspapers.com) organized in your computer without losing pertinent information? If a newspaper clipping is going to be referred to in the article the writer is working on, the title of that newspaper story must be referred to, along with the byline if any, the name of the newspaper, the location (city and state) of the newspaper, and date it appeared in.

Once the desired newspaper item is clipped from Newspapers.com, the next thing to do is to name it before the website saves it in PDF format. Ideally, the name of the file should contain the name of the paper, location, and date, like the following:


The newspaper article itself:

The Cherokee Kid newspaper clipping

If this clipping was to be used as a reference in an article, perhaps one about Tom’s amazing athletic feats onscreen, the footnote or end note would be as follows:

“Tyler in Western Here During Week: ‘Cherokee Kid’ Offers Glimpse of Daring and Dangerous Stunt Riding”, The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, FL. November 25, 1928.

What if a bunch of newspaper clippings are accumulated and need to be kept separate from other clippings? Place them in a folder on your desktop with the subject name, such as “Cherokee Kid.”

Vintage vs. Modern Film Posters

One of the more interesting aspects of collecting vintage printed film memorabilia is the comparison of how they were made in the past to how they are presently made for movie theatres. Lobby cards, posters in all sizes from one-sheets to 24-sheets (billboard size) were intended for movie promotional use to place inside of movie theatre lobbies as well as the outside walls. In addition, foreign movie lobby cards and posters vary in size by country, such as England, Spain, Germany and France. American lobby cards are 11” x 14”, while British- and French- made lobby cards were 8” x 10” in size.

The first lobby cards were made in black and white during the early 1900’s and by the 1920’s, were manufactured in color, often between four to twelve in a set. These lobby cards depicted scenes from the movie they were made for. Lobby cards provide valuable research for the film historian, particularly if the film it was made for is considered lost. Thus lobby cards come in handy when the film historian writer has to reconstruct scenes from lost films while writing about them. For example, this lobby card for “Red Hot Hoofs” dates to 1926 although the actual silent film itself is designated as “lost”:

Red Hot Hoofs lobby card

So even though “Red Hot Hoofs” is unfortunately a lost film, we can see that Tom Tyler is in a boxing ring in this B-western produced by FBO. The size of this card is 11” x 14” in size. It should be noted that lobby cards are rarely manufactured in the United States nowadays, with movie theatres preferring to exhibit the one-sheet posters. Vintage one-sheet posters from the 1920’s and 1930’s measure 27” x 40”, while the late 1980’s to early 1990’s ones are generally 27” x 38/39” in size – the latter not having borders like the former did. Most modern one-sheets produced measure 27” x 41”.

Other film poster sizes include the half-sheet which is 28” x 22” in size (close to half the size of a one-sheet), a three-sheet which is 31” x 81” in size, and 30” x 40” posters. The latter were made between the 1960’s to early 1980’s and are considered a rare size. In the UK, a poster this size in landscape format is referred to as a quad. Banners are hard to find and have high collectible value, especially if they were printed on linen. These usually measured 81” x 24” in size, and had grommeted holes positioned along the top and bottom edges for hanging. Similar to banners, canvas burgees averaged 20” x 30” in size, were often colorful, with fringe at the bottom with grommeted holes at the top for hanging.

Tom Tyler burgee

More on different film poster sizes can be read about here:

Film Posters.com


Practical Home Theatre Guide

Motion Picture Art

Writing Silent Film Summaries and Taglines for IMDB

After spending many hours researching that famous person from stage or film, you finally discover one particular silent film which appeals to you in some manner – perhaps after reading a number of reviews, seeing a lobby card or two, or even a few stills from the movie – but remains largely unviewable by the general public. Maybe the movie itself is classified under “lost film” status, or does exist in print form in a film archive somewhere in Europe but for some reason not transferred to DVD. Most importantly, you are an active contributor to IMDB, and would like to write a film summary for the movie that interests you but remains a bit obscure to the general public. You might also have information such as taglines or budget expenses that can be added to the film entry. Where would a tagline be found? From an original advertisement from the movie. For example, this newspaper ad for “The Cowboy Cop” from The Circleville Herald, Circleville, Ohio, June 25, 1927:

The Circleville Herald Circleville Ohio June 25 1927

The film summary would include the basic information gleaned from an original film review, such as the following from Motion Picture News, August 28, 1926:

Motion Picture News August 28 1926

Any additional information that accompanied the review above – like a series of screencaps such as the below – might also be included in the film summary:

Frankie Darro looks every bit the young gentleman as his idol Tom Tyler does, wearing matching tuxedos at the party given by heiress Jean Arthur.

Motion Picture News August 28 1926

Note: There is indeed a film print of “The Cowboy Cop” at EYE in Amsterdam but in 16mm negative format.

Using poetry as a reference in nonfiction

The use of poetry in non-fiction books such as history, biography or religion as a reference was common during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Snippets of poetry verses pertaining to a certain idea presented in the actual text – or even a footnote – was artistic as well as aesthetic. Longer sections of verse might also be used within the too, as in the following example where a poem by Lord Byron is used to describe Rousseau in “The Confessions” (London: Aldus Society, 1903):

Lord Byron had a soul near akin to Rousseau’s, whose writings naturally made a deep impression on the poet’s mind, and probably had an influence on his conduct and modes of thought: In some stanzas of ‘Childe Harold’ this sympathy is expressed with truth and power; especially is the weakness of the Swiss philosopher’s character summed up in the following admirable lines:

“Here the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau,
The apostle of affliction, he who threw
Enchantment over passion, and from woe
Wrung overwhelming eloquence, first drew
The breath which made him wretched; yet he knew
How to make madness beautiful, and cast
O’er erring deeds and thoughts a heavenly hue
Of words, like sunbeams, dazzling as they passed
The eyes, which o’er them shed tears feelingly and fast.
“His life was one long war with self-sought foes,
Or friends by him self-banished; for his mind
Had grown Suspicion’s sanctuary, and chose,
For its own cruel sacrifice, the kind,
‘Gainst whom he raged with fury strange and blind.
But he was frenzied,—wherefore, who may know?
Since cause might be which skill could never find;
But he was frenzied by disease or woe
To that worst pitch of all, which wears a reasoning show.”

Here is an example of a poetry verse appearing in with main text of a history book (from “Prince Henry the Navigator: The Hero of Portugal and of Modern Discovery” by C. Raymond Beazley, M.A., F.R.G.S. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895):

On the south and south-west no Vikings or Royalist followers of Vikings, like Sigurd the Crusader, sailed the seas beyond Norva’s Sound and Serkland,[19] and as pilgrims, traders, travellers, and conquerors in the Mediterranean, their work was of course not one of exploration. They bore a foremost share in breaking down the Moslem incubus on southern Europe; they visited the Holy sites[Pg 67]

“When sacred Hierosolyma they’d relievèd
And fed their eyes on Jordan’s holy flood
Which the dear body of Lord God had lavèd”;[20]
[20] Camoëns, Lusiads, (Barton’s trans.).

Or a poetry verse might appear in the footnote, from the same book:

Failing to take the sea route at Ormuz for China, as they had hoped, our Italians were obliged to strike back north-east, through Persia and the Pamir, the Kashgar district and the Gobi steppes, to Cathay and the pleasure domes of Kublai, visiting Caracorum and the Altai country on the way, by a turn due north. In 1275 they were in Shang-tu, the Xanadu[25] of Coleridge—the summer capital of Kublai Khan—and not till 1292 did they get leave to turn their faces to the West once more.

And the footnote:

[25] In Xanadu did Kublai Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree,
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran,
Through caverns measureless to man,
Down to a sacred sea.

This style of blending verse in with nonfiction is not confined to print publishing of yesteryear. A modern example would be like the following article I wrote for HubPages:

What makes the Scorpion a real challenge to identify is his voice, which belongs to none of the unmasked characters in the story. Instead, actor Gerald Mohr (who later did voice-overs in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon “The Fantastic Four”) loaned his sinister-sounding voice as Captain Marvel’s adversary while one of the members of the archaeological expedition posed in front of the camera in his black Scorpion hooded mask and robe. There is one point in the serial where Captain Marvel chases the Scorpion through a network underground, and the Scorpion’s hood comes off but the shadows conceal his true identity, right up until the very end. Thus the Scorpion’s quest for world power comes to an end, per Edwin Arnold:

We are the voices of the wandering wind,
Which moan for rest and rest can never find.

“The Adventures of Captain Marvel” holds the viewer spellbound with its plot turns, top notch acting, special effects, and cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, designed to encourage the continued watching of the serial.

When writing a nonfiction piece and poetry is desired as a reference somewhere in the text, use a website like Poemhunter.com to locate the subject you are writing about, and the verses you want to use. Do not forget to include the poet’s name somewhere next to the poetry reference.

Researching for a new concept in writing

Approaching research for an article on a specialized subject is as important as writing the article itself. When it comes to research where multiple sources, dates, even identical titles are involved, checking and re-checking the facts must be done while making notes for the article to be written. For example, if research is being conducted on a silent film actor who made a silent film – and later on a talkie – bearing the same title, and a second actor made a silent film of the same title one year later after the first actor (it has actually happened!), confusion can arise. Likewise, knowing where to begin research on the silent film actor is important too. Did the actor in question get his start in live theatre, or in films? Was the actor credited under more than one name? This is just scratching the surface of the actor’s career work, not even delving into personal details such as birth date and birth location which can also at times conflict if there is no consistency of information across various sources.

Researching a silent film actor need not be confined to seeking out the best local university libraries and physically visiting them, poring over large texts for hours at a table. Thanks to the Internet, websites such as IMDB and IBDB (Internet Broadway Database) are usually helpful with research although at times can be incomplete (it has been said there is no such thing as a “complete acting credits record” in IMDB). However, they are a good start in becoming familiar with the work of the person being researched. Archives.org or Lantern.mediahist.org are two top websites containing primary sources for silent film research. Sources like Motion Picture Daily News and Motion Picture Magazine often contain information such as press releases, rare photo shots, film rankings and release dates.

From Motion Picture News Motion Picture News Nov-Dec 1925

While in the process of researching, concentrate on one aspect of the silent film actor being written about. Did this person specialize in stuntwork on silent film? Did the actor’s film studio and management promote these stunts as being the highlight of the films the actor made? If the answer is yes, then concentrate on those interesting facts, even if it is already general knowledge the actor in question got his start in Hollywood as a stuntman. Details like this can make for an interesting article, particularly if told in a narrative manner:

Even more daring stunts would follow in the next handful of [Tom] Tyler’s silent films. In “The Wyoming Wildcat” (Motion Picture News, Nov./Dec. 1925), Tom leaped off the top of a steep cliff into a rapid whirlpool below to rescue his love object, played by Virginia Southern. He managed to stay afloat of the watery trap, with the girl safely tucked under his strong arms, as he swam to shore and revived her, eventually winning her hand at the end of the story.

Press release and review from Motion Picture News Nov-Dec 1925

Once the article is completed, do not throw out the researched material. Chances are it can be referenced again in the future for another article with a different slant.