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Impressions of the West: Gary Snyder


The Etiquette of Freedom is a new book chronicling a cosmic-ranging conversation between two of the great poets of the West: Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison. Here is a snippet of that conversation, in which Snyder describes the area around his home in the Sierra Nevadas:

"It's quite clear that all of the year-round spring sites on the Sierra ridge that I live on were Indian settlements. Grinding stones are around there, and the oaks are bigger. They were nourished by special treatment - it's quite interesting to see, and it has taken me years to develop the eye to see that. Some old Native American, Native Californian women who do basket weaving went out with me in the woods there, and they were looking through the forest and meadows saying, 'We are responsible for that.' ... Meaning a certain oak grove, meaning a meadow that had lots of bunches of deer grass growing for basketry. And then they would look elsewhere in the woods and say, 'We didn't touch that.'

So the community is the whole neighborhood in which you clench the nonhuman. ...

I'm just waiting until the price of gasoline gets really high and then some future generation up in the Northern Sierra will have horses again."

The Etiquette of Freedom (pp. 50-51, 53), Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison       


Impressions of the West: Robert Penn Warren

Another in our series on Impressions of the West by great authors:

“…I drew some money and got my car out of the garage and packed a bag and was headed out.  I was headed out down a long bone-white road, straight as a string and smooth as glass and glittering and wavering in the heat and humming under the tires like a plucked nerve.  I was doing seventy-five but I never seemed to catch up with the pool which seemed to be over the road just this side of the horizon.  Then, after a while, the sun was in my eyes, for I was driving west.  So I pulled the sun-screen down and squinted and put the throttle to the floor.  And kept on moving west.  For West is where we all plan to go some day.  It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach.  It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered.  It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and see the blood on it.  It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills.  It is where you go to grow up with the country.  It is where you go to spend your old age.  Or it is just where you go.

It was just where I went.

…Then I was traveling through New Mexico, which is a land of total and magnificent emptiness with a little white filling-station flung down on the sand like a sun-bleached cow-skull by the trail….”

All the King’s Men (p. 376-377), by Robert Penn Warren      


The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

by Donna Poulton

The Pioneer Woman is my favorite blogger. I admit that I check her blog every day and I care about Charlie, Kitty Kitty, the Pesky Brother-in-law and of course the illusive Marlboro Man, but most of all I enjoy Ree’s stream of consciousness ramblings about the ranch and her life. She is a gal’s gal, the sister I never had, the best friend who lives 345 miles from me. How can you not like a woman who admits to a huge crowd that she’s wearing two Spanks products and can’t breathe or asks if she can borrow someone’s anti-static cling spray? And she admits to cooking with mountains of butter with no apology. 

The Pioneer Woman was in town to promote her book The Pioneer Woman: High Heels to Tractor Wheels, an autobiography filled with hilarious mishaps as this city girl falls for a handsome cowboy and moves to the country. The event felt like a high school reunion, not a book signing—the common denominator was charismatic Ree Drummond.  She was funny, disarmingly candid, charming and brave enough to belt out an Ethel Merman imitation of the song “There’s no Business Like Show Business.”

This event was sponsored by the King's English Bookshop:

Photo courtesy of Jenny Lyons.


The Mystery of Everett Ruess: An Interview with W. L. Rusho

Image courtesy The Mystery of Everett Ruess, Gibbs Smith Publisher

You initially started your research on Everett Ruess nearly thirty years ago. What gave you the idea for the initial book and why this topic?
The story of Everett Ruess grew out of my research of the history of Glen Canyon before Lake Powell. I learned of Ruess when Greg Crampton got a letter from Waldo Ruess asking if Greg—as principal history researcher for the Glen Canyon Salvage Project—had learned anything about the disappearance of his brother, Everett. Greg had found nothing useful, but he informed me of the letter. Intrigued, I bought a used copy of “On Desert Trails” published in 1940 that included many of Everett’s letters and poems, and that speculated on his disappearance from Davis Gulch in the winter of 1934-35.

KSL interview with Bud Rusho at Lake Powell. Photo courtesy of Bud Rusho.

Then in 1982, Gibbs Smith told me that he had acquired, from Waldo, the rights to edit and republish Everett’s letters and poems, and Gibbs asked me to edit the volume. I was, of course, happy to do so.

How long did it take you to research and compile the book?
I only worked on the material for about a year, as the “Vagabond for Beauty” was published in Oct. 1983. During that time I carefully culled through the Ruess material, and Gibbs and I made a trips to Escalante and Davis Gulch. We also made a long trip to Alamos, Mexico, to interview a witness who had met Everett Ruess. I should have also retraced Everett’s earlier travels in California and Arizona, but Gibbs’ budget would not support such a trip.

Bud Rusho at White Mesa Arch, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Bud Rusho.

Who, among the many people you interviewed, was the most intriguing personality?
Probably the most interesting were three people who had actually known Everett briefly—Tad Nichols and Clayborn Lockett in Tucson, and Randolph Jenks in Alamos, Mexico. They didn’t know much about Everett, but each of them was an artist in himself, having collected, painted, or photographed the Red Rock country.

What was the most interesting ‘behind the scenes’ story?

Why were Everett’s possessions—sleeping bag, food, clothing, diary—missing when the burros were discovered in February 1935?  They were probably stolen, either by a Navajo who killed Everett—improbable—or by Gail Bailey from Escalante, a rancher who was first on the scene. Bailey steadfastly denied having seen the possessions, but he admitted to taking the burros and their harnesses. The lack of possessions has clouded all speculations on Everett’s disappearance.

Describe the biggest challenge you experienced since the books have been published.
Are we talking about the original book Everett Ruess—Vagabond for Beauty or it’s newer reincarnation The Mystery of Everett Ruess? For the original book, my biggest difficulty, in 1982, was having to work on an old Royal typewriter, thus having to type the manuscript several times. Also, Gibbs Smith was tight with funds, thus restricting my research. And the Gibbs Smith editor, a guy named Buckley, cut out large portions of material that I considered good writing.

With the newer book, The Mystery, I have had only pleasant experiences with Gibbs and his editor, Madge Baird. The book is more attractive, especially with larger photos. Of course, it could have been better with an ample research budget, but it’s a good compromise. 

What are your most rewarding experiences since the books have been published?
The book has been successful—not a blockbuster—but it has been attracting readers of many ages, and has always been in print. The newer book, The Mystery of Everett Ruess, has received good reviews, but is essentially old news. So I don’t know how it will fare, especially since two writers are coming out with Everett Ruess bios in 2011 and 2012.

What is the most commonly asked question that you get and what is your answer?
Naturally, the first question is “What do you think happened to Everett?” This is really the heart of the whole Everett phenomena. Without the disappearance in 1935 (and his mother’s persistent efforts to get his letters published), the world would have forgotten the guy. In 2009, I was confused by reports—later proved wrong—that Everett’s body had been discovered in Comb Ridge, as evidenced by DNA tests. I always found that hard to believe, so I was relieved when the bones were found to be that of a Navajo. I personally believe that Everett, while climbing around, fell to his death into a narrow slot canyon, a canyon that could not be reached by the 1935 horseback searchers. Yet the mystery remains, which is vital for the story to live on. 


AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES V. D'ARC: When Hollywood Came to Town


James V. D'Arc

What gave you the idea for the book and why this topic?
Moving from southern California to Utah to go to school, I knew that I would be there at least four years and I thought the best way to get to know my new state was to take my love of movies and my chosen major of history and combine them to search out the movies made in the Beehive State. I became locked into the project after two early and important interviews: the first in 1976 was with Paramount Pictures producer Howard W. Koch, who made 10 features in Kane County during the 1950s. He talked of his love for the people there as if it all happened yesterday and provided a behind-the-scenes look at both the importance of the landscape, but mostly the people of Utah in making his production successful. The second, in 1977, was with Rebecca Beckett, ex-wife of Kanab hotelier Whit Parry, the legendary promoter of southern Utah to the movie studios that suggested both a P.T. Barnum and a savvy businessman.  

How long did you work on the book?
Off and on for 32 years to authenticate movie titles, locations and conduct extensive interviews with key movie industry figures as well as those in various Utah communities close to the Utah moviemaking story.

Who was one of the most interesting persons that you interviewed?
The aforementioned producer-director Howard W. Koch, was so dynamic and colorful in his recollections of his love of the Utah people and the sheer delight that he had in working with so many of them in Kanab while making his movies there. Later, as a major producer at Paramount Pictures, Koch flew to Kanab for the sole purpose of giving the eulogy for Kanab rancher and movie contact man Fay Hamblin. In 1990, Kanab held a Howard Koch Days celebration for this beloved man, an indication of the love affair between Koch and this small Utah community.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

Who, among the great actors and directors, did you interview?
TV and movie actor Peter Graves had a tremendous recollection on working on the films he made in Utah, beginning with "The Yellow Tomahawk" in 1953. Charlton Heston had fond memories of making both "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (as John the Baptist) and in the TV movie "Avenging Angel" (as Brigham Young). Fortunately, I was able to get to both of these industry giants before they passed on.

Is there one location that you particularly enjoyed visiting?
The stunning canyon in Kane County carved by the Paria River, where so many movies, from "Western Union" (1941) to "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1975) were made, and, of course, the incomparable Monument Valley, home to so many of the classic John Ford westerns. Visiting them now, with images of the great movies filmed there, leaves me with a sense of their being inhabited by "ghosts" of those who made them. Conrad Hall, the celebrated cinematographer who filmed "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" on several Utah locations, reminisced later on how he enjoys visiting later on the locations of movies on which he has worked to bring back the good times had on them.

[See Matt Zoller Seitz' video essay on The Outlaw Josey Wales]

I know that you could not include all of the films and locations that you wanted because there were too many, but is there one film and or one location that you regret not including?
Not really. Fortunately, I was able to include the top films and major locations in the book that focused on the story of how Hollywood moviemaking affected Utahns and how the thousands of Utahns left their impressions on Hollywood studio casts and crews.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

I was surprised to learn that a scene from the Eiger Sanction was filmed in Zion.  What film surprised you most?
The most surprising was a 1983 3-D movie "Spacehunters: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone," starring Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald, where the sunbaked desert and canyons near Moab served as another planet. While the film is not a prime example of the sci-fi genre, its use of southeastern Utah landscapes is remarkable.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

What was the most interesting 'behind the scenes' story you encountered?
Attempting to unravel the puzzle of who first "discovered" Monument Valley for the movies versus the more commonly published accounts. For the answer(s) to this controversy, I direct readers to the book. How's that for drama?

Describe the biggest challenge you experienced in terms of compiling such a book?
Making certain that I had tracked down the accurate titles and locations to the more than 700 feature films, television movies, and television series filmed throughout Utah. Sources had to be checked and re-checked to corroborate names and locations to make sure that the information was as correct as it could be, especially for films that are now considered "lost," where no copies are known to exist. That comprhehensive list provided the initial roadmap to the Utah moviemaking story. That is how the book got started and it was also the last aspect of the book to recieve the last-minute touches before it went to press in April of 2010. It was also the main reason why the book took so long to be finally written.

What are your most rewarding experiences since the book has been published?
Clearly, the greatest payoff has been at book signings where I have had the privilege of talking to so many people who are interested in this long-neglected aspect of Utah's history. These have included relatives of those local Utahns who worked on many of the movies covered in the book, and have expressed their gratitude that this important saga has been given book-length treatment. To bowdlerize the title of a prominently made movie in Utah, the story of moviemaking in Utah has always been to me the greatest story NEVER told, until now.

[This documentary, by Christopher Onstott (a filmmaker in St. George, Utah), is narrated by Dick Norse and features interviews with Harry Carey Jr., anecdotes about Clint Eastwood, John Wayne! It can be found at the University Bookstore in St. George.]

Return to Little Hollywood Trailer from Christopher Onstott on Vimeo.


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