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By Valerie Lawrence

Credit: David Houston

Like a number of great writers, O’Henry died young at age 47 from alcohol related illnesses, but he packed a lot of living into his short life. He started, at age nineteen, with a career as a licensed pharmacist and talented sketch artist. Because of a persistent cough though, he moved to Texas where he worked as a ranch hand, journalist and bank teller, all the while writing short stories and developing character lines.  In 1897, he was found guilty of embezzlement from a bank where he had been employed. Although he vehemently denied the charges, he was sentenced to five years in jail.

Credit: The Haunted Library

While in jail he worked as a pharmacist and was given his own private room.  With little else to do he produced fourteen short stories under the pseudonym O’Henry. 

Credit: Book Rags

By the time William Sydney Porter was released from jail (early, for good behavior), he had secured a writing career under the name O’Henry.  He moved to New York where he wrote 381 short stories.  Among his most famous works, Full House and The Gift of the Magi were made into feature length films. The Ransom of Red Chief is a story about two men who kidnap a ten year-old boy who makes their life so miserable that they end up paying the kid’s father to take him back.  It's the subject of numerous plays, a movie and a newly released as a graphic novel:

Credit: Graphic Classics

Credit: Fox Free Movies

In Heart of the West he relied heavily on his early cowboy experiences in Texas. Here is a sample of O’Henry quotes that reveal why he is so popular then and now:

“I don’t amount to a knot in a stake rope.”

“He swayed on his horse; had he been on foot, the earth would have risen and conquered him; but in the saddle he was a master of equilibrium, and laughed at whisky, and despised the centre of gravity.”

“That man was a spectacle.  Yes; he was worse; he was a spyglass; he was the great telescope in the Lick Observatory.”

“She blushed, and then looked at me cool, like I was the snow scene from the ‘Two Orphans.’”

“…prancing around anvidiously like  an irremediable turkey gobbler…”

“He’s all ventilated with oldness and rectitude and decay.”

“I think he’s as dry as a lava bed.”

“Do you think you could get it into that Hubbard squash you call your head that you are nix cum rous in this business.”

“…we drifted down to this little town…to rest up, and get some human grub, and have our whiskers harvested.”

“…he’s a plain incumbent of the mountains, with asperities and the usual failing of a spendthrift and a liar, but I never on the most momentous occasion had the heart to deny that he was a gentleman.”

“I have found him impervious to the lower grades of crime and obesity.”

“My object is purely a gastronomical one.”


Impressions of the West: Marx Brothers


In Go West, the Marx Brothers - Groucho, Chico and Harpo - travel back in time to the American West of 1870. Once there, they get all tied up in a scheme to force the New York and Western Railroad to purchase land in 'Dead Man's Gulch' as part of the route for their line west, but the action quickly gets derailed. Everything gets back on track in the end, in a brilliant and absurd train scene. Here are some of the best quotes from the film:

CHICO: "I would like the west better if it was in the east"


CHICO: All we want to know is where is the train?
GROUCHO: The train? It's out on the tracks. It seldom comes in here.


GROUCHO: There’s only one law in the west: the law of blood and bullets. It’s either shoot or be shot. What are we gonna do?
CHICO: Sue ‘em!


GROUCHO: [dramatically] Suppose I brought you back to my native land. What- what would my people say?
GROUCHO: Well, they'd phrase it more delicately.

Credit: Laurel and Hardy Forum

GROUCHO: [Obviously intoxicated, commenting on his glass having just been shot in half by another character] Less whiskey next time, my glass can't take it.

GROUCHO: Where have I seen your face before?
CHICO: Right where it is now.

Here's a great stagecoach scene: