THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

TEXAS LITERARY OUTLAWS: Six Writers in the Sixties and Beyond by Steven L. Davis

Texas Literary Outlaws: Six Writers in the Sixties and Beyond, published in 2004, is a survey of the lives and works of six writers, all friends, who put their state on the literary map for the first time, and had a rip-roaring good time while doing it.  It seems that the only things they took seriously were friendship, partying, and writing.  Steven L. Davis’ account is thoroughly researched and well written.  Even though it is a scholarly work, it reads like a good novel.
Steven L. Davis


Given the fact that this group of good ol' boys burned the candle at both ends, it is difficult to believe how they were able to accomplish much writing.  But they did, with one exception: Billy Lee Brammer.

Born in Dallas in 1929, Brammer published his only book, The Gay Place, in 1961 when he was only thirty-one years old.  Although the word gay was beginning to take on a sexual connotation at the time, it was used here in its more traditional sense.  Brammer’s writing was greatly influenced by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the title comes from a Fitzgerald poem: “I know a gay place/Nobody knows.

Depicting life in Austin during the fifties, it has been called Texas’ first urban novel. It consists of three novellas that are linked together by the character of Governor Arthur “Goddamn” Fenstermaker, who was obviously based on Lyndon B. Johnson.

As the years went by, Brammer became more and more addicted to hard drugs and though he was able to write an occasional magazine article, he was never able to finish another book.  He died from a drug overdose in 1978.  He was forty-eight years old.

It was a tremendous waste of talent, but as Davis writes, it was Brammer who showed the way for his five friends.



Born in Ft. Worth in 1929, Jenkins is the most famous of the six. He left Texas and took a job with a fledgling sports magazine called Sports Illustrated and stayed with them for twenty-four years.  He specialized in stories about golf and college football and eventually became the magazine’s star writer.
In 1972, Jenkins published his first novel, Semi-Tough, a comedic romp about the adventures of two NFL players.  It became a bestseller and was later made into a hit movie starring Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson.
Now retired from SI, Jenkins has written more than twenty books, his latest being His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir. 



No, not that Larry King.  I’m talking about the writer, you know, the talented Larry King.  The one in the picture.

He was also born in 1929, but way out in the western part of the state, near the little town of Putnam.  His only novel, The One-Eyed Man – based on a character similar to Louisiana governor Earl Long – did not receive many good reviews and did not do much business. (I read it years ago and remember liking it.  I have a copy and hope to re-read it in order to see if I missed something.)

King made his mark originally as one of the country’s most respected magazine writers.  However, he is the only writer to be nominated for a National Book Award (for non-fiction), a Broadway Tony, and a TV Emmy.

The play for which King received his Tony nomination was “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”  He protested the fact that it was turned into a musical (he lost the argument) and he protested when Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton were cast in the lead roles when it was filmed by Hollywood (he lost the argument).

To his dismay, it also became his best-known work.  He knew that it probably would be the lead when his obituary was written.  It was.

King died in 2012 at age eighty-three.



He was born in Dallas in 1934.  He began his career as a police reporter before becoming a sportswriter.  At one time, the Fort Worth Press employed Cartwright, Dan Jenkins, and Bud Shrake in their sports department under the leadership of another legendary Texas sportswriter, Blackie Sherrod.

After he left the newspaper business, Cartwright became a freelance writer whose work was primarily published in magazines.  His novels were not critical successes, but in later years he published two successful true crime books set in Texas: Blood Will Tell and Dirty Dealing.


5). PETER GENT (pronounced ‘Jent’)

George Davis Peter Gent is somewhat of an outlier.  For one thing, he was born in Michigan.  He was a four-sport star in high school and was later a star basketball player at Michigan State.  Although he was drafted by the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets, he accepted a try out invitation from the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.  Despite not playing college football, the Cowboys signed him as a wide receiver.  Ironically, he played opposite Bob Hayes, who also did not play college football, but was an Olympic sprinter.  Also on the team was another basketball player, Cornell Green, who played defensive back.

Gent’s NFL career, primarily because of injuries, lasted only five years.  But after his retirement, he continued to make his home in Dallas and he became friends with the five writers.  Because of their encouragement, especially that of Shrake, he decided to write a football novel.  Five years after he played his last game, he published North Dallas Forty, which was a critical and commercial success.

Whereas Dan Jenkins had approached the game with a whimsical eye, Gent took off the gloves and blasted the Cowboys and the NFL in general for what he felt were dehumanizing practices that drove players to drug addiction in order to fight the pain they experienced.  The two main characters in the novel are a pass receiver (based on Gent) and a quarterback (based on his buddy, Don Meredith).  They are the good guys.  The bad guys are the coach (based on the legendary Tom Landry) and the general manager (based on Tex Schramm).

In 1979, the novel was filmed with Nick Nolte as the wide receiver and singer Mac Davis, yes Mac Davis, as the quarterback.  Not only was it a hit, but the game action scenes are some of the best Hollywood ever produced – perhaps the best ever.

After his huge success with both his novel and film, Gent continued to write and later published three more novels, but none enjoyed the success of his debut.  Eventually Gent returned to Michigan and died there in 2011.



Bud Shrake was born in Ft. Worth in 1931.  He attended high school with Dan Jenkins and they became friends while writing for the school newspaper.  Shrake followed Jenkins in the newspaper business to Ft. Worth and Dallas and then to Sports Illusrtrated.

Shrake, an extremely versatile writer, was a sportswriter, police reporter, magazine writer, biographer, screenwriter, playwright, and novelist. Davis also gives him the highest marks among the six when it comes to talent.

None of his ten novels experienced commercial success, but two have become cult classics.  Blessed McGill, published in 1968, was his third novel and is considered to be his best.  The story is narrated by one Peter Hermano McGill, a half-Irish, half-Spanish adventurer who roamed the American southwest and Mexico in the years after the Civil War. Although McGill is self-educated, he is a good writer and a great storyteller who weaves his life story through flashback episodes that are not always related in chronological order. True, that narrative device has the effect of keeping the reader in the dark and guessing at times, but in the end, everything falls into place and the reader learns why the nickname "Blessed" is bestowed upon him; but I'm not telling.

In his review of the book, Larry McMurtry called it a “black-humor” Western.

The other cult favorite is "Strange Peaches."  Published in 1972, the semi-autobiographical novel is set in Dallas just before and just after the assassination of JFK.  The two main characters are patterned on Shrake and his friend Gary Cartwright.

Also by Shrake: 



J.W. COOP (1971)

DIRECTOR: Cliff Robertson;  PRODUCER: Cliff Robertson;  WRITERS: screenplay by Edwin "Bud" Shrake, Gary Cartwright and Cliff Robertson;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frank Stanley

CAST: Cliff Robertson, Geraldine Page, Cristina Ferrare, R.G. Armstrong, R.L. Armstrong, John Crawford, Wade Crosby

KID BLUE (1973)

DIRECTOR: James Frawley;   PRODUCER: Marvin Schwartz;  WRITER: Edwin "Bud" Shrake;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Billy Williams

CAST: Dennis Hopper, Warren Oates, Peter Boyle, Ben Johnson, Lee Purcell, Janice Rule, Ralph Waite, Howard Hesseman, M. Emmet Walsh 

 SEMI-TOUGH (1977)

DIRECTOR: Michael Ritchie; PRODUCER: David Merrick; WRITERS: screenplay by Walter Bernstein based upon novel of same name by Dan Jenkins; CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles Rosher, Jr.

CAST: Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh, Robert Preston, Bert Convy


DIRECTOR: Ted Kotcheff;  PRODUCER: Frank Yablans;  WRITERS: screenplay by Frank Yablans, Ted Kotcheff and Peter Gent based upon novel of same name by Peter Gent;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul Lohmann

CAST: Nick Nolte, Mac Davis, Charles Durning, Dayle Haddon, Bo Svenson, John Matuszak, Steve Forrest, G.D. Spradlin, Dabney Coleman


DIRECTOR: Arthur Hiller;  PRODUCER: Martin Ransohoff;  WRITERS: screenplay by Edwin "Bud" Shrake, Steve Shagan and Martin Cruz Smith based upon novel of same name by Martin Cruz Smith;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Charles Rosher, Jr.

CAST:  Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Kathryn Harrold, Stephen Macht, Strother Martin, Ben Piazza

TOM HORN (1980)

DIRECTOR: William Wiard;  PRODUCERS: Fred Weintraub and Steve McQueen;  WRITERS: screenplay by Thomas McGuane and Edwin "Bud" Shrake;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: John A. Alonzo

CAST: Steve McQueen, Linda Evans, Richard Farnsworth, Billy Green Bush, Slim Pickens, Elisha Cook, Jr., Geoffrey Lewis 


DIRECTOR: Colin Higgins;  PRODUCERS: Robert L. Boyett, Peter Macgregor-Scott, Edward K. Milkis and Thomas L. Miller;  WRITERS: screenplay by Larry L. King, Peter Masterson and Colin Higgins based upon play by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson;  CINEMATOGRAPHY: William A. Fraker

CAST: Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton, Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Jim Nabors, Robert Mandan, Lois Nettleton, Noah Beery, Jr., Barry Corbin, Theresa Merritt


DIRECTOR: Alan Rudolph;  PRODUCER: Sydney Pollock;  WRITER: Edwin "Bud" Shrake;  Cinematography: Matthew F. Leonetti 

CAST:  Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Melinda Dillon, Rip Torn, Lesley Ann Warren

PAIR OF ACES (1990) (TV movie)

DIRECTOR: Aaron Lipstadt;  PRODUCER: Cyrus Yavneh;  WRITERS: screenplay by Edwin "Bud" Shrake and Gary Cartwright;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tim Suhrstedt

CAST: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Helen Shaver, Rip Torn, Lash LaRue

DIRECTOR: Bill Bixby;  PRODUCER: Cyrus Yaneh;  WRITERS: screenplay by Rob Gilmer based upon characters created by Edwin "Bud" Shrake and Gary Cartwright;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chuck Colwell

CAST:  Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Severance, Rip Torn

TEXAS JUSTICE (1995) TV mini-series

DIRECTOR: Dick Lowry;  PRODUCER: Nancy Hardin;  WRITERS: teleplay by T.S. Cook based upon Gary Cartwright novel, Blood Will Tell;  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven Fierberg

CAST: Peter Strauss, Heather Locklear, Dennis Franz, Lewis Smith, Susan Walters 

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