John Wayne's favorite Wild West story became one of pop culture's favorite Western movies – and it was no coincidence. When Wayne read Louis L'Amour's short story "The Gift of Cochise" in Collier's magazine, he knew it would make a great motion picture. He bought the rights, changed the name, and starred in the film that would help make L'Amour – who died 25 years ago – one of the top names in literature of the American West. That movie was Hondo.
Louis L'Amour (AP Photo)
As a novelist, Louis L'Amour was astonishingly prolific, writing more novels each year than his publishers cared to release. While the publishers typically topped out at one or two novels per author per year, L'Amour could produce as many as four in that time span. He ended his career with nearly 100 novels and more than 30 short story collections published, plus poetry and non-fiction. And over the years, dozens of his novels and stories have made it to screens both big and small.
Hondo was a hit in 1953, a prime year for Westerns and the beginning of a decade that saw many of L'Amour's come to life on movie screens. In 1956, The Burning Hills was a box office success and starred popular actors Natalie Wood and Tab Hunter.
1960's Heller in Pink Tights was based on L'Amour's Heller with a Gun, and starred Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn. Director George Cukor wanted to improve upon the typical appearance of Western movies, and the film is notable for its Technicolor cinematography and lavish costumes by Edith Head.
When the popularity of big-screen Westerns began to dwindle in the 1960s, L'Amour's books found a new home on television. Made-for-TV adaptations like 2001's Crossfire Trail, airing on TNT and starring Tom Selleck, Virginia Madsen and Mark Harmon, have largely taken the place of box-office hits based on L'Amour's work. But don't write off the TV movies – Crossfire Trail premiered to 12.5 million viewers, making it one of the most-watched made-for-cable movies of all time.
More than two dozen films have been adapted from Louis L'Amour's novels and short stories – an impressive number, but one that leaves plenty of source material yet to be adapted. We're looking forward to seeing L'Amour at the movies for many years to come.
Written by Linnea Crowther