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Louis L'Amour

He was born Louis Dearborn LaMoore on March 22, 1908, the last of seven children in the family of Dr. Louis Charles and Emily Dearborn LaMoore.  His home for the first fifteen years of life was Jamestown, North Dakota, a medium-sized farming community situated in the valley where Pipestem Creek flows into the James River.  Doctor LaMoore was a large-animal veterinarian who settled in the Dakota Territory in 1882. 

The most popular and successful writer of westerns since Zane Grey, L'Amour began his career writing pulp-fiction.  He wrote seven days a week, starting at seven o'clock in the morning.  Usually, he worked on several novels simultaneously.  When he became frustrated with a novel in one typewriter, he would work on another story in a second.  His writing habits enabled him to write more than one hundred books in his lifetime, including Hondo (1953), which was made into a movie starring John Wayne, and Ride the Dark Trail (1972), in which he wrote, "I just pointed my rifle at him...and let him have the big one right through the third button on his shirt.  If he ever figured to sew that particular button on again he was going to have to scrape it off his backbone."

As a young man, L'Amour traveled the country, hopping freight trains with men who had been riding the rails for half a century.  He wrapped newspaper under his clothes to keep warm while sleeping in hobo jungles, grain bins, and the gaps in piles of lumber.  He spent three months on the beach in San Pedro, California, and circled the globe as a merchant seaman, visiting England, Japan, China, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Arabia, Egypt, and Panama with the rugged crews of the various steamships on which he served.  Afterwards, he wrote stories about those times, his experiences, and those people he had known.  Many of these stories were published in the collection, Yondering.

In 1937, L'Amour sold a short story called Gloves for a Tiger to Thrilling Adventures Magazine.   After that, other sales followed.  Although he wrote in several genres, including the rare occasional western, L'Amour's most financially successful stories were the adventure tales he wrote about the captain of a tramp freighter and his crew.  Ponga Jim Mayo, the name of his fictional character, was a merchant captain whose tendency to find trouble had drawn the attention of a British Intelligence officer.  Together, Mayo and Major Arnold kept agents of the Axis powers off balance in the years leading up to WWII.   

"The Admiral" was published in Story, one of the most prestigious periodicals of its day.  His stories, "It's Your Move," "Survival," and "Glorious! Glorious!" were published in Tanager; and "Dead End Drift" and "Old Doc Yak" were published in the New Mexico Quarterly.  L'Amour's poetry, originally seen in several anthologies and magazines, was self-published in a collection entitled Smoke from this Altar.

By the early 1950s, under pressure from radio, TV, and paperback books, the pulp magazines that had published the majority of fiction in the United States began to fold.  Many writers, including L'Amour, found making a living from writing harder than ever.  So, L'Amour began exploring other markets. 

He sold Westward the Tide to a British publisher.  He placed four Hopalong Cassidy novels in a short-lived magazine based on Clarence Mulhford's character, and The Gift of Cochise, Get out of Town, Booty for a Badman, The Burning Hills, and War Party appeared in major magazines such as Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post.

L'Amour sold Hondo, a film made from his short story, Gift of Cochise, to Hollywood.  Prior to the film's release, he had sold several other projects for movies and TV.  In 1951, several episodes of Cowboy G-Men were made from his treatments, and he sold a series pilot called One Night Stand to Bing Crosby.  He also sold a story to Fireside Theater and a treatment for the feature, East of Sumatra, to Universal International.  But it was the success of Hondo that gave L'Amour's career a much-needed boost.

In 1956, L'Amour married Katherine Elizabeth Adams, an aspiring actress.  The daughter of a resort developer and silent movie star, she had grown up in the deserts and mountains of Southern California.  Together, they traveled throughout the West, searching out locations and doing research for L'Amour's books.  In 1961, their son, Beau, was born, and in 1964 they had a daughter, Angelique.

The1960s were a productive time for L'Amour.  He developed his famous Sackett family series, traveled extensively to promote books and movies, and, for the first time in his life, bought a house.  He began speaking at public forums and held book signings for large crowds all across the country.

The 1970s brought still more financial success.  L'Amour signed a 30-book contract with Bantam to keep himself employed and on a deadline, and he expanded the Sackett family series to include the family's beginnings on the American continent and also began the process of weaving in tales of the Chantry and Talon clans.  The vision of a large matrix of fiction interwoven with the history of the United States and Canada began to appear in his work.  Plans for writing historical fiction, including The Walking Drum, would materialize a decade later. 

By 1973, L'Amour's new-found wealth allowed him to move into a better neighborhood in West Los Angeles.  He finally felt independent and secure for the first time in his adult life.  He was sixty-five years old.

In he summer of 1987, L'Amour caught pneumonia.  Within a few weeks, he threw it off and was seemingly healthy until late fall when he caught it again.  A first round of tests showed nothing, but ultimately a needle biopsy caught malignant cancer cells. Going back through the x-rays, doctors discovered a thin veil of cancerous material running throughout his lungs.  Because the cancer was not localized in any one spot, surgery was not possible.

L'Amour began his long postponed memoir, Education of a Wandering Man.

"I am probably the last writer who will ever have known the people who lived the frontier life.  In drifting about across the West, I have known five men and two women who knew Billy the Kid, two who rode in the Tonto Basin war in Arizona, and a variety of others who were outlaws, or frontier marshals like Jeff Milton, Bill Tilghman, and Chris Madse, or just pioneers." - from Education of a Wandering Man, 1989

As his disease progressed, L'Amour moved his work from his office to a desk in an upstairs bedroom and then into the master bedroom.  He was editing Wandering Man  when he died. 

Only days before, his agent notified him that his sales had topped two hundred million books.

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