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Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE VERY BAD ~ PART ONE

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE VERY BAD ~ PART ONE
 
Fargo lives with a gun in his fist. Guns and killing are all he knows. And Fargo likes what he knows. Want to start a revolution? Want to stop one? Send for Fargo. Want to blow a bridge, stage a prison break, rob a bank? Fargo’s your man.
 
The Army taught Fargo how to kill with pistol, rifle, machine gun. He became an expert with knives, shotguns and women on his own time. Fargo hates the quiet life. He knows he’s going to get it sooner or later. He hopes it won’t be too much later because he wouldn’t know how to be old and comfortable. So while he lasts, Fargo plans to grab the world by the throat and take what he wants. If the world doesn’t like that, it can try to stop him ... if it can...
DESCRIPTION FROM THE FIRST FARGO NOVEL
 
Recently, I’ve blogged about a number of relatively obscure series from the men’s action adventure genre. Continuing the trend over the next couple of weeks, we saddle up for three iconic ‘60s western series written by John Benteen—the pseudonym of well-regarded and prolific writer Ben Haas. 
 
The main characters from all three series—Fargo, Sundance, and Cutler—have a devoted cult following among genre acolytes. The novels in each series stand apart from the other violence soaked westerns of the era, such as Edge, Crow, Claw (and countless others) written by the Piccadilly Cowboys (CLICK HERE). Neither do they fall into the arena of the popular adult sex-and-six-guns shoot-em-up western series like Longarm, Jake Slocum, or The Gunsmith (CLICK HERE). However, their combination of harsh, realistic ferocious action and adventurous backgrounds also set them apart from the more traditional Louis L’Amour style westerns. 
 
During the course of his career, Ben Haas wrote 130 novels under his own name, a dozen pseudonyms (including John Benteen), and a handful of publisher’s house names. The uniting factor of this vast output was the highly readable and sheer storytelling force he brought to every page. Haas’ goal was to be a mainstream writer, but needed to pay his bills while waiting for his serious fiction to find a publisher. Taking an opportunity to write a western for paperback publisher Tower Books, Haas furiously banged out Hell Of A Way To Die, quickly developing the spare, tightly written prose for which he became known. The novel became the fifth entry in Tower’s new Lassiter series (originated by wordslinger W.T. Ballard) published under the house name Jack Slade. 
 
Impressed with Haas’ fast-paced muscular prose—a perfect fit for the burgeoning paperback original market—Tower publisher Harry Shorten asked Haas to create an original western series of his own. Recognizing a regular paying gig, Haas returned to assaulting his typewriter letting loose the taciturn, granite-hard, Neal Fargo in a series of neo-westerns now considered classics of the genre.
 
Under the pseudonym John Benteen—named after one of Custer’s cavalry officers—Haas wrote (or co-wrote with his son, Joel) twenty of the twenty three Fargo adventures. The other three books (Sierra Silver, Dynamite Fever, and Gringo Guns) are attributed to John W. Hardin—a pseudonym taken from a real life outlaw. According to fiction scholar LYNN MUNROE, John W. Hardin was most likely Norman Rubington, who also wrote an entry in Benteen’s Sundance series.
 
Common consensus is Haas based Fargo on the character portrayed by Lee Marvin in the 1966 movie The Professionals, which was written by Richard Brooks and based on the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by another popular western wordslinger, Frank O’Rourke.
 
Brooks’ screenplay describes Marvin’s character, Faradan: He was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, served in the Philippines, was a wildcatter and gold prospector, worked for Pancho Villa, and is now demonstrating automatic weapons to the Army. He is offered $10,000 for the dangerous assignment—all of which is a perfect description of Fargo. Marvin’s character also smokes black cigars and wears the campaign hat and cavalry boots, which are mainstays of Fargo’s wardrobe.
 
The image of Lee Marvin as Fargo has persisted ever since the books were first published. Piccadilly Publishing’s recent release of the Fargo novels in e-book format all carry a likeness of Lee Marvin as Fargo (as interpreted by artist Edward Martin) on the covers (CLICK HERE) along with this description: 
 
Neal Fargo—adventurer, lover and fighter—Fargo lives with a gun in his fist. Guns and killing are all he knows. And Fargo likes what he knows. Want to start a revolution? Want to stop one? Send for Fargo. Want to blow a bridge, stage a prison break, rob a bank? Fargo's your man...Tall and weather beaten, his prematurely white hair kept close-cropped, he still wears much the same outfit he wore in the service: cavalry boots, campaign hat, jodhpurs, or khaki pants, comfortable shirt...
 
His weapons of war include a .38 with either a hip or shoulder holster, depending on his need at the time. Loading with hollow points for greater stopping power, he prefers it to the .45 automatic, which tends to jam, the army uses. His knife, a Batangas, made by Philippine artisans, has a razor sharp ten inch blade that folds back into the handle except for a few inches, popping out with a flick of the wrist. Fargo is quite expert with it and is ambidextrous, a little known fact hidden from his enemies, that has saved his life more than once in fights. 
 
His favorite weapon, though, is the Fox Sterlingworth ten-gauge shotgun, sawed-off, and engraved along the inlay with the words, To Neal Fargo, gratefully, from T. Roosevelt. The former President and he are the only ones who know what he did to get the weapon. It's a deadly piece, loaded with shells of nine buckshot each. He's the only man Fargo will drop everything and come running when called...
 
Writer and fictioneers extraordinaire JAMES REASONER rightly maintains the Fargo books are not really traditional Westerns as they are set in the 1910s, after the Wild West had been settled, and taking place in diverse locations such as the Philippines, Argentina, Nicaragua, Alaska and Peru. This distinction is part of the fun and what makes Fargo stand out among all his contemporaries.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Prolific writer (CLICK HERE), blogger, and another true Fargo fan, JACK BADELAIRE, describes Fargo as a combination of giants from pop culture—To me, Neal Fargo is a combination of Robert E. Howard's Conan mixed with Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Fargo, is a globe-trotting adventurer/mercenary in his late 30's, a highly-skilled and incredibly lethal fighting man who's already had a lifetime's worth of adventures. Like Conan, Fargo is a lone wolf, a man who trusts no one and nothing except, perhaps, his weapons. He fights for money and because it's what he's best at, and because he's one of the rare breed of men who, unashamedly, need to be in mortal conflict with man and the elements in order to feel alive. Fargo knows he'll meet a violent end one day, and you know his only hope is that he dies on his feet, surrounded by his enemies.
 


THE FARGO SERIES
 
Fargo (1969)
Panama Gold (1969)
Alaska Steel (1969)
Massacre River (1970)
The Wildcatters (1970)
Apache Raiders (1970)
Valley of Skulls (1970)
Wolf’s Head (1970)
The Sharpshooters (1970)
The Black Bulls (1971)
Phantom Gunman (1971)
Killing Spree (1971)
Shotgun Man (1973)
Bandolero (1973)
Sierra Silver (John W. Hardin—1973)
Dynamite Fever (John W. Hardin—1974)
Gringo Guns (John W. Hardin—1975)
Hell On Wheels (1976)
The Border Jumpers (1976)
Death Valley Gold (1976)
Killer’s Moon (1976)
Fargo and The Texas Rangers (1977)
Dakota Badlands (1977)
 
*Fargo #15 was originally assigned mistakenly to a reprint of #8 Wolf’s Head, which caused Belmont Tower to put #16 on what was actually the 15th book and triggering the misnumbering of the remaining books in the series. This accounts for the confusion regarding the total number of books—23 or 24—in the series…There are 23…
 
FOR MORE ON THE INDIVIDUAL FARGO BOOKS FROM LYNN MUNROE CLICK HERE, AND HERE
 
FOR BENTEEN/HAAS’ ADVICE ON HOW TO WRITE A WESTERN CLICK HERE
 
FOR MORE ON THE FARGO SERIES CLICK HERE
 
In Part Two next week, we’ll take on two other iconic western series from John Benteen—the popular Sundance—as mentioned above—and the unique, but less well received, Cutler

5 comments:

  1. Fabulous piece, Paul. Ben was a fabulous writer whose plots were always inventive, just as his characters always came to life and seemed just as credible as credible can be.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know I'm a late to the party on this one, but I only just found this blog, and specifically this post about the Fargo series. I originally read the series in the seventies when it was coming out new.
    Absolutely loved it!
    W#ound up buying the Sundance and Cutlers series as well. In any event, I've noticed that on the several blogs that were talking about the fact that the series was coming out in eBook format, they put up a list of all the books in the numerical order they were published. However nobody has mentioned that the chronological order was different.
    So just in case anybody is interested, I actually did it almost 40 years ago. So for the purposes of "historical accuracy", here it is;

    Phantom Gunman 1910
    Panama Gold 1912
    Sierra Silver 1912/1913
    Valley of Skulls 1913
    Fargo 1913
    Dynamite Fever 1913
    Gringo Guns 1913
    Alaska Steel 1914
    Massacre River 1914
    The Wildcatters 1915
    Killing Spree 1915
    Apache Raiders 1915
    Shotgun Man 1915
    Killers Moon 1915
    The Sharpshooters 1916
    Bandolero 1916
    Wolfshead 1916
    The Border Jumpers 1916/1917
    Hell On Wheels 1916
    The Black Bulls 1917
    Dakota Badlands 1918
    Fargo and The Texas Rangers 1918

    N0w there's another Fargo book called Death Valley Gold that I don't have, but I recently pre-ordered it through Amazon fro Piccadillypress. It's coming out in Feb or 2017. Paperback copies are available, but the cheapest one I've seen is almost $40.00 ( I don't even want to mention what the highest price I saw was)and I'm not quite prepared to spend that kind of money on a 40 year old mass market paperback (yet).

    My dating on the above books come from the dates that were actually used in the books, or else from historical events that were mentioned in the plots. One book, Fargo and The Texas Rangers, actually has the year 1909 on the back cover, but the 1918 date is actually stated in the book.

    Well, I hope I wasn't too boring with my list, but I figured this was a pretty good place to out it out there for any fans or collectors of the series. I like your Blog, it covers quite a few old adventure series that I used to read when I was in my teens and twenties (and that was lonnng time ago).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ok, update time. Amazon just released 'Death Valley Gold' in ebook format on Kindle. They released it this morning and I just finished it about an hour ago. I can say with certainty, based on a reference in the book to Porfirio Diaz (President of Mexico), the story takes place between 1910 and 1911.
    This eclectic public service announcement now concludes the chronological order of the exploits of Neal Fargo.

    Now go order the ebook from Amazon!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yep. Hardin was Rubington. And given the context, Rubington was not at all what you'd have expected him to be.
    http://www.normanrubington.com/bio.html

    ReplyDelete

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