February 1945, Germany
ouis was inducted into the US army late in the summer of 1942. After
boot camp he went to Officer's Candidate School and then Tank Destroyer
School. By the time he was eligible to join a TD outfit he was ordered
to change assignments because with his 35th birthday just over six months
away he would be too old to join a combat unit. He joined the Transportation
Corps and was sent to England and then on to Europe with a trucking
company. As a second Lt. he commanded a platoon of gas tankers that
supplied planes and tanks all through the fighting in France and Germany.
Before he returned home he was promoted to 1st Lt. and was briefly a
company commander. While in Europe he gathered the background that he
later used in his stories about that area. He visited many of the locations
that appear in Meeting in Falmouth (collected in Beyond
the Great Snow Mountains), The
Walking Drum, Sackett's Land,
and To the Far Blue Mountains.
He met the people who were models for the characters in A Friend of
the General (collected in Yondering),
Reilly's Luck, Kiowa
Trail and The Cross and the Candle (collected in Off
the Mangrove Coast).
After his discharge Louis returned to the U.S. only to find that the
market for his Adventure stories had nearly disappeared. Now editors
were asking for Mysteries and Westerns. Because of Louis' background,
an old friend in the publishing business pushed him in the direction
of Westerns. Following his friend's advice, Louis L'Amour moved to Los
Angeles, a city he knew well from his sea-faring and boxing days, settled
into a small room in the back of another family's large apartment and
began to write. For the first couple of years he sat on the bed and
worked with his typewriter sitting on a folding chair. Compared to his
Oklahoma days his output was enormous. In one year he sold almost a
story a week and wrote even more than that. The pulps had never paid
very well and that situation had not changed much. Louis' average take
on a short story was less than $100.
At the typwriter, Los Angeles apartment, 1953.
By the early 1950s, pressured by radio, TV, and the paperback book, the pulp magazines, which had published a majority of the fiction in the United States, began to go out of business. Many writers, Louis included, found it harder and harder to sell their stories. Like others Louis tried many different markets. He sold "Westward the Tide" to a British publisher. Four Hopalong Cassidy novels went to 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," to what were called the "slick" magazines like Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post.
Louis had already sold several novels (Westward the Tide, his four Hopalong Cassidy stories, Crossfire Trail, Utah Blaine, and Silver Canyon) to paperback publishers when Hondo, a film made from his short story Gift of Cochise (collected in War Party) hit the silver screen. Also prior to the release of Hondo, he had sold several other projects for movies and TV. In 1951 a couple of episodes of Cowboy G-Men were made from his treatments and he sold a series pilot called One Night Stand (collected in The Strong Shall Live) to Bing Crosby. He also sold a story to Fireside Theater and the treatment for the feature East of Sumatra to Universal International. But it was the success of Hondo that gave Louis' career a much-needed boost.
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