The Man from Laramie; or, The One-Two Punch of 1950s America

Ah, the beauty of pulpish western cover art, filled to the brim with all the perfect 1950s western cover clichés, combined and intertwined in a perfect union of cinematic, pulp western majesty.

Can life get any better?

You might recognize the title, perhaps? Anthony Mann’s films with James Stewart, such as The Man from Laramie (1955) are the western aficiando’s westerns. Sure, we have John Wayne’s stalwart stance and Roy Roger’s beaming face. But for knock-down, drag-out cowboy flicks that don’t hold back the punches, with blood-soaked violence and desperate clinches between men and women, you don’t need anything else but the Ring Cycle of westerns from Mann and James Stewart and western popular fiction from the 1950s.

The Man from Laramie was first a novel serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in what must have been a nail-biting cliffhanger experience. Fuhgeddabout runaway horses and getting trapped in a mine by a landslide–readers had to know: Will snow, rain, or flu keep the paperboy from slinging that paper on my porch and foil my reading pleasure?

The author of the serial, T. T. Flynn, was a red-blooded male specimen of adventure, whose life on the mean streets of America gave him plenty of fodder for detective and western mags. Hobo and ranch hand, he walked the silver-screen western hero walk, or just wrote like it. And the American popular-fiction-loving populace loved what he wrote. Scratch that–they NEEDED it.

With America flush from victory in WWII but faced with the insidious antiheroic creep of the Cold War, its popular literature emphasized the roles of real men who were slow to anger but swift and sure once provoked. Substitute missiles for guns, the hammer and sickle for the bad guy’s black hats, and you got yourself a commie showdown in which capitalism always wins.

In the Dell First Edition printing of the story, the predominant image on the cover is of a real man who’s felled a foe. The hero is in close-up, bringing the reader into the scene as an accomplice, sidekick, comrade. The accouterments of the western are there: holster (empty, perhaps a foreshadowing of the plot), a pump at a spring (often water rights were a prime conflict) and a western town (civilization vs. frontier mentality). Blond, Caucasian, and ruggedly handsome, the hero was forced into the fight, but by God, he’ll end it right here, right now. Battered yet standing, he’s won, but tempering this victory is the sure knowledge that tomorrow, or the day after, there will be another foe, another battle. The world is full of people itching to take down the hero who has might and right on his side.

The back cover expressed it all–half a million copies in print and a CineScope picture. The Cold War goons had met their match in…

The Man from Laramie!!!

Alec Waggoman: I’m Alec Waggoman of the Barb. What’s the reason for this?
Will Lockhart: Ask your son!
Alec Waggoman: I’m asking you.
Will Lockhart: All right, go out to the salt lagoons, and you’ll see twelve dead mules and three burnt wagons. They belong to me!
Alec Waggoman: Nobody asked you to come here.
Will Lockhart: Well, I’m here, Mr. Waggoman, and I’m gonna stay here and this town better get used to the idea!

The Man from Laramie, 1955

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