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Sunday, June 21, 2009

HOM: The Way West

A. B. "Bud" Guthrie was (is?) Montana's most famous novelist. When he wrote "The Big Sky" and "The Way West" in the 1940's, they were judged as too racy and were banned, which put them in good company and instantly boosted their sales. By "good company" I mean such books as Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Catch-22, The Scarlet Letter, A Farewell to Arms and Les Miserables, all of which have been blacklisted at some point in ther history. The language Guthrie used got him on the banned list --yeah, Montanans cuss -- and the "negative" publicity helped make his books best sellers. Here is his capsule bio from the U of M:
  • Born Jan. 13, 1901, in Bedford, Ind., Guthrie and his family soon moved to Montana. He grew up along the Rocky Mountain Front near Choteau, exploring the land he learned to love more than any other. He graduated from high school there and after a year at the University of Washington, transferred to the University of Montana, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1923.
  • Guthrie took a job as a reporter for the Lexington (Ky.) Leader in 1926 and stayed there for 30 years, rising through the ranks to become the Leader’s executive editor. While he was in Kentucky, he returned to Choteau to marry his childhood sweetheart, Harriet Larson in 1931. They had two children, Bert and Helen.
  • While Guthrie was at the Leader he got the opportunity to pursue his career as a serious novelist. In 1944 he received a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University and while there he completed his first novel, “The Big Sky.”
  • “The Big Sky” was a huge success when it was published in 1947, and he followed it with “The Way West,” which was published in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1950. Although he never was pleased with how Hollywood handled his novels made into movies, he wrote two famous screenplays for the films “Shane” and “The Kentuckian,” between 1953 and 1955.
He disappointed a lot of Montanans when he retired and sold his personal reference library and book collection. He never offered them to a Montana dealer, but sold them to Bibliographer and dealer Jack Rittenhouse in Albuquerque. I was going there to try to buy some of those Guthrie books from him. ----- On a side note, the TV show I escaped into during my HS years was "Route 66", and we had been traversing that Mother Road ever since we hit Oklahoma City. I gotta admit, on some of the stretches I daydreamed that I was herding a 'Vette along and heading for adventure instead of pedaling a Datsun full of family and books towards another cheap motel. TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)