Description of the Louis L'Amour Biography Project
By Beau L'Amour
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Louis L'Amour History?
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began work on the biography of Louis L'Amour in 1993 knowing that it would be a tremendous undertaking but without actually having a vision of how truly huge it would become. Looking back, I can only shake my head in wonder at my innocence. It has been a long and complicated process; he left behind no single document that explains the where or when of his life, let alone the reasons for why he did many of the amazing things that he did. What little correspondence he was able to save over the years, paints one picture. His personal journals, many of which were lost or not kept up on a regular basis, fill in some other areas. The writing he did in "Yondering" and "Education of a Wandering Man" I have found to be very useful but slanted in the direction of whatever message he was trying to deliver at the moment. I have tried to get as close to the story that I will be telling as is feasible. I also must remain objective, Dad was 53 when I was born, when he was in his 20's he was a different -- sometimes almost unrecognizable -- character. The world that he lived in, the world that formed him, was another -- almost unrecognizable -- world. Yet for all of its differences today there is a haunting similarity to the end of the 1920s. The stock market is booming, driven by wild speculation. Society has turned on it's bad habits, smoking and drugs, rather than alcohol this time, with a moralizing vengeance. Unemployment is low but whole sections of the population are left out of our economic miracle. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times and the worst of times ... it was a time so like the present as to be indistinguishable."
So far, I have traveled the trail that Louis followed when he was forced to walk out of the Mojave Desert. I've searched out the homes, hotel rooms, boarding houses, auto courts, lumber piles, and hobo jungles where Louis slept as a youth. I've talked my way through the security gates that now seal the waterfronts and rail yards. I've turned off the interstate and driven miles on the forgotten dirt roads that our nation had instead of highways seventy years ago. I have followed the winding route that my grandparents, my father and his adopted brother traveled between 1923 and 1931 when they packed their last possessions in an old touring car and set out across the American west on a fruitless search for a better life. In Europe and America I have logged over 30,000 miles by car, studied subjects that I didn't even know existed, and interviewed almost forty people who knew Louis in the first half of what has just become the last century. I have been fortunate enough to have talked to several members of his family, people he knew in Oregon in the 1920s, Oklahoma in the 1930s, France in the 1940s, and Hollywood and New York in the 1950s. All have been the most warm and gracious people, very helpful and generous with their time. All have also been blessed with extraordinary memories, a true miracle as I am asking them to remember back 50, 60, sometimes 70 years.
Many biographies of famous people are based upon archives of that person's life that were kept by their loving and often wealthy families. In many cases the subject is still alive. With Louis L'Amour neither is the case. There was no archive, no place where a majority of the information was organized and stored. The process has been more like investigative journalism; making the most of the scraps of data by comparing them to one and other; following leads (some known to be fiction); and haunting libraries and historical societies.
One of the first steps in getting a handle on this project was going through every single thing that my father left behind and examining each one carefully for clues. After he died I had spent quite a few weeks sorting out all of the stuff that he left behind. That process had simply been to pack everything away in boxes labeled with five or six different categories like; "Fan Mail," "Pieces of Manuscripts," "Film and TV Treatments." So I went back through those boxes and sorted through everything page by page. It was like an archeologist digging a hole in the ground with a spoon and a toothbrush. I've made it a point to read through every manuscript, notebook, letter and file that he left behind, no matter how far afield the subject seemed to be. Anything that helped create the outline of the story I underlined and that is then entered in our database. Leads from these documents, referrals, or other research, are followed up on by phone or mail. Historical documents are poured over in various archives or scanned on microfilm. The material to be included in this biography may have occurred in the past but it is not disconnected, ancient, history. There are many people who are still alive to whom this story or parts of it are personal and the more of them I can get in contact with, the better a book it will be. Finding many of the people who have helped me out with their memories of Louis has been difficult, and now as I have been slowly been working through all the easy ones I am having to get more and more inventive about seeking these people out. I am hoping that you, the viewer of this web site, can help me. If you click on the link below your screen will display a list of the people that we are still trying to get in touch with and an area in which to contact us.
Please realize, however, we answer no fan mail from this location and we are not following up on anyone that Louis met after 1970. If you send material here that is not biography related or is about events that began after 1970 the biography staff can not respond to your E-mail.
Last but not least -- Given my other responsibilities I could achieve little of the biography work alone and so it is appropriate to thank the others who have so worked hard on this project -- Jeanne Brown, our project coordinator, who is in charge of data processing, file management, and correspondence (this is the woman who knows where it is ... whatever it is). She keeps us all sane in more ways than the mentioned responsibilities would indicate. Charles Van Eman, researcher, who goes out slugging, every day, into the trenches of cold calling, microfilm reading, and the insane hours of driving that one has to put up with when on the road with yours truly. Jean and Charlie have both spent far too many hours breathing mold spores with me in dusty archives all across the country. Howard Gale, our recording engineer par-excellence, who has brought back to life ancient tapes, done microsurgery on cassettes, and enabled us to keep our mass of recorded materials organized. John Barrymore, computer wizard and more important wizard with the 4D database, who keeps us up and running, and remains calm in the face of panic. There are several people who are no longer working on the project who have made substantial contributions to our progress - Katherine Doughtie, who helped me get it all started, implemented my weird ideas of organization seamlessly, and remains in our hearts as the Godmother of this project. Gavin Doughtie, who took on the job of creating in computer language what his wife and I were yammering about. Mara Purl and Helen Swart, who put in a lot of hours shuffling a lot of paper in the early "confused" days when none of us knew what we were up against yet. And lastly, Paul O'Dell, who worked day in and day out with me cleaning up the tons of paper in my Dad's office in those dark days just after his death. We didn't know it at the time but that was actually the moment when this biography started.