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|Jack (Warner) Schaefer (1907-1991)|
American writer and journalist, a master of the novella, whose best-known book Shane (1949) has been considered the ultimate achievement in creating a mythical western hero with a shady past. The story followed the pattern of a classical Greek tragedy, in which there is no escape from Fate. Schaefer's novel was adapted into screen in 1953, directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd.
"Little Joey is merely one of many characters, and Alan Ladd is too much a gentleman, far more civilized than the edgy character in the novel seems to be. Whereas the novel focuses on character, the film focuses more on action. What the film misses is the mediation of character and events that the novel presents from Bob's perspective, but the older Bob has a better (though incomplete) understanding of the events than his less mature counterpart Joey in the film." (from Novels into Films by John C. Tibbets and James M. Welsh, 1999)
Jack Schaefer was born in Cleveland, the son of Carl Walter Schaefer, attorney, and Minnie (Hively) Schaefer. Both of his parents were fond of literature, and his father was a friend of Carl Sandburg. "I read more Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs than anything else," Schaefer said once in an interview. "Later I read Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope." (Shane: The Critical Edition, ed. by James C. Work, 1984) Schaefer was educated at Oberlin College, Ohio, where he edited the campus literary magazine, as his sister had done earlier. After receiving his A.B. in English in 1929, Schaefer entered Columbia University, New York, but left his studies when the faculty denied him permission to prepare a master's thesis on the development of motion pictures. "The thesis committee at Columbia just laughed at me," Schaefer recalled. "They said the movies were merely cheap reproductions of stage plays."
Schaefer worked first as a reporter for the United Press in New Haven, Connecticut. His journalistic career spanned nearly 20 years, but between the years 1931 and 1938, he also served as the assistant director of education at Connecticut State Reformatory in Cheshire. From the mid-1930s to the the early 1940s, he was involved in editing and publishing magazines on films and the theatre. Schaefer was an associate editor and then editor at Journal Courier (1939-42), an editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun (1942-44), an associate editor at Norfolk Virginia Pilot (1944-48), and an associate at Lindsay Advertising Company (1949). In New Haven he was an editor and publisher of Theatre News (1935-40), The Movies (1939-41), and Shoreliner (1949).
In 1949, Schaefer quit his newspaper job to write full-time. Several of his short stories appeared in various periodicals and other papers, such as Argosy, Bluebook, Boy's Life, Collier's, Fresco, Gunsmoke, Holiday, and the Saturday Evening Post. 'Sergeant Houck', originally published in Collier's, was filmed under the title Trooper Hook (1957) by Charles Marquis Warren, starring Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck and Earl Holliman. The title song was sung by Tex Ritter. Robert Wise's film Tribute to a Bad Man (1956), starring James Cagney, was based on Schaefer's short story 'Jeremy Rodock'. Narrated by a young man, it tells of a ruthless rancher, "a hanging man when it came to horse thieves", who is determined to get back a stolen heard of mares and revenge the rustlers' cruelty. The story was first collected in Big Range (1953).
As a novelist, Schaefer made his debut with Shane (1949), a tale of a gunman's involvement with a homesteading family in Wyoming. At the time when he wrote the book, Schaefer had never been west of Toledo, Ohio, but his vision was so clearcut, that his work was honored in 1985 by the Western Writers of America as the best Western novel ever written – thus beating such works as Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902), Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), and Louis L'Amour's Hondo (1950). Schaefer dedicated the book to his son: "To Carl, for my first son, my first book." Shane inspired George Stevens's movie with the same title. However, the setting in Shane at the Starrett's homestead was "about a day's ride from Sheridan", but in the motion picture version was shot mostly in the Grand Tetons. Moreover, in the film Shane wears his gun from the beginning, but in the book it is hidden in the saddle-roll.Shane began as a short story and was then serialized in three parts in Argosy magazine, entitled 'Riders from Nowhere'. When the first installment appeared, Schaefer's name was misspelled on the cover. Revised and expanded, the work was released by Houghton Mifflin in book form and recognized as a small masterpiece. The story of the mysterious stranger is told from the point of view of a young boy, Bob Starrett. "He rode into our valley in the summer of '89, a slim man, dresses in black. 'Call me Shane,' he said. He never told us more." Shane is the embodiment of the Lone Hero, someone who shares the values of the society, but has the destructive skills of the outlaws. Shane works as Joe Starrett's farm hand. A powerful rancher, Luke Fletcher, wants to run homesteaders off the range, and hires a gunfighter, Stark Wilson, to it. Wilson shoots Ernie Wright, a homesteader. Shane understands that Joe, who has became his friend, is no match for Wilson. In Grafton's saloon, he kills Wilson and then Fletcher, after the cattleman shoots at him from the balcony. Shane concludes: "A man is what he is, Bob, and there's no breaking the mold. I've tried that and I've lost." After settling the conflict in favor of the community, he must hang up his guns, as does the hero of Owen Wister's The Virginian, or ride out of the town and he takes the latter way.
Schaefer sold his farm near Waterbury in the mid-1950s, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. From the late 1960s, he devoted himself to writing of mankind's effect upon the environment. Schaefer had already declared in 1961, that the Western genre is dead. In Mavericks (1967), the author drew a portrait of an old ranch-hand, Jake Hanlon, a dying cowboy, who discovers that he has contributed to the destruction of the west that he loves. Schaefer's own favorite novel was The Canyon (1953), in which the protagonist is a lone Cheyenne warrior, Little Bear, who opposes war and must take his stand between the customs of his tribe, nature, and the necessity of community. It was the book Schaefer wanted to write, in the assurance that it would have no commercial value.
Monte Walsh (1963), filmed twice, starring Lee Marvin and Tom Selleck respectively in the title role, chronicles the passing of Old West and the American cowboy lifestyle. Constructed from loosely connected episodes, the novel follows three close friends from their youth to old age, and their choices when the hard times are coming. The central character was partly based on a young man, who helped the author's family with building and fencing their house 20 miles south of Santa Fe. In the preface to the 1980 edition of the novel, Schaeffer wrote, "among our nearest New Mexican neighbours was a young man named Archie West who to my mind was (and still is) in many respects, certainly in appearance and temperament and cattle-country capability and simple human decency, precisely my Monte Walsh."
"'Too bad,' he said. He raised his right hand and the gun in it bucked with the shot and the driver rose upright off the seat arching his back in sudden agony and fell sideways over the footboard to strike on the wagon tongue and bounce to the ground between the harness tugs and with the roar of the shot the horses were rearing and they plunged ahead and the wheels crunched over the driver's body as they rolled forward along the road." (from 'One Man's Honor', 1956)
The themes of transformation, change, and learning a lesson in life, are brought out in several of Schaefer's stories. Although he never deliberately wrote for children, his novel's were increasingly popular with young readers. Old Ramon (1960), illustrated by Harold West, tackles the growing up pressures. Ramon, an aged Mexican sheepherder, initiates a young boy, the owner's son, into understanding independence and responsibility. Shabby Pringle's Christmas (1964), illustrated by Lorence Bjorkman, was a tale about a cowpoke, who substitutes for Santa Claus. In 1975, Schaefer received Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement award. Jack Schaefer died of congestive heart failure on January 24, 1991, in Santa Fe, N.M. He was twice married, with Eugenia Hammond Ives in 1931; they had three sons and one daughter. After divorce in 1948, Schaefer married Louise Wilhide Deans; they had three daughters.
Shane (1953). Directed by George Stevens, starring Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Brandon de Wilde, Jack Palance. The movie blended a realistic approach to the Wyoming range wars a highly mythologized subject of the Wild West and added to it many of the elements that characterize the Western film. A.B. Guthrie Jr., whose novel The Way West had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1949, wrote the screenplay adaptation. The film was shot in the Jackson Hole Valley, flanked by the Grand Teton Mountains. It was nominated for five Academy Awards: best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, and best supporting actor (Brandon de Wilde) and best cinematography and Loyal Griggs took an Oscar for his cinematography.
A former gunslinger (Alan Ladd), wearing pale buckskin, becomes a hired hand and friend of a Wyoming homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin), and shares an understood but unspoken love with his wife Marian (Jean Arthur). Their young son (Brandon de Wilde), named Joey in the film, is torn between his admiration for the blondhaired guardian angel and his love for his parents. Shane has a past he cannot escape, and he sees it in the black-clad hit-man Jack Wilson (Jack Palance), who even drinks his black coffee from a blackened pot. He would like to give up gunfighting, knowing that if he uses his gun he has no future in the civilized West. However, he is the only one who can stand against his diabolical doppelganger, hired by a greedy landowner. After the final shootout, Shane rides through a graveyard to disappear in the mythology. When Joey sees his distancing figure, he calls: "Shane!... Shane. Come back!... Thank you." In one of the memorable scenes from the book Shane and the farmer spend all day together to chop down a stubborn tree trunk. Stevens made sure that clothing and even haircuts were true to the period. Following the tradition of John Ford, the film had also a classical funeral scene, which can be compared with that of The Red River (1948) by Howard Hawks, or with a later example in Ford's Western The Searchers (1956). The people are grouped artfully; in the background stands the wall of the Grand Teton mountains. According to Stevens, the arrangement symbolized a continuity between life and death. Quotes: "A gun is a tool, no better, no worse, than any other tool, an axe, a shovel, or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it." "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."
- For further reading: Shane by Jack Schaefer, Frank Green (1994); West of Everything by Jane Tompkins (1992); Shane: The Critical Edition, ed. by James C. Work (1984); Critical Essays on the Western American Novel, ed. by William T. Pilkington (1980); Western Movies, ed. by William T. Pilkington and Don Graham (1979); Jack Schaefer by Gerald W. Haslam (1975); The American Western Novel by James K. Folsom (1966) - See also: The Jack Schaefer Home Page ; Jack Schaefer by Dan Chabek
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