August 1st marks the 60th anniversary of Paramount Pictures’ release of Shane, critically thought to be one of the best westerns ever made. It starred Alan Ladd as the title character, as well as Van Heflin and Jean Arthur. In fact, the film (released in 1953) was based on a book of the same title, written by author Jack Schaefer and published in 1949. You’ll actually find the Jack Schaefer papers at the American Heritage Center (AHC), in case you’d care to do some research into Schaefer’s creative processes.
The Jack Schaefer papers, 1925-1986, include his original manuscripts of novels, short stories, and scripts. Newspaper publications include over five hundred editorials, primarily from Schaefer’s early journalism career in the 1930s with The New Haven Courier Journal and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and hundreds of newspaper reviews of Schaefer’s works in print and in film. Fifty-two American and foreign editions of his books and twelve complete magazines with his articles or short stories provide examples of the diversity of Schaefer’s publications. Personal and biographical materials include memorabilia and photographs of Schaefer, friends and business acquaintances, plus stills of films and plays for television. Several clippings about Schaefer works are also part of the biographical papers. Correspondence reflects Schaefer’s relationship with book and magazine publishers, film producers, and fans. Also, copies of the case file correspondence between Jack Schaefer and Gene Gressley, former director of the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, show the long-term relationship between the two with regard to Schaefer’s donations to the archives, his requests for research information, and his philosophy of writing.
Here’s some more information about Schaefer himself:
Jack Schaefer, noted 20th century journalist and writer of western novels and short stories, was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1907. He attended school in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College with a major in English literature in 1929. Graduation was followed by a year of study at Columbia University, then a year of reporting for the United Press. The Depression years were spent as assistant director of education at the Connecticut State Reformatory, associate editor and later editor, 1933-1942, of the New Haven Courier Journal. Then, in 1942 he joined the editorial department of the Baltimore Sun. Gerald Johnson and H. L. Mencken were Schaefer’s colleagues.
In 1949, Schaefer married Louise Deans and Shaefer’s first novel, Shane, appeared in book form. Previously Shane had been serialized in Argosy magazine. The story is seen through the eyes of a young homesteader’s son as a drifter, Shane, comes into the family’s struggle to maintain homesteader rights in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at odds with cattlemen who claimed to rule the range. After Shane came First Blood in 1953, the tale of a young stage coach driver who reveals courage and achieves manhood during an ambush. Then came a collection of short stories, The Big Range, showing everyday situations in Western life in a dramatic light. Canyon tells the story of the lonely battle of a young Cheyenne Indian who struggles with conformity both within himself and his environment. The Pioneers came out in 1955 followed by Out West, an anthology of western writing. Company of Cowards, a Civil War story, was written at the invitation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Kean Land and Other Stories appeared in 1959, Old Ramon in 1960, a novel about an old sheepherder who teaches a young boy the ways of range life. Monte Walsh tells the story of the rise and fall of one cowboy and the eventual demise of the cowboy life with the encroachment of civilization. This novel was also made into a film in 1970, starring Lee Marvin in the title role.
Jack Schaefer’s books have been translated into Finnish, Swedish, French, Danish, Indonesian, Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, Slovenian, and German, plus many other languages. Jack Schaefer lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 1955 until his death in 1991.
There are many great westerns out there; whether this is one of the best is for viewers to judge! If you haven’t seen Shane, how about giving it a try the next time you’re choosing a film for movie night?
–Text by Melanie Francis
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