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Louis Dearborn LaMoore was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, into a pioneer family of English, Irish, French, and Canadian stock. He was the seventh and youngest child of Louis Charles LaMoore and Emily Dearborn LaMoore. His father was a veterinarian, a farm-implements mechanic, a police chief, a civil and political...

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Louis Dearborn LaMoore was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, into a pioneer family of English, Irish, French, and Canadian stock. He was the seventh and youngest child of Louis Charles LaMoore and Emily Dearborn LaMoore. His father was a veterinarian, a farm-implements mechanic, a police chief, a civil and political leader, and a Sunday school teacher. He instructed his sons in Western lore, in animal husbandry, and in boxing and was a living example to them of the virtues of hard work—as was L’Amour’s mother. Her father had been a Civil War veteran and an Indian fighter before his marriage. Emily Dearborn trained to become a teacher but married Louis Charles LaMoore instead, in 1892. She is remembered as quiet, fond of gardening and reading, and a captivating storyteller.

Louis L’Amour (as he called himself from the 1940’s) enjoyed a Tom Sawyer-like boyhood combining outdoor freedom and voracious reading. When his parents moved to Oklahoma in 1923, young Louis, feeling that school was interfering with his education (as he often put it later), lit out on his own for what he called his knockabout years. He held a variety of jobs that were indirectly educational and which, as he often said, were grist for his writing mill. He was a cattle skinner, migrant farm worker, professional boxer, circus roustabout, lumberjack, miner, longshoreman, sailor, and friend of bandits in China and Tibet. Much later, he became a book reviewer back in Oklahoma, a lecturer, and a neophyte author of many action stories as well as a little poetry (published in book form in 1939). Entering the U.S. Army in 1942, he served in tank-destroying and transportation units fighting in World War II in France and Germany.

The year 1946 found L’Amour in Los Angeles, determined to write for a living. By that time he had published much short fiction in pulp and slick magazines—mostly mediocre yarns about sailors and detectives, in addition to cowboys. In 1950 his first novel, Westward the Tide, was published in London but went unnoticed. On July 5, 1952, a turning point in his life came when Collier’s published one of his short stories. Called “The Gift of Cochise” (reprinted in a 1975 collection of short stories titled War Party), it formed the basis for his Western classic Hondo (1953).

Beginning in 1953, L’Amour was under contract with Fawcett for a novel a year. A few years later he signed with Bantam Books for two (then three) novels a year. In 1956 he married Katherine Adams, an actress who had appeared in Gunsmoke and Death Valley Days segments. Twenty-six years his junior, she willingly gave up her career to become his devoted wife, editor, business manager, chauffeur, and the mother of their two children.

Durable L’Amour, who was six feet, one inch tall and weighed 215 pounds, established a grueling schedule for himself. On two electric typewriters, he regularly wrote six hours a day, seven days a week. His production was never fewer than five pages a day and was often twice that. He paced himself with afternoon workouts on a stationary bicycle, with weights, and at a punching bag. The L’Amours bought a lavish home in Los Angeles. It was an adobe hacienda set on a quarter of a block off Sunset Boulevard, decorated with paintings, Indian rugs, and hunting trophies, and including a library of at least ten thousand books—mostly on Western history—and other Western memorabilia. The L’Amours later bought a California ranch and two condominiums in Durango, Colorado.

L’Amour’s biography from about 1960 on is mainly an account of one popular success after another, considerable travel and repeated scouting trips for research and fun, and numerous adaptations of his novels for films and television programs. Three of the best films are Heller in Pink Tights (1960), starring Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren, based on Heller with a Gun (1955); Shalako(1968), starring Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot, based on the 1962 novel; and Catlow (1971), starring Yul Brynner, Richard Crenna, and Leonard Nimoy, based on the 1963 novel. The best television adaptations were The Sacketts (1979), based on both The Daybreakers (1960) and Sackett (1961), and The Shadow Riders (1982), based on the 1982 novel.

The Daybreakers introduces the Sackett brothers: William Tell (called “Tell”), Orrin, and Tyrel (“Tye”). Their exploits, and those of their cousins far and wide and ancestors way back, are recounted in seventeen novels. In the preface to his thirteenth volume in the Sackett saga, called Sackett’s Land (1974), L’Amour reveals his grand design:Some time ago, I decided to tell the story of the American frontier through the eyes of three families—fictional families, but with true and factual experiences. The names I chose were Sackett, Chantry, and Talon. . . . Story by story, generation by generation these families are moving westward.

L’Amour’s five Chantry and three Talon novels feature characters from both families who sometimes meet, as well as a few cameo appearances by certain Sacketts. North to the Rails (1971) is the first Chantry novel; Rivers West (1975), the first Talon.

Although he ambitiously planned almost fifty Sackett, Chantry, and Talon books, L’Amour also published many other Westerns and then, late in life, sidetracked himself with The Walking Drum (1984), Last of the Breed (1986), and The Haunted Mesa (1987). The first is a lengthy swashbuckler tale set in twelfth century Europe and the Middle East; the second, a thriller about an Air Force jet pilot caught in a twentieth century Cold War plot; and the third, an effort at time-travel science fiction cast in L’Amour’s beloved Southwest. L’Amour had at least twenty novels in the planning stage when, though he was a nonsmoker, he abruptly died of lung cancer in 1988.

L’Amour was given several honorary degrees and was voted many awards, the most prized of which was the National Gold Medal of the U.S. Congress (1982); it was presented to the author on the White House lawn by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. L’Amour left a kind of intellectual autobiography in somewhat careless form, which was published as Education of a Wandering Man in 1989.


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L’Amour’s fiction has been extremely popular: His novels have far outsold those of all competitors in his main field, that of Western fiction. He was above all a storyteller, nothing less than a latter-day, frontier troubadour. He dramatized the value of the solid, old-fashioned American virtues—love of nature, self-reliance, and never-say-die patriotism. His stories present rugged heroes challenged by the elements, overcoming dangers, rescuing the less fortunate, dispensing two-fisted justice, and respecting and guarding conservative family values.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537

Louis L’Amour was born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in Jamestown, North Dakota, on March 22, 1908, into a rugged, French-Irish pioneering family. His father, Louis Charles (L. C.) LaMoore, reared by his paternal grandparents in Ontario, was a veterinarian, a Jamestown police chief, and a civic leader. The novelist’s mother, Emily, whose father was a American Civil War veteran and an Indian fighter, attended the normal school at St. Cloud, Minnesota, and married L. C. LaMoore in 1892. Louis was the youngest of the couple’s seven children, four of whom survived to distinguished maturity.

After a healthy early boyhood of outdoor activity and voracious reading, L’Amour moved in 1923 with his family to Oklahoma but soon struck out on his own. An incredible sequence of knockabout jobs followed: sailor, longshoreman, lumberjack, boxer, circus worker, cattle skinner, fruit picker, hay shocker, miner, friend of bandits in China, book reviewer in Oklahoma, lecturer there and in Texas, neophyte writer, and a U.S. Army tank-destroyer and transportation officer in World War II in France and Germany.

In 1946, L’Amour decided to move to Los Angeles, and he became a professional writer. Some of his short-story pulps and slicks into the mid-1950’s were under the pen names Tex Burns and Jim Mayo. A turning point for L’Amour came with the publication of “The Gift of Cochise” in Collier’s, the story that formed the basis for Hondo a year later. This was not, however, L’Amour’s first Western novel; his first was the competent Westward the Tide, published in London in 1950. The biography of L’Amour from 1953 onward is largely an account of one popular success after another, adaptations of his plots to the screen, fine efforts at versatility in a career that too many regard as merely capitalizing on the formulaic Western, and steady personal happiness.

With the publication of Night over the Solomons (a collection of old prewar stories) in 1986, L’Amour saw his one hundredth book into print. Of the many films made from his fiction, the most notable are Hondo (1953), The Burning Hills (1956), Apache Territory (1958), Heller in Pink Tights (1960), Shalako (1968), and Catlow (1971). The best television adaptation from L’Amour fiction was called The Sacketts (based on The Daybreakers and Sackett), which first aired in 1979. Beginning in 1960, L’Amour started the first of three family sagas, novels in multiple numbers featuring generations of families. The Daybreakers opened the ongoing Sackett saga, which by 1986 had grown to eighteen volumes. The 1971 publication of North to the Rails began another ongoing series, the Chantry family series. In 1975, Rivers West began the Talon family sequence.

Abetting L’Amour was Kathy Adams, who relinquished her career as an actor to marry him in a gala 1956 ceremony at the Beverly Hilton. In the 1960’s, they had a daughter, Angelique, and then a son, Beau. Adams served as L’Amour’s business manager, informal editor, and chauffeur. L’Amour wrote early in the morning, six hours a day, seven days a week, combining this spartan routine with tough afternoon workouts using a punching bag and weights. Throughout his long career, he lectured and traveled widely and personally scouted locales to make his work more authentic. L’Amour died in Los Angeles in 1988.

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