Sunday, February 17, 2008

Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson, I am Legend and its movie adaptations
by Steven Williams

Richard Matheson black and white photographRichard Matheson is the author of the novel I am Legend, on which the 2007 film of the same name is loosely based. The book has been used to produce four films, three for theatrical release (The Last Man on Earth, 1964; The Omega Man, 1971; I am Legend 2007) and one straight to DVD release (I am Omega, 2007). While the straight to DVD release is not particularly important, the three theatrical releases, the difference between them, and their differences from the author's original novel make for some interesting discussion of book to film adaptations. Matheson was born in New Jersey in 1926, the son of Norwegian immigrants. In 1949 he received an bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. In 1951 he moved to California where he married in 1952. The couple had four children, coincidently three of them going on to become writers themselves.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Spring 1950, issue 3 front coverMatheson's professional writing career began in 1950 with the publication of Born of Man and Woman, appearing in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This early work presaged his writing style, which came to be associated with a blend of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Surprising for the darkness of some of the stories and books he wrote, Matheson also has a reputation for writing 'zany' humor based on overblown versions of familiar popular genres. He has also successfully written westerns as well as locked room and noir mystery fiction.

The Incredible Shrinking Man DVD issue front coverIn addition to fiction, Matheson also achieved professional success as a writer of screenplays for both television and film. Some of the best known of these include Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, one of several for The Twilight Zone series, the feature film Duel (1971), Steven Spielberg's first film and based on one of Matheson's own short stories, and the teleplay for one of the two TV movies for The Night Stalker series. This Night Stalker screenplay earned Matheson an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He also wrote the screenplay for the film The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) based on his novel The Shrinking Man. Other of his works that have been made into films include What Dreams May Come (1998), Stir of Echoes (1999), Bid Time Return which was released as the film Somewhere in Time (1980), Hell House released as the film titled The Legend of Hell House (1973), and Trilogy of Terror (1975).

The Twilight Zone television show black and white banner

'I am Legend' by Richard Matheson first hardcover edition front coverMatheson's style of infusing traditionally supernatural fiction with a scientific perspective, a sort of science fiction horror fiction, is especially evident in his short novel I am Legend. This book blends elements of vampire fiction with apocalyptic science fiction. The setting for the novel is 1976 through 1979 and there is a new disease, apparently created in the environmental turmoil that has resulted from the aftermath of a brief nuclear war. This new disease has killed most of the surviving humans on the earth. The main character has experienced the collapse of society as the disease progressed, suffering through the deaths of his little girl and eventually his wife.

To his horror, it turns out that that he is one of only a very few who are completely immune to the disease and that it does not kill everyone, at least not in the way being dead was in the past. Instead, the disease animates the dead giving them a need for blood but leaving them with only a significantly reduced intelligence as well an extreme sensitivity to sunlight. The zombies fall into a sort of lethargic stupor during the day and in general, the infection's symptoms mimic the legends about vampires. It turns out though that not everyone who has caught the disease is actually dead. 'I am Legend' by Richard Matheson early paperback edition front coverThere are also apparently disease victims who linger as infecteds but who have not been killed outright. The disease effects make them also very sensitive to UV light and daylight induces in them the same stuporous sleep. They even have a craving for blood though it is not mindless like the animated dead. The few normal humans who were immune became prey for the vampire-like animated dead. Fortunately for the book's main character, since the animated dead are weakened and their intelligence is reduced their threat is not impossible for the main character to resist.

black and white still image of the dog from the black and white film 'The Last Man on Earth' based on 'I am Legend'The main character spends his days in an almost mindless routine of hunting down and killing these apparently 'living dead' and fortifying his home. He spends his nights enduring crude, ineffective attacks by the animated dead on his house. As it appears more and more likely that he is the only human left alive, he happens upon a stray dog wandering around in his neighborhood. He puts a lot of effort into luring the justifiably wary dog into coming to him and for a time has the hopes of having a companion. Unfortunately the dog also succumbs to the disease. The main character sinks into a deeper despair but continues his macabre ritual of daylight hunting of the seeming vampires, gathering supplies, crude scientific investigation of the disease, and fortifying his home. He continues to spend his nights repelling their attacks.

Not long after the death of the dog, he spots what appears to be a normal woman. It turns out that she is one of a group of infected but still living survivors who have discovered a way to control the disease enough that they are trying to rebuild civilization. Since the infected living must still avoid the sun and sleep during the day, the main character's daytime hunts to kill the vampiric animated dead have also involved the killing of infected survivors. cropped color still image from the public execution scene from the color film 'The Omega Man' starring Charlton HestonThe infected survivors plan to kill off the remaining animated 'vampire' dead themselves and then begin the work of rebuilding. Unfortunately, they see this last surviving normal, 'legendary' human simply as a murderous monster, something much different from them who has been hunting and killing them while they slept. The woman is actually a decoy, sent by the surviving infected to somehow get into his house and figure out a way to capture and stop him. In the end, he is able to convince her that he is not actually a monster. The other infected survivors are still terrified of him though and cannot see him as anything other than a threat. In the end they execute him in a public ceremony, and in his death his very existence becomes a 'legend', just like vampires once were.

'I am Omega' DVD front coverAs mentioned previously in this article, four film versions of Richard Matheson's novel I am Legend have been made. I am Omega is a straight to DVD low quality, poorly realized production released to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the theatrical release of I am Legend starring Will Smith. I am Legend is a well-done film that varies from the plot of the book but does a good job of covering some of the same ideas in the book and while updating it and making it accessible to a contemporary audience. Since the film has only recently been released, it is inappropriate to discuss the plot in any detail. 'The World, the Flesh and the Devil' color movie posterAs an aside though, some related apocalyptical films with similar perspectives on what it might be like to be the last surviving human and that are worth seeing are The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, and Mel Ferrer as well as The Quiet Earth (1985) starring Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, and Pete Smith.

'The Omega Man' starring Charlton Heston color movie posterIn 1971, the best known of the two earlier film adaptations of Matheson's I am Legend was released as The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston. This film version shares some of the late 1960s and early 1970s feel of Charlton Heston's, other high profile science fiction films of the period Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green. The Omega Man with Charlton Heston almost completely removes any references to vampirism that were in the novel, except for the primary symptom of the disease, the infected survivor's sensitivity to sunlight. In this version, the disease is the result of biological warfare between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. Like the novel, the film uses flashback to show how the disease wiped out the human beings.

cropped black and white still image of Charlton Heston from the color film 'The Omega Man'Charlton Heston's character is a military scientist who injected himself with an experimental vaccine, which apparently worked and made him immune. The timeline still has the setting as being in the late 1970s, but in this film version the trauma suffered during society's collapse and the vampire-like transformations have made the surviving infecteds susceptible to a group psychosis and they have formed into a group that calls itself 'The Family' (shades of Charles Manson) which sees civilization itself as the cause of their plight. They espouse all technology, mimic aspects of medieval life (including the wearing of black robes), and strive to destroy Heston's character as a sort of heretical residual representative of technological civilization. Like the novel, Heston's character spends his days scavenging supplies, fortifying his house against attacks by 'The Family', and looking for the daytime nest 'The Family' uses so that he can destroy them and end the threat they represent.

color still of 'The Family' from the color film 'The Omega Man' starring Charlton Heston

Despite his best efforts, eventually 'The Family' succeeds in capturing Heston. They declare him a heretic and prepare to burn him at the stake but he at the last moment he is rescued by a group of what appear to be normal survivors. It turns out that the young apparently do catch the plague but do not become severely ill with it and express its odd symptoms of sunlight sensitivity and growing psychosis until they hit puberty. cropped color still photograph of the 'turned' character Lisa, Heston's character's love interest played by Rosiland Cash, from the color film 'The Omega Man' starring Charlton HestonOne of the members of this group is a young woman with whom Heston begins a relationship. Heston decides that since these young people have some resistance already, it might be practical try to give them a long-term resistance to the disease by giving them a serum made from his own blood. A test batch of the serum is tried out on one of the young people, the brother of the woman he is now involved with, and the young man ends up becoming completely immune. In a fit of idealism, he approaches 'The Family' to try to convince them to accept the serum also. Instead of listening to the young man, they kill him. In the mean time, the young woman succumbs to the more serious symptoms of the disease and joins 'The Family'. She uses what she knows to help 'The Family' capture Heston. He escapes but is mortally wounded in the process. In the end, the group of young survivors leave the city with a flask of Heston's blood serum that he has given them, implying that they will be able to use it insure their own immunity and begin the process of rebuilding civilization.

color still of the dead main character, Robert Neville, played by Charlton Heston in the color film 'The Omega Man'

'The Last Man on Earth' starring Vincent Price DVD coverThough The Omega Man was a relatively effective film version of Matheson's novel, it was The Last Man on Earth in 1964 that is in many ways closest to Matheson's novel. It is interesting to note that though Matheson wrote the screenplay for this first film adaptation he was sufficiently displeased with later rewrites and rewrites during filming that he asked that his name no appear in the credits. Because of this, Matheson is not mentioned in the film credits and instead the film screenplay writer attributed to Logan Swanson. This film is an Italian-made fairly low budget adaptation starring Vincent Price.

The setting is 1968 and the main character lives in a day-to-day grind of vampire hunting, gathering supplies, and fortifying his home. At nights, he endures the relatively ineffective attacks of vampires on his home. black and white photograph of Vincent PriceAs a survivor, Price's character is a fairly ordinary man. Through flashbacks his experience of the dissolution of society is described, including the deaths of his daughter and wife. Significantly, he daughter died first and so the still-functioning government was able to enforce the cremation of her corpse. Unfortunately, when his wife dies, things have decayed to the point that he is able to bury his wife in his yard. To his horror, she returns as one of the animated dead and he must destroy her corpse. This first film adaptation of Matheson's novel focuses on Price's efforts to understand the disease. This adaptation follows more closely the book's efforts at explaining the disease, relating it to traditional vampire stories.

still image of the main character encountering some 'staked' animated dead from the black and white film 'The Last Man on Earth' starring Vincent Price

still cropped image of the main character confronting a surviving woman from the black and white film 'The Last Man on Earth' starring Vincent PriceThe movie also follows the book in having a dog appear as another apparent survivor and Price captures the wary dog, treats its wounds, and starts to think he will have a companion again. Unfortunately, the dog also succumbs to the disease. Price settles back into his daily routine but not much later, he spots a woman who runs from him. He is uncertain at first if she is infected or not. She seems to be able to stand sunlight but is repelled by garlic. The question is settled when he surprises the woman while she is attempting to inject herself with something. It turns out that the liquid is a combination of blood and vaccine that surviving infecteds have developed as a way to limit with but not destroy the disease. The injections allow them to function normally but they must take it regularly cropped still image of the dying main character from the black and white film 'The Last Man On Earth' starrng Vincent Priceor else the virus takes over their systems and turns them into vampire-like living dead. The infecteds are planning to destroy the remaining animated dead and rebuild society.

Price is feared by the infecteds because he has been, unknown to himself, killing off both vampires and infected living. The infecteds see him as a sort of super-human threat, a sort of legendary creature. After hearing this story, Price picks a time when the woman is asleep and injects some of is own blood into her. This cures her completely. Unfortunately, now that the woman has infiltrated Price's home, the infecteds stage an organized attack on the house. He is able to get away but is wounded in the process. In the end, despite the cured woman's attempts to mediate, Price is killed by the infecteds, dramatically, by being impaled on a church altar.

still image of the animated dead attacking the main character's fortified house from the black and white film 'The Last Man On Earth' starring Vincent Price

I am Legend is still worth reading and all three of the movie adaptations of I am Legend are worth seeing: I am Legend, Omega Man, and The Last Man on Earth. I am Legend, the film, is both hopeful and realistic about the trauma of personal loss. Omega Man fits well into Heston's trilogy of period science fiction classics (with Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green). The Last Man on Earth, despite its low budget, gives the reality the psychological costs of survival that apocalyptical events would probably actually induce. I think it is important to note that both the The Last Man on Earth and I am Legend films spend much of their story-telling time exploring the psychological costs for a lone survivor.

still image of zombies attacking a fortified house in the black and white film 'The Night of the Living Dead' directed by George Romero

In its ongoing influences, The Last Man on Earth is notable for its effect on George Romero's work. He has acknowledged that his initial ideas were drawn from Matheson's book. The two resulting films, The Last Man on Earth and Night of the Living Dead, have spawned a sub-genre of science-based horror movies based as sequels or films with very closely related story lines. The most notable recent film in this sub-genre has been 28 Days Later. Notably 28 Days Later features murderous, angry undead/infecteds. It is likely that the transformation of undead zombies from shambling, low-intelligence threats into monstrous, extremely dangerous predatory creatures reflects the ongoing need to purge modern anxieties about the perceived levels of threat felt from day to day.

still image from the black and white film 'The World, the Flesh and the Devil' directed by Ranald MacDougall

Newer Article: Jacqueline Winspear, a vivid recreator of Britain between the wars


Older Article: Spring Fava Beans, Roman Style

Creative Commons License
Richard Matheson, I am Legend and its movie adaptations by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting Steven Williams through Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fava beans

by Steven Williams

A favorite, traditional Roman appetizer available in the Spring is Fava Beans with Prosciutto Romano and slices of Pecorino Romano cheese.
(In Sicily, Fava beans are associated with the La Festa di San Giuseppe or the Feast of Saint Joseph on March nineteenth, the unofficial saint of fava beans which are considered bearers of luck and health at this time.)

Fava bean pods color photographFava beans that are fresh, small, and tender and direct from the field, are a seasonal Spring treat and a particular favorite in Rome. In choosing Spring Fava beans, remember that those larger than three-quarters of an inch or with a shell that has begun to yellow will be too mature to be eaten fresh because they will be starchy and bitter. Fava beans have been increasingly in popularity with twenty-first century cooks and as a consequence the availability of fresh, young, Spring Favas has expanded considerably.

Vicia faba aka Fava bean plant antique color botanical drawingFava beans, whose most common alternate name is the Broad bean, were the primary legume grown in Europe before the introduction of the of the great diversity of New World bean varieties. Because of this history, Fava recipes are primarily based on European cooking traditions. Fava beans have been found in some of the earliest-known Old World human settlements. It is currently believed that they became part of the eastern Mediterranean diet at about 6000 BC and possibly even earlier. Favas are particularly used as a staple in Italian cuisine though they are generally associated with all Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cooking traditions. Favas also have an equally ancient association with Chinese cuisine. The most frequently heard alternate names for Fava beans are Broad beans, Windsor beans, Horse beans, and Pigeon beans.

Fava beans in the pod color photographPreparation of Young Spring Fava Beans in the Roman Tradition
Young Fava beans will be about the size of a pea and at this size they are sometimes called ‘Fevettes’. Fava bean pods should be as bright green as possible, clean, and slightly fuzzy; they should never be limp or blackened on the ends and it should be possible to feel the beans inside the pods. Favas should first be removed from their pods. This is done by snapping the stem end of the pod and then using the broken stem end to pull the tough strings down the seam of the pod. Then crack open the pod and use your thumb to scoop out the beans inside. Each Fava bean also has a outer shell that, usually needs to be removed when it is tough. The youngest beans, about the size of a pea, can usually be eaten whole without peeling of this outer shell but if the bean is about three-quarters of an inch or larger or the shell has begun to yellow, it will need to be shelled because otherwise it will make the Favas starchy and bitter.

Fava beans after shellingThe easiest way to remove the Fava bean shells is to blanche the beans. Blanche the beans by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the beans to the boiling water but let them cook for no more than thirty seconds. Quickly drain them and immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the beans themselves from cooking. This blanching softens the outer shell so that it can be easily slit open on its side and then the bean can be pinched out of the slit shell. Some fans of the Fava feel that even this slight amount of cooking affects the texture and flavor of the fresh Spring Fava beans and so they prefer the more difficult process of peeling the beans without any blanching. Drizzle the shelled Fava beans with a good, buttery, light olive oil and sprinkle to taste with sea salt. Serve them with Prosciutto Romano and slices of Pecorino Romano cheese.

Italian Salumi color photographProsciutto Romano (Roman Prosciutto)
Salumi, the plural of Salume, are Italian meat products that are usually cured and mostly made from pork. This type of meat product also includes Bresaola, which is made from beef, as well as cooked varieties such as Mortadella and Prosciutto Cotto. Salumi are the types of meat products sold in the Italian Salumeria or the French Charcuterie. The word Salume is not directly related to Salami. Salami is a specific type of Salume. Italy has a long history of preserving meats and an incredible number of regional Salumi types with each Italian region having its own traditional techniques for preserving pork.

Prosciutto ham color photographProsciutto is considered the “Prince” of Italian salumeria products (i.e., pork products such as hams, sausages, and pates). Generally, Prosciutto is an aged meat product made from pork haunches or legs taken from pigs that range from three hundred and fifty to four hundred pounds, often referred to as “heavy pigs”. Prosciutto is pear shaped with a uniform rosy internal color and rimmed with a fat layer. Rome and the Roman provinces are known for their own unique type of excellent Prosciutto, Prosciutto Romano (Roman Prosciutto). Roman Prosciutto is not well known outside of Rome because production of this type of Prosciutto is so limited. Only about 55,000 pounds are produced each year and this volume of production has never lent itself to commercialized production processes. The Italian regions that produce Roman Prosciutto are mainly those closest to the Lake of Bracciano (Anguillara Sabazia and Bracciano), as well as the communities of Fiumicino and Cerveteri.

Prosciutto San Daniele at the Central Market in Florence, Italy color photographMaking Prosciutto
Prosciutto is a Italian dry-cured ham. Commercial Prosciutto production currently takes at least nine to eighteen months depending on the size of the ham although traditional, best flavored Prosciutto can take as much as three years or even a little longer. Prosciutto begins with the dressed haunch (i.e., the upper thigh area of the hind legs) of pigs taken from animals that range from three hundred and fifty to four hundred pounds, often referred to as “heavy pigs”. The first step in making Prosciutto from a pork haunch is to chill the haunch to 32 degrees Fahrenheit so that it becomes firm. The chilled haunch is then trimmed, cleaned and sea salt is rubbed onto it. Dry salt is applied to the upper part of the haunch and damp salt is applied to the cut surface of the haunch. The salted haunch is then left pretty much alone for about two months for salt equalization except that it is also pressed during this step. The pressing helps drain as much of the remaining blood from the meat as possible. Pressing also gives Prosciutto hams their traditional 'squashed' shape that slice well plus this 'squashed' shape also provides the ham with a profile that allows even dehydration during the drying process.

Prosciutto hams drying, color photograph by Nicole FalmbiglAfter this initial period of salting and pressing, the ham is washed several times to remove the excess surface salt and the face of the meat is rubbed with a mixture of lard, salt, pepper, and rice flour. This lard mixture prevents the face of the ham from drying out and protects it from pests. At this point, Prosciutto hams are hung to dry in a cool, shaded place with good air circulation. The quality of the air circulating during this step of the process is very important to the final quality of the Prosiutto. If the air is too warm the meat spoils but if the air is too dry this will also ruin the Prosciutto. The best quality or type of circulating air during the drying process is air that is damp but also cool. Because of this then, the ham is left hanging in a damp, cool, well-ventilated environment while it dries. The amount of time required for this drying step varies somewhat depending on the local climate and size of the ham.

Prosciutto color photographWhen the Prosciutto ham has completely dried it is then hung again in another airy controlled environment for eighteen months or more to age and cure. Italian Prosciutto is typically aged at 59 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The aging/curing time for traditional Prosciutto is two to three years though sometimes it is even a little longer. Although some Prosciutto is cured with nitrites (either sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate) to produce the desired color, traditional Prosciutto production involves only the use of sea salt. Traditional Prosciutto obtains its characteristic color from the action of desirable types of mold and bacteria that are involved in the curing process. It is because these specific desirable bugs are present in such small numbers and because they take so long to transform the ham meat that the Prosciutto curing process to produce the best Prosciutto requires so much time. During the curing process desirable bacteria and molds work in combination with enzymes that naturally occur in the meat to break down complex proteins and fats into smaller, much more flavorful components. This curing process, the careful salting of the ham so that it remains sweet, and the concentration of flavor that occurs during the drying gives Prosciutto hams their wonderful flavor. Roman Prosciutto obtains its unique flavor from the essence of the areas where it is produced and the subtle variation created by the breed of pig used, the pigs' diets, and techniques unique to the dry curing of the Roman Prosciutto hams.

PecorinoPecorino Romano cheese
Pecorino is the modern name for the Cacio family of hard Italian cheeses made from sheep's milk. The name Pecorino apparently comes from the Italian word pecora for sheep. Aged Pecorino cheeses are sharp and Pecorino Romano is typically aged for eight months to a year before it is eaten. Pecorino Romano is the aged Pecorino cheese best known outside Italy. The United States has been an important export market for this type of cheese since the nineteenth century. Most Pecorino Romano is produced on the island of Sardinia, though some is also produced in Lazio and in the Tuscan Province of Grosseto. It has a hard yellow rind with a yellowish white interior and a distinctive strong, very salty flavor that is comparable to Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan). It is usually served thinly sliced or grated and is most often used on pasta dishes.

For additional recipes see also:
Andalusian Gaspacho, a recipe by Van Wyck Brooks
Beer Bread, a bronze age flavor variation with other ideas
Aliter Lenticulam (Lentils Another Way aka Lentils with Coriander)
Christmas holiday food and drink from the works of Charles Dickens
Beef Burgundy, Crackling Bread, Pice Ar Y Maen, Sevillian Yellow Plum Conserve, and Les Ioles (Writers' and Artists' recipes)
Omlette Aurore by Alice B. Toklas, Artists' and Writers' Recipes

Newer Article: Richard Matheson, I am Legend and its movie adaptations


Older Article: Texas History Movies, its publishing history and reincarnations

Creative Commons License
Spring Fava Beans, Roman Style by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting Steven Williams through Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Texas History Movies

Texas History Movies, its publishing history and reincarnations
by Steven Williams

Author's note: Additional research has revealed a number of significant errors in the printing history described so please be cautious in determining a particular printing pending additional revisions and clarifications.

Texas History Movies 1935 horizontal long paperback white covered wagon cover editionOne of the most influential books educating Texans about their own state's history has been Texas History Movies which is not strictly speaking a book in the traditional meaning of the word. Texas History Movies was actually a comic strip series that was initially published in the late 1920s and it achieved its popularity and notoriety by combining simple but effectively drawn cartoon scenes with accompanying explanatory historical text. The people and events depicted in the comics were all based on events important to development of the state. The history covered spanned the time period from about 1530 to 1885. The comic strip made its initial appearance in the The Dallas (Morning) News and The Dallas (Evening) Journal, predecessors to today's Dallas Morning News, beginning in 1926. The idea for this new comic strip is attributed to E. B. Doran, Director of News and Telegraph (1918-1929) for the two periodicals and Managing Editor of the Journal since its inception in 1914, and it was based in part on the widespread popularity of comic strips at the time. G. B. Dealey black and white photograph.Doran involved two men in the project, staff artist Jack Patton and staff writer John Rosenfield, Jr. to provide the text. Patton had been working regularly at The Dallas Journal since 1922 contributing comic strips and single comic panels at the rate of about one per day. Although the Texas History Movies comics were published as part of a commercial venture, the intention from the very beginning was to provide a strip that was both educational and entertaining. It should be noted that under the ownership of G. B. Dealey The Dallas News pursued an editorial policy promoting good government, strong public education, and, at considerable political and economic expense, actively opposed the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Texas politics in the early 1920s.

Justin Ford Kimball black and white photographThe intended use of the strip for educational purposes becomes particularly evident when an effort is made to attribute the source for the comic strip's name. The naming of the comic strip Texas History Movies is commonly attributed to Dr. Justin Ford Kimball, a public-spirited former Dallas Superintendent of Schools (1914-1924) and professor in education at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Kimball's input is also important because of his statewide reputation as an education administrator. Kimball's inclusion of the word 'movies' in the name is somewhat puzzling to modern readers, but in the late 1920s comics were frequently referred to as 'movies in print' and this association is the most likely reason for the inclusion of the word 'movies' in the title for the new comic strip series. The production version of the strip took the form of a cartoony four-panel comic strip format similar to Segar's contemporary Popeye strip with some brief accompanying text narration.

single panel 'Austin learned he had competitors' from 'Texas History Movies'Texas History Movies ran Monday through Saturday from October 5, 1926 through June 8, 1927 when it was stopped for the summer school recess. The strip resumed at the beginning of the next school year, October 8, 1927, and Texas History Movies strips continued to be published from that date until the series ceased publication on June 9, 1928. The decision to run the strip only during the school year emphasizes the deliberate intent at producing an educational strip. This publication schedule also reflects the strip's almost immediate popularity with Texas teachers. Apparently, the summer breaks in the series came about when the newspaper acceded to teacher requests to suspend the series during the summer school break. Altogether, Patton and Rosenfield produced a total of four hundred and twenty-eight comic strips in the series' two-year run. The decision to stop the series at 1885 was based primarily on the fact the both the artist and the writer felt that Texas history became much less colorful and thus much more difficult to make entertaining with the strip's simple format.

SampleAfter the initial Texas History Movies publication in the Dallas newspaper, in 1928, the copyright to the comics was acquired by P. L. Turner Company of Dallas, Texas. Turner subsequently published the complete series of four hundred and twenty-eight strips in a 9 1/2 inch by 12 1/2 inch, 217 page, oversize hardcover book under the imprint Southwest Press. The layout Turner Company chose for the strips was to put two of each four-panel strips on every page laid out in a nine-panel grid. The first three panels of the first strip ran along the top with the fourth, concluding panel for that strip starting the second row. The second panel of the second row was used to contain Rosenfield's text for that first strip as well as the text for the following strip whose first panel began just to the right of the text, the sixth panel of the page. The final row of three panels at the bottom of the page was the subsequent three panels of the second strip appearing on the page. For the cover art, the publisher chose to use a colorful frame mockup of a movie theater as if someone were sitting at the back of a full theater facing the screen and with a scene from the battle of the Alamo featured on the movie 'screen'.

Texas History Movies 1932 digest edition front coverAt about the same time that this hardcover edition was published, the Magnolia Petroleum Company, precursor to Mobil Oil and subsequently ExxonMobile, decided to take advantage of associating themselves with the educational potential of such a popular and well-received comic strip series. They arranged with the publisher to sponsor a smaller formatted, 5 1/4" x 7" (aka 'digest size'), 64 page paperback version abridged to contain only 124 of the original 428 newspaper strips and including acknowledgment of Magnolia's sponsorship as well as a Magnolia Gasoline Motor Oil logo on the back cover. Magnolia opted to retain the same movie theater graphics on the front cover as well as the same page layout as had been used in the initial hardcover Southwest Press edition. This Magnolia digest size paperback edition was distributed free to students throughout the state and was so popular that there was a second printing in 1932. This second printing used thinner paper and overall is noticeably thinner when compared with the first printing. The advertising on the back cover changed also to show four round logos of the companies associated with Magnolia Petroleum. Clockwise from the top these logos were for Mobilgas, Metro, Mobiloil, and Magnolia Gasoline.

'Texas History Movies' 1935 horizontal long digest edition front coverBroad positive reaction to the initial printings lead Magnolia to again sponsor the printing and distribution to schools of Texas History Movies in 1935. For this edition, the format of the book was changed to a landscape or horizontal format that was nine inches wide and six inches tall. The page layout was also changed for this edition from a roughly square digest format to a horizontal 'long digest' format. This horizontal/landscape format version was printed with each of Patton's four panels of illustration for each comic strip issue running along the top of the page with Rosenfield's accompanying text printed directly below it. There were also some changes to the content for this 'horizontal' (aka 'long digest') edition. First of all, the number of original strips included in this edition was reduced even more than in the previous Magnolia digest edition, ending up with only 101 of the original strips being used in this edition. Fortunately, the total number of strips in this 'horizontal' edition was supplemented by the addition of twenty-three new strips. These twenty-three additional brand new strips were commissioned from the original strip illustrator, Jack Patton. Magnolia asked Patton to create this additional series of strips to fill out a new section added to this edition called The Industrial Development of Texas. The covers of these printings with added new material were subtitled '400 Years of Texas History and Industrial Development Portrayed by Action Cartoons.' single panel 'Napoleon Bonaparte took Louisiana back from Spain from 'Texas History Movies'In addition to the change in page layout, the inclusion of only 101 original strips, and the addition of twenty-three totally new strips, there were some additional textual changes. Each comic strip's page now came with an additional block of explanatory text below the original strip. This additional text averaged about 160 words for each page. The author of the added text for this edition was not named, instead there was only a vague attribution to an unnamed 'foremost state historian'. Like the previous digest size 124-strip edition, this 'horizontal' or 'long digest' edition was very popular and it also went through a number of paperback printings (probably two in 1935, one in 1936 and one in 1943) and one hardcover printing (1935). Each paperback printing showed some variation in either the cover colors and/or graphics used as well as title page publisher and copyright information. It is important to note that the additional Patton strips about the history of industrial development in Texas did not appear in any other editions of Texas History Movies.

Texas Centennial Exposition sealIn 1936 Texas celebrated its centennial. In preparation for this celebration and as a tie-in to it, Turner Company published a special Centennial Edition large format hardcover edition of Texas History Movies with a solid blue cover in 1935 (8 3/4" x 11 1/4", 244 pages). This Centennial Edition also contained additional illustrated chapters (What Texas Celebrates, Texas - Its Story, Texas - Wealth and Opportunities, and How Texas Celebrates) as well as three Texas History Plays by Jan Isbelle Fortune: 1685 - The Cavalier from France, 1716 - The Rose Window of San Jose, and 1744 - The Massacre at San Saba. Another large format hardcover edition was published by Turner Company in 1943 (8 7/8" x 11 1/4, 217 pages). This 1943 edition did not include the additional text augmenting the 1935 edition and had green cloth covered boards with a red, white and blue dust jacket illustrated with an Evolution of the Texas Flag centerpiece surrounded by seven individual cartoon panels selected from the Texas History Movies series.color photo of the dust jacket of a 1943 hardcover edition copy of Texas History Movies The comic strip contents of both the 1935 Centennial and the 1943 hardcover editions by Turner Company match the edition published by P. L. Turner in 1928 and contain all 428 original newspaper strips. It is also important to note that Magnolia Petroleum purchased the copyright to the digest size (5 1/4" x 7") editions from The Turner Company and for one final time sponsored the reprinting and distribution of the horizontal edition to schools in 1943. Significantly, the Turner Company decided to retain their publication rights for the oversized hardcover edition of the complete newspaper series.

'Texas History Movies' 1956 digest edition front coverIn the mid 1950s, Magnolia Petroleum Company sponsored a new edition of Texas History Movies for distribution in schools. They decided to change formats again and chose to go back to a digest size (5 1/4" x 7") paperback printing, similar to the 1928 edition but with a larger number of the original strips. This edition included an additional 124 original strips for a total to 248 of the original newspaper strips on 128 pages. The 1950s digest edition was published in 1954, 1956, and 1959 apparently with some small variations in covers but with no textual variations. Except that in the 1959 printing, the text of the last comic panel in the book was changed to add the phrase: 'and Texas has reached the estate of 1959'.

'Let’s Read About Texas' by Bertha Mae Cox front coverBy the early 1960s, the generally Anglo-centric and at times racially insensitive original comics began to show their age. This and the changing scope of business by Magnolia Petroleum, now Mobil Oil, lead to Mobil donating their publication rights for Texas History Movies to the Texas State Historical Association. The next printing was the 1963 Turner Company oversize hardcover edition issued under the title Let's Read About Texas (although the dust jacket states the title as Texas History Movies, "including Let's Read About Texas by Bertha Mae Cox author and editor"). This edition appears to have contained 216 pages of Texas History Movies comic strips although the exact number of original strips is uncertain. This edition did contain significant text additions by Cox.

'Texas History Movies' 1970 oversized hardcover Graphic Ideas front cover
In 1970, The Turner Company was acquired by Graphic Ideas, Inc. Graphic Ideas then brought in the Texas history teacher O. O. Mitchell, Jr. to provide new text to accompany 400 of the original Texas History Movies comic strips. This material was published by Graphic Ideas in a new 'oversized' (i.e., about 9 1/2" x 12 1/2") hardcover edition using the original series title and running to 224 pages with the inclusion of some added special features: Milestones in the Tales of Texas, Missions of San Antonio, Texas Map, Others Who Gave to Make the State and Texas Government During the Revolution, and Where to See Texas History.

'Texas History Illustrated' (aka 'Texas History Movies') 1974 Texas State Historical Association edition front coverThe Texas State Historical Association with some prodding by the Houston Chronicle released the next edition of Texas History Movies in 1974 (7 3/8" x 10 1/4", 55 pages). The intention was to produce another large printing for extensive distribution in schools. The political climate had changed so much since the late 1920s that the TSHA decided to put together a board to selectively delete, alter, or create new artwork and text for this new edition. This four-panel advisory board included Hispanic and African-American members (Félix D. Almaráz, Jr., Joe M. Cardenas, George A Juarez and Constance McQueen) and they approached the original comics with the intent of removing or editing offensive text or drawings. Historical errors were also corrected. The resulting book was titled Texas History Illustrated and contained only 102 original comic strips. The original Houston Chronicle sponsored printing was for 50,000 copies. A further 50,000 copies were produced through a private foundation grant given to The Texas State Historical Association for that purpose. This edition was reprinted in 1986 but with the original title, Texas History Movies, (7 3/8" x 10 1/4", 55 pages, ISBN 0-87611-080-4) restored to it and with the addition of an introduction by George W. Ward. The 1986 is often attributed to George B. Ward because of his introduction which is mentioned on the cover. Ward was also the developer and subsequent director of publications for the Texas State Historical Association from 1983-2003.

'Texas History Movies' 1986 Exact Replica Pepper Jones Martinez edition front coverThe year 1986 is significant in that it had been chosen for the Texas Sesquicentennial celebrations. This anniversary prompted a flurry of publishing with two exact replica editions of the original 1928 ‘oversized’ (9 1/2" x 12 1/2") hardcover containing all 428 original newspaper published strips. Interestingly, the 'replica' editions of 1986 were published by Pepper Jones Martinez, Inc. aka PJM, Inc. In addition to these 'replica' editions, PJM also 'Texas History Movies' 1985 Sesquicentennial horizontal edition front coverpublished a heavily edited 'horizontal' edition (9" x 6") paperback edition. This was an edition that was both an abridgment and a revision of the 1970 Graphic Ideas version with most of the editing taking the form of simple omission of some of the least important or offensive panels and strips. This final 'horizontal' 'Sesquicentennial Edition' of Texas History Movies contained essentially 152 original strips, with some editorial changes, within a book that came to 153 pages.

'The New Texas History Movies' by Jack Jackson front coverBy the time of the 1986 edition, Texas History Movies reached the limits that intelligent and sensitive editing could accomplish in retaining its relevance for a modern readership. An important evolution of the story of this book is the publication in 2007 of The New Texas History Movies by Jack Jackson. This important Texas historian is noted for his nonfiction historical comics and, significantly he was heavily influenced by his own schoolroom exposure to Texas History Movies, both as to style and subject. Thankfully, this fine new book carries on the tradition of the work of Jack Patton and John Rosenfield, Jr. by providing a captivating and informative cartoon format version of Texas history.

single panel 'The Fate of Crocket' from 'The New Texas History Movies' by Jack Jackson

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Texas History Movies, its publishing history and reincarnations by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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