Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Man With No Name’s Snake Grip Colt

The original snake grip Colt from the second episode of Rawhide
This post is in response to several e-mails 
and messages here and on FaceBook 
about the photo I posted of the Colt snake grip .45.
Click on any image to enlarge.

As most Clint Eastwood fans know, the famed actor first used the famous snake grip Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver in the first season and second episode of Rawhide. The air date was January 16, 1959. The episode was titled “Incident at Alabaster Plain.” Eastwood would use that same gun again in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1966), both directed by Sergio Leone. Eastwood had purchased the gun from the production company and owns it to this day. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), the snake grips are seen on a different gun, the 1851 Navy Colt.
Troy Donahue (left), Mark Richman with the Colt in holster (center)
and Eastwood in  the Incident at Alabaster Plain episode of Rawhide 
I thought I would clarify the history a bit for the benefit of those new to riding the Old West range. In that Rawhide episode, the snake grip Colt is carried by actor Mark Richman who played a bad-ass named Mastic. Troy Donahue co-starred in this episode along with Martin Balsam and series regulars, Eric Fleming, Sheb Wooley and Paul Brinegar. This is a pretty good episode. In fact, in the final showdown, Eastwood gets a face full of adobe dust when a bullet (squib) blows a hole in the wall next to his face. The gunfight is well-staged, and Eastwood as Rowdy Yates chases Mastic into the bell tower of church. Fleming as Gil Faver helps knock Mastic off the tower by yanking on the bell’s rope. Mastic falls to his death.
Clint Eastwood and Sheb Wooley in the episode's finale with the snake grip Colt
Throughout the episode, we are afforded several views of the gun. The silver inlaid snake grips adorn both sides of the traditional walnut grip. Rowdy Yates has the gun in the finale and he hands it to Pete Nolan played by Sheb Wooley, who then becomes the third actor in history to handle that gun on film. I knew Sheb Wooley personally, and he always spoke fondly of working on Rawhide. He made no secret of the fact that Rawhide was enjoyable “play acting” as he called it, and Sheb later made a brief appearance in Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).
Eastwood with the snake grip Colt in holster in A Fistful of Dollars 
NOTE: As far as I know, the snake grip Colt is NOT seen in subsequent episodes of Rawhide. I did a brief scan of the first season episodes and Eastwood is wearing a traditional Colt with a plain Walnut grip. Of course a full review of all 217 episodes is needed to verify if the snake grip Colt shows up again. Anyone with additional information is free to contact me through this blog.
Eastwood reloading the snake grip Colt in A Fistful of Dollars 
Clint Eastwood brought the gun with him when he filmed both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, and the gun is plainly visible in multiple scenes. However, as I mentioned, this gun was NOT used in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That gun is an 1851 Navy Colt supplied by Uberti, the Italian gun manufacturer who are still in business today. Another silver inlaid snake grip was added to the Navy Colt.
Another view of the Colt from A Fistful of Dollars
Keen viewers can easily spot the snake grip SAA in A Fistful of Dollars although the best view doesn’t occur until Eastwood is reloading, and later when he is using the gun to tap some barrels to determine if they are empty or not. In For a Few Dollars More, the SAA is likewise visible in Eastwood’s holster and in a scene where he is reloading the gun.

The snake grip Colt in  For a Few Dollars More

Replicas of the snake grip SAA have been on the market for years, primarily made by Uberti in Italy, or Pietta for the American Firearms company, Cimarron. I own the Cimarron version. There are slight differences in the snake design. The original snake has a single tongue whereas the replica offers a forked-tongue. Also, the rattle tail has a slight downward curve compared to the original. The Cimarron replica features the snake on the right side only, unlike the original which has the snake on both sides of the grip. According to an excellent Internet article by Bob Arganbright, the grips were supplied to the Rawhide production team by Andy Anderson of the North Hollywood Gun Shop. There are multiple other snake grip replicas available, and you can even order knock-off grips minus the gun on Amazon. I have occasionally seen a custom SAA with the snake grips on both sides.
Eastwood reloading the Colt in For a Few Dollars More 
The Snake grip Colt is now part of Western television and film history largely due to Clint Eastwood. The Cimarron .45 caliber Man with No Name Model Colt Single Action Army revolver with a five-and-a-half-inch barrel handles as well as any Colt, Uberti Colt, Cimarron Colt, Taylor & Company Colt or even the Ruger Vaquero. This is a fine gun and those few of you that know me personally are aware that I consider the 1873 Colt Peacemaker the pre-eminent handgun, and owning them is a great privilege. As always, please follow the basic rules of safe firearm handling. When firearms are used in a safe and responsible manner, they provide much pleasure, satisfaction and protection, and represent a fundamental part of our personal liberty.
Author Thomas McNulty's Cimarron Colt .45 with the snake grip

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson

Spine of the Dragon was a joy to read starting on page one. I took the book with me on the road, first down to Memphis, then all the way up to our cabin in northern Wisconsin, and read it every night.  KJA is best known for his superb science fiction, in addition to his outstanding Dune continuation novels with Brian Herbert, but after reading his Terra Incognita Trilogy a few years back, followed by two superb steampunk novels inspired by the music of Rush, I was convinced he should write a straight fantasy series. I’m thrilled that he has, and Spine of the Dragon is the first of what I hope will be many more. This is a great book! I was immediately catapulted into another world (and Kevin does World Building as well as anyone), and what’s more, I began bonding with the characters. Of course, there are some villains here, and the wreths had me on the edge of my seat. Talk about a page turner! Adan Starfall may become an iconic hero in fantasy fiction. The book is long, and readers will be swept along by multiple characters and viewpoints as the story unfolds. The wreth have returned, and the want humans to do their bidding. That demand won’t be as simple as they believe, and Anderson skillfully balances character development with heightened suspense and a complex plot that never failed to surprise me. Books like Spine of the Dragon are what I refer to as “A Reader’s Delight” because getting lost in the story is as easy as opening the book and reading that first sentence. Once you’ve done that, you’re hooked! Spine of the Dragon is recommended reading. You won’t want to miss this one, and from what I understand, the sequel is in the works. This is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in years. Kudos!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Superman: Year One - Review

Why does this book exist? For years, fans have been telling executives at DC Comics and Warner Brothers they are tired of reboots, revised origins, and marketing events such as this. Superman: Year One is a rehash of a rehash. We’ve seen it all before, and it was done better before. Why do we need to see this again? My advice is don’t buy it. There has never been any reason to change or revise Siegel and Shuster’s basic premise. It’s been done too many times. I am writing this in English. Do the executives at DC and Warner Brothers understand English? As I’ve stated before, DC Comics has long been conflicted in its approach, choosing to retell and revise Superman’s origin again and again rather than engage Superman with new challenges and fresh villains. The constant revisionism and focus on revised continuity has effectively stalled the series. Nobody cares. Frank Miller has turned in a simple and often dumb script that is brilliantly visualized by artist John Romita, Jr. Make no mistake about what I’m saying here - John Romita, Jr. is a fantastic artist. I wish DC had given him an assignment that was new and fresh and exciting! Instead, we are given this revisionist Pablum by Frank Miller who effectively dumbs-down ma and pa Kent while trying to make Clark Kent relevant. It doesn’t work. And there’s more bad news - there are two more issues coming. Oh boy. Recently, publisher Dan Didio spoke about the sales figures involving reprints. He said, in part: “We do these Facsimile Editions where we reprint older issues...and in some cases these are selling more than the new comics with these characters. People are more interested in buying the stories from 30 or 40 years ago than the contemporary stories, and that’s a failure on us.” Didio went on to acknowledge they need to produce new and exciting stories. The problem is, that’s not what DC is doing. Frankly, this is mind-boggling and incredibly arrogant on Didio’s part. He publicly admits he knows they aren’t handling their books properly, which is a disservice to the characters and their creators, and then junk like Superman: Year One gets approved. Take a look at Batman right now - DC has flooded the market with an endless parade of junk Batman titles, all revisionist crap, and poorly conceived at every level. We have the laughing Batman, the future Batman, the super-duper team-up Batman, the White Knight Batman, Batman in Arkham, and Batman special issue team-ups with characters that should have stayed dead. Whatever happened to the Batman whose appearance struck fear into the hearts of villains and used his detective abilities to solve crimes? He’s gone the way I hope the current executive team at DC is gone, and soon. The lack of cohesion and endless continued storylines have all made Batman and Superman titles confusing, if not incomprehensible. Shame on you, Dan Didio. I don’t like posting negative reviews, but DC comics appears to be run by a group of chattering Cro-Magnon men who are skilled at expelling hot air while stroking a Barbie Doll with adolescent frenzy. I hope they don’t injure themselves.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Al Capone’s Ghost

Al Capone’s Ghost

“Where are you from?”
“Oh, the gangster city where Al Capone lived.”

Photographs and text copyright © 2019 by Thomas McNulty

That snippet of conversation has occurred in Mexico City, Los Angeles, Deadwood, Nashville and so many other places in my travels. Al Capone did indeed live in Chicago, and he did leave an indelible mark on Chicago history. Chicago cannot escape Al Capone, or John Dillinger or Baby Face Nelson or Dean O’Banion or Bugs Moran. Here there be gangsters.

Chicago’s rich history has a texture unlike so many others, often punctuated by intense acts of violence, from the Fort Dearborn Massacre to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and multiple stunning incidents in between. Chicago is the embodiment of corruption.
Recommended Reading
My grandfather, Andrew McNulty, encountered Capone once when he worked as conductor on the streetcars for the Chicago Transit Authority. This was in the late 20s or early 30s and prior to Capone’s imprisonment for tax evasion in 1932. My grandfather, or Mac as his family and friends called him, had no time for Capone or the men that surrounded him. Mac told me, “They were all goons and thugs, punks that thought they were tough.” Mac’s distaste for Capone and his henchmen was extended a few years later with some brief encounters with John Dillinger and his roughneck coterie. “Dillinger was full of himself.” Mac told me. He described how common, if not ordinary, riding a streetcar was in those days, even for people with money, because when the weather was good the goons could show-off, make contact with people, and brag a lot. “The streetcars were for everybody,” he said, “until the buses came, and that changed everything.”

According to my grandfather, Capone’s ride was brief, maybe a block, and they got off, and I have never found a similar published statement that Capone used the streetcars. In fact, during this period Capone stayed out of sight and routinely traveled by automobile with guards. Yet my grandfather was no liar, and he clearly encountered Capone. The circumstances will never be known, and Mac is long gone, but one day all those decades past Al Capone got on a streetcar and rode about a block. Capone paid for everyone that got on with him, and that is consistent with published reports about Capone’s behavior. People greeted Capone warmly. “Hello Al!” or “Thanks Al!” were tossed at Capone like verbal bouquets.

Mac’s solitary encounter with Capone was brief, but his henchmen rode the streetcars all the time, and the goons wanted everyone to know whose payroll they were on. Those “punks that thought they were tough” made a lasting impression on Mac, and he recalled them with distaste decades later. There was one career criminal from this period that did leave a slightly favorable impression on my grandfather. This was Joseph Weil, better known as the Yellow Kid, a notorious con-man who once reportedly swindled Benito Mussolini, and lived to tell the tale. “He was a gentleman,” Mac said, “He was the kind of well-dressed and polite man that would lend you a few bucks and never expect to get it back if you were down on your luck. Everybody liked him.”
Al Capone's Final Resting Place
 Capone had a reputation for being flashy, and down-to-earth, even with Mac, who wanted nothing to do with Chicago’s underworld. By comparison, Dillinger “got what he deserved” when he was gunned down by the FBI on July 22, 1934 outside the Biograph Theatre on Lincoln Avenue. Capone was larger-than life; he courted the press, found himself being cheered at baseball games, and cultivated the image of a colorful and well-dressed businessman. Al Capone opened soup kitchens for the needy and made himself into a folk hero. This is a vital fact that demands attention. During the Depression the general feeling was one of distrust toward banking institutions and the government. They had failed the American people. Al Capone not only put people to work, but he fed people. Al Capone’s soup kitchens became the stuff of legend.

Deirdre Bair’s biography, Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend, published in 2016, is among the better books devoted to Capone’s amazing life. Bair’s biography is an attempt “to look at his public behavior within the context of his personal life, to see how the two might possibly be interrelated, and how the one might have had influence or bearing on the other.” Bair chose to give little attention to such historic events as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in favor of interpreting Capone’s life, and so her book is not a useful chronology for those seeking details on the Chicago’s turf war. It does, however, delve deeply into Capone’s public behavior, her stated goal all along. She succeeds and I consider this among the top evaluations on Capone.

 Jonathan Eig’s 2010 best-seller, Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster, offers a fresh perspective on Capone’s involvement in Chicago’s gangland, including a new theory that purports the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was an insider job orchestrated by the police, and not Capone. Eig’s theory is compelling, if unprovable. I believe Eig’s contention that Capone had nothing to do with the massacre. Read his book.

When Capone died in 1947, his mind ravaged by neurosyphilis, his body was transported to Chicago and interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery. In 1950 his body and those of his father and brother were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery in suburban Hillside. His gravesite is a popular destination for history buffs. Mount Carmel Cemetery is also home to the remains of Dean O’Banion, yet another Chicago gangster, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (aka Vincent DeMora), Frank Nitti, Earl Weiss, and others. It is also the resting place of Julia Buccola Petta, better known as “The Italian Bride” who died at age 29 in 1921. Her body was exhumed six years after her death, and photographed by her mother revealing a lack of decomposition. Her mother had the photo affixed to her grave. Tales of ghostly wanderings have occurred routinely by locals who claim to have seen her spirit. In Chicago, the dead don’t stay in one place long.
Julia Buccola Petta's grave with close-up of exhumation photo
In the decades since Capone’s death the corruption and exploitation of vice remain as strong as ever in the Windy City. The goons, thugs and punks are still around, although these days we call them politicians. For Illinoisans holding onto a sliver of hope, you should be heartened by the fact that Illinois has sent more governors to prison than any state in the union.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Horror! Author Mystery Solved!

Back in October 2012 I posted about Horror!, the acclaimed book about Horror films and authors. The author’s real identity has long been a point of speculation. Thanks to Glenn Hildebrand the “mystery” of Drake Douglas, author of the cult classic, Horror! has been verified. Drake Douglas was a pseudonym for Werner Zimmerman who also wrote under the name Douglas Drake. He graduated from High School in January 1945 and his yearbook lists he was awarded the “Clifton Leader Press award in Journalism.” He also wrote Strangers and Lovers as Douglas Drake. Horror!, it's sequel Horrors! and Strangers and Lovers are his only known books. He passed away on June 27, 2004 and his memorial card/obit used the name Drake Douglas.

Here are some memories direct from Glenn:

“He grew up and lived in Clifton NJ and was a Navy vet at the end of WWII and right after the war.  Was on the Missouri in Tokyo for the signing and during the Truman cruise to South America in 1946.  If you are still interested in more detail on Drake let me know – he was my uncle and I spent many days sitting on the floor in his room looking through all his books (his bedroom had three walls floor to ceiling bookshelves) while he typed on his typewriter.”

“I was born in 1949 and by the time I can remember him he was working for some type of accounting firm in NYC and living with my grandparents in Clifton NJ.  He would commute each day to the city and come home late at night, type for a while and go to bed, just to get up and do it again the next day.  All weekend he would type.  He always had classical music playing when he was typing.  Never wanted a word processor when they began to come out.  To this day whenever I hear a typewriter clacking I think of him.”
Drake Douglas AKA Werner Zimmerman
“He developed Alzheimer’s and was in a support facility for the last few years.  It was very frustrating for him as the disease progressed because his whole life was words and he started having difficulty even holding a discussion.  He would get so frustrated when he couldn’t think of the word he wanted.  He had a vast VCR library of old horror movies with Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and the gang, and watched them all the time but eventually he couldn’t even operate the TV and VCR, even though we tried to put color tape on the necessary buttons to push.”

 Horror! remains a highly-sought after collector’s item. Originally published in 1966, my paperback copy of Horror! By Drake Douglas is now dog-eared and battered. The back cover blurb for Horror! stated: The awful truth about the monsters, vampires, werewolves, zombies phantoms, mummies, and ghouls of literature – and how they went Hollywood, the book is an affectionate and literate account of monsters with emphasis on Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf folklore, and the writers that helped popularize them. Written in the strong, imagistic style of the pulps, Horror! is a beguiling and fascinating introduction to the world of monsters and other creatures of the night. I have always loved the unique style of the writing and the obvious love the author has for films and literature.

Many thanks to Glenn Hildebrand for verifying the author’s identity and providing the images reproduced here.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Last Stage to Hell Junction by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Last Stage to Hell Junction offers up the scent of sagebrush, the boom of gunfire and the acrid smell of gunsmoke. There are galloping horses and nasty villains, and it’s all incredibly entertaining! This the fourth Caleb York Western Max Collins has published. Based upon characters created by the late, great Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collins is the creative powerhouse behind this excellent series. There are a lot of Westerns out there right now, and this is one you can depend on for having all of the ingredients that Western fans love. There are shoot-outs and chases and robberies and even a dash of saucy romance! Caleb York has become an iconic hero; tough and smart and more than a bit stubborn. He won’t quit, and when he has to go after some hostages being held in Hell Junction, his .44 Colt will naturally get some action. With Last Stage to Hell Junction the West is wild again, and that means readers are in for some epic fun. The previous books in this series are The Legend of Caleb York, The Big Showdown and The Bloody Spur. I recommend that you read them all, and you won’t be disappointed. It does help to read the series in order, but that’s not vital. They can easily be read as stand-alone novels. The difference between this book and the other big name writers publishing Westerns these days is that Collins is having fun, and it shows. Max Collins has produced four exciting, fresh stories, all while paying homage to Spillane. It works, and dang it, I’ve long admired Collin’s blazing talent, so if you’re aiming to hunker down with another fast and exciting book, Last Stage to Hell Junction should be first on your list. Now saddle up! It’s time to ride the high country again with Caleb York!