Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Chapter 16 Reviews David Crockett

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Michael Wallis demythologizes Tennessee’s greatest folk hero
by Chris Scott

Even if they don’t know all the lyrics, most Americans know the opening lines of The Ballad of Davy Crockett, the Disney-originated hit tune of the 1950s. In fact, what most people know about this country’s most famous frontiersman begins and ends with the Disney version of Crockett’s extraordinary life. Based on the myth-busting facts presented in Michael Wallis’s new biography of Crockett, the lines in the song should have been “Born on a riverbank in Tennessee,” “Killed him a bar when he was in his teens,” and “Da-vid, Da-vid Crockett, The Lion of the West.” As for the coonskin-cap image, it would also have to go: he wore one only occasionally, after his legend had grown and people expected backwoods clothing. And don’t even think of calling the great man Davy—he was always David.

Wallis’s book, David Crockett: The Lion of the West, is full of the kind of information that every Tennessean should know but has likely never learned—including, for example, the fact that Crockett was an adventurer, patriot, and politician who used his fame to oppose the policies of Tennessee’s other larger-than-life personality, Andrew Jackson. Crockett was a complex man given to strong drink and an even stronger sense of honor, and by the end of his life he was fighting for control of his own legend.

In the introduction to David Crockett, Wallis admits to a certain bias toward his subject, one that originated in the 1950s when, like millions of kids, he sported a coonskin cap and sang the ballad while he and his friends pretended to take on the Mexican army at the Alamo. Indeed, the legend propagated by Walt Disney’s three made-for-TV movies permeated society to the point that, as Wallis writes, “[w]ithin only months of the series premier, more than $100 million was spent on at least three thousand different Crockett items, including pajamas, lunch boxes, underwear, comics, books, moccasins, toothbrushes, games, clothing, toy rifles, sleds, and curtains.” Too bad Crockett was long dead by that time—he spent most of his life in debt and could have used the royalties.

The ballad was correct about some things, however. For example, Crockett was Tennessee through-and-through. Born in the eastern portion before statehood, he gradually migrated west with the frontier, homesteading in Middle and finally in West Tennessee, where he staked a claim in Obion County, known as “the land of the shakes” after the giant 1812 earthquake. Although he made forays to the south to fight Indians and later to Washington to fight Jackson’s Indian-removal policy, he traveled little outside his home state until the end, when Texas beckoned with a promise of an even greater frontier. But though he stayed mostly in Tennessee, Crockett was no homebody. A neighbor once described him as “itchy footed,” a fact his second wife learned the hard way when, as Wallis relates, “David surprised his new bride with news of a honeymoon. The only problem was that Elizabeth was not invited to come along.” Crockett headed off hunting again, a pastime at which he excelled and that brought much-needed income.

Crockett himself gets to speak in this accessible biography, through quotations Wallis gleaned from Crockett’s autobiography and letters. In those words are found a man of colorful language and great depth of feeling. Only a callous reader will not be moved when the frontiersman describes an unrequited first love by writing, “[W]hen I think of saying anything to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck in a puddle; and if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get right smack up in my throat, and choak me like a cold potatoe.” Such emotion paid off during his political career, in battles over land policies and the central bank. “Crockett,” writes Wallis, “defined what it meant to be a populist—an advocate for the rights and interests of ordinary people.” Elected twice to the state legislature and three times to Congress, Crockett never gave up his principles, even though sticking to them ultimately cost him his seat.

During his time in Washington, Crockett’s life story was appropriated by others who sought to profit by exaggerating his exploits and mannerisms. A popular and sensationalized play titled “The Lion of the West” gave him his unofficial moniker and convinced him that he needed to regain control of his life by writing his autobiography. But even as he toured the east to promote his book, Crockett played up his frontier life for political effect. His fierce reputation always preceded him, and while visiting Peale’s Museum of Curiosities and Freaks in Philadelphia, he viewed the menagerie that included, notes Wallis, “an assortment of live rattlesnakes, tigers, and, much to Crockett’s delight, bears. The curators breathed collective sighs of relief when assured their famous guest was not armed.”

In David Crockett, as he has done previously with subjects as varied as Billy the Kid and Route 66, Wallis provides a fresh view of a subject near and dear to the hearts of Americans, an inspiration to several generations. Crockett’s autobiography influenced Mark Twain’s writing style, and, Wallis claims, “Abraham Lincoln was yet another historical figure who fell under the spell of the mythical Crockett.” Lincoln, too, “admired Crockett, a man, like himself, who grew up in poverty and became a national icon.” Such is the power of myth when wrapped around the core of an exceptional, real human being. King of the Wild Frontier, indeed.

Michael Wallis will discuss David Crockett at 7 p.m. on May 18 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Brentwood.

Tulsa World Features Michael Wallis

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Michael Wallis goes wild in new books on the West
by James D. Watts Jr.

It’s not often that a writer can pinpoint the exact moment of inspiration for a given book.

But, in the case of his latest biography, Tulsa writer Michael Wallis knows exactly when he first became fascinated by the subject.

It was the evening of Dec. 15, 1954, when the 9-year-old Wallis watched “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter,” the first of five episodes about the frontiersman that aired during the first season of what would become “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

“I was one of millions of kids smitten by that program,” Wallis recalled, during a conversation in his book-and-memorabilia filled workspace. “I went back and watched the series recently, and it is so bad, so cornball. It was a very typical Disney production – anyone who might get shot never bleeds, that kind of thing.”

The Disney shows also played into the mythology that surrounded Crockett’s life and exploits, typified by the line in the show’s theme song, about how Crockett “kilt him a b’ar when he was only three.”

“The main focus of everything I’ve done as a writer has been to set the record straight, to get the facts right,” Wallis said. “For me, the truth about person or a place or a time is always better – and usually a great deal stranger – than any fiction.”

Wallis, the author of “Route 66: The Mother Road” and “Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride,” has three books coming out almost simultaneously.

One is “David Crockett: The Lion of the West” (W.W. Norton, $26.95), in which Wallis works to remove the fog of fable that has obscured Crockett’s true – and fascinating – life story.

The second is “The Wild West: 365 Days” (Abrams, $32.50), part of that publisher’s series of books that fits a wealth of information on a given topic into a year’s time line. Wallis collaborated with his wife, Suzanne, and Western history photography expert Robert McCubbins on this book.

The third is a reissue of “Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd” (W.W. Norton, $16.95), Wallis’ 1992 biography of the Depression Era bandit that has been out of print for years.

“Another thing I’ve always been attracted to as a writer are the rascals,” Wallis said. “Not necessarily criminals, but people who aren’t too bound by convention, who are willing to stir things up.

“If there’s one thing that ties these books together, it’s that,” he said. “For example, in the ‘Wild West’ book, there is not a single lawman mentioned in it who did not at some time in life, follow ‘the outlaw trail.’ We tend to mythologize people so much. The Earps, for example, they were just a bunch of scoundrels.”

In deciding on a time span to contain the history of “The Wild West,” Wallis ultimately chose the century 1830 to 1930, which covers everything from the Indian Removal that would forcibly transplant the Five Civilized Tribes to Oklahoma to the start of the criminal career of Pretty Boy Floyd.

In that way, Wallis acknowledged, “The Wild West: 365 Days” is a kind of link between his other two books, as Crockett was an opponent of his one-time mentor Andrew Jackson’s plan to rid the Southeastern United States of the Indian nations that had lived for centuries.

“Crockett had seen the atrocities done to the Indian people, and he was quite brave to stand up to Jackson on this issue,” he said.

The popular conception of Crockett is as a rough-hewn, buckskin-wearing fellow in a coonskin cap who was the last man standing when the Alamo was overrun by the Mexican army in 1836.

Little of that is accurate, Wallis said.

“One of the things that surprised me in researching Crockett was his ability with language, verbally or on the page,” he said. “I found the copy of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphosis’ that he read in preparation to writing his own autobiography.

“He was familiar with Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and he was able to present a rather broad scope of knowledge with that kind of peculiarly American homespun sense of humor,” Wallis said.

Crockett’s death at the Alamo tends to overshadow everything else about his life – as a professional hunter, as an explorer, as a member of Congress – in part because it is the most mythologized aspect of Crockett.

“I give people a kind of jump-ball when it comes to Crockett’s death,” Wallis said, chuckling. “You have the two extremes – that he was the last to die, swinging his rifle about with 300 dead Mexicans at his feet, or that he disguised himself as a woman and sneaked away in shame.

“I prefer something in the middle of that,” he said. “There is a recently discovered diary by a soldier with the Mexican army, who recounts how Crockett was one of a few survivors of the siege, and that they were executed on (Mexican general) Santa Ana’s orders.”

Trailers for Cars 2

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Cars 2 opens in theaters on June 24, 2011 and Disney/Pixar has now released three trailers for the sequel to the 2006 film which features Michael’s voice as the Sheriff of Radiator Springs.

Directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Brad Lewis, the movie stars Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Peter Jacobson, Thomas Kretschmann, Guido Quaroni, Lloyd Sherr, Paul Dooley, John Ratzenberger, Jenifer Lewis, Katherine Helmond, John Turturro, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell, Michel Michelis, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Lewis Hamilton and David Hobbs.

BookPage Reviews David Crockett

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Behind the famous ‘king of the wild frontier’
by Roger Bishop

One of America’s first celebrity heroes, David Crockett (as he always wrote his name) declared in his autobiography, “I stood no chance to become great in any other way than by accident.” He was born into a poor family and grew up in harsh circumstances in the back woods. As chance would have it, however, he became a mythical figure in his own lifetime, and the myth has continued to grow since his death as a martyr at the Alamo in 1836.

Crockett first became legendary for his expertise and passion as a hunter and masterful storyteller, and then later in life as a populist member of the Tennessee state legislature and the U.S. Congress. In the authoritative, fast-paced and very readable David Crockett: Lion of the West, Michael Wallis adroitly separates fact from fiction and shows us both the flawed human being who led a colorful life and the symbolic figure who represented the poor and downtrodden as well as the country’s philosophy of “Manifest Destiny” (a concept that did not have an official name until after his death).

As one of Crockett’s early hunting companions characterized him, he was “an itchy footed sort of fellow,” always ready to move on and take the next risk, without much concern for his family. His first wife died soon after they married and his second wife, Elizabeth, grew tired of her husband’s failure to keep the family out of debt and put the blame on his poor business judgment, his strong inclination to drink and his inability to cultivate any kind of spiritual life.

Of particular interest here is Wallis’ discussion of Crockett’s political career. He was a new kind of politician, a backwoodsman wanting to help people like himself who had not been able to purchase property of their own. He offered a contrast to his fellow Tennessean, Andrew Jackson, who presented himself as a populist but was really a patrician with large holdings in land, cotton, tobacco and slaves. As a legislator, Crockett was independent and frequently at odds with members of his party, a stance exemplified by his vote against Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.

Although Crockett had fought alongside Jackson in the Creek Indian War, he was one of the few men in government to oppose him. In doing so, he voted against a president from his own political party, all other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation and the vast majority of his constituents. Years later Crockett wrote that his opposition was a matter of conscience and described the bill as “oppression with a vengeance.” Some of his critics claimed that he was motivated by his escalating hatred of Jackson and the favorable attention Crockett was receiving from the Whig Party, which saw him as a possible presidential candidate. Overall, in fact, his refusal to compromise made him an ineffective legislator.

Wallis, author of acclaimed biographies such as Billy the Kid and Pretty Boy, has given readers a superb account of the real David Crockett, helping us to appreciate his place and time in American history.‘king-of-the-wild-frontier’