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Thursday 24 January 2019

How the Gift of a Rented Underwood 5 Typewriter Brought America’s Old West Back to Life

Louis L'Amour at his Olympia portable, at a time when he
was able to afford to buy his own typewriters.
Charles Almeth Donnell died at Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, on March 30, 1939, almost exactly seven years after his act of generosity in Oklahoma City had helped bring America’s Old West back to life.
In 1932 Donnell, a former Remington Typewriter Company manager in Oklahoma City, ran the C.A. Donnell Typewriter Company at 210 North Harvey Street in “The Big Friendly”.
On February 2 that year, a struggling 23-year-old would-be writer called Louis LaMoore from Choctaw came into Donnell’s store and rented an Underwood 5 standard for $2.50 a month, one month’s payment in advance. The terms of the typewritten contract were strict: LaMoore agreed to return the typewriter in good order at the end of the rental period; if LaMoore failed to keep up the rent, he authorised Donnell to enter his premises in Choctaw without consent to remove the Underwood.
As it turned out, LaMoore paid the rent for several months, but then fell behind. He wrote to Donnell explaining his straitened situation. He didn’t hear back from Donnell. “No bill, no nothing. That typewriter meant more to me than anything else that happened. I was able to go on working.”
LaMoore came to consider the Underwood a gift from Donnell. It’s more probable Donnell had shut up shop in Oklahoma City (too many defaulters?) and had moved with his family west to California. He was in no position to reclaim the Underwood. Maybe he had creditors, too. Donnell lived in the Stanley Apartments on South Flower Street in Bunker Hill and by 1936 he was claiming social security in Los Angeles. He was dead at age 54.
Meanwhile, back in Oklahoma, Louis LaMoore was on the way to fame and fortune – thanks to Donnell’s Underwood 5. Except he wasn’t known as LaMoore any longer. He was typing frontier stories under the pen names of Tex Burns, Jim Mayo and, more lastingly, Louis L'Amour.
Louis Dearborn LaMoore was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, on March 22, 1908. He, too, was to die in Los Angeles, from lung cancer at his home on June 10, 1988, aged 80, almost certainly unaware his 1932 benefactor was buried in the same city. It’s also likely that Louis L’Amour had no idea Donnell had been born (on November 17, 1884) on the Rio de los Brazos de Dios (“River of the Arms of God") in Texas and grew up in Fort Worth and El Paso, places L’Amour would make internationally famous through his writings (Killoe, Shandy et al). L'Amour is indeed honoured with a star on the Texas Trail of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyard.
At the time of L’Amour’s death almost all of his 105 existing works (89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of non-fiction) were still in print, and he was regarded as one of the world's most popular writers. His work had sold more than 320 million copies by 2010, in more than 10 languages.
L’Amour grew up skinning cattle in west Texas, baling hay in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico, working in the mines of Arizona, California and Nevada, and in the saw mills and lumber camps of the Pacific Northwest. He met Old West characters, an experience which, allied to his extensive travels through the Old West, enabled him to vividly and accurately recreate the past.
Settling down in Choctaw, L'Amour and his Underwood 5 produced a story, “Death Westbound”, which was published in the 10 Story Book magazine. He started to get paid for stories, with “Anything for a Pal” in True Gang Life. Then in 1938 his stories began to regularly appear in pulp magazines. Two years later he found his richest vein, the Western genre, with “The Town No Guns Could Tame”. After World War II service as a lieutenant with the 362nd Quartermaster Truck Company in Europe, L’Amour resumed writing in April 1946 with “Law of the Desert Born” in Dime Western Magazine (April 1946). L'Amour's first novel was Westward the Tide in 1951.
Critic Jon Tuska, surveying Western literature, wrote: “At his best, L'Amour was a master of spectacular action and stories with a vivid, propulsive forward motion.”


Johnpyyc said...

Great Story of a great writer! How a little "gift", the typewriter, makes such an opportunity for a writer.


LittleCars said...

Enjoyed L'Amour during quiet hours deep underground, on Titan II missile alert in the US Air Force, Tucson Arizona. Now I am a writer, and cherish my own ancient Underwood. Google Tom Preble Denver Post, if you'd like to enjoy some short creative non-fiction.

Gregory Short said...

Just now discovered this. Wonderful! One of my favorite writers, so I am glad to find out what typewriter he used. Thank you!