This is the third installment in the Western Writers Series at MontanaWriter.
Like fellow western noir writer H.A. DeRosso, Les Savage, Jr. does not, at the time of this posting, appear to have a Wikipedia article. It is more than a little interesting that two of the first three western writers I have chosen for the Western Writers Series do not yet have such articles. It certainly says something about the state of western noir and something about my reading tastes.
As is the case with De Rosso, what I know of Savage’s life is what I have read and pieced together from various book introductions.
Les Savage, Jr. was born and raised in Los Angeles. He began writing at the age of 17 and sold his first story to Street & Smith’s Western Story magazine. He was a steady contributor to the pulp magazines for many years, writing close to 100 short-stories.
Les Savage Jr as a writer worked hard to bring realism and authenticity to his fiction. In the 1950s, this meant that his work was often heavily censored and reworked by editors and publishers that did not like his realistic depictions of the various kinds of multi-cultural and non-traditional male-female relationships that would have been very common on the frontier. Most modern editors and publishers of his work have tried to restore his manuscripts back to their original forms.
Savage is a wonderful noir writer. His west is not the sun-lit hollywood backdrop of most of his contemporaries. It is a place of shadows and dark places where morally complex men and women live and fight and struggle. His work is often violent yet also has that touch of the poetic that is a feature of great noir fiction. That delicate balancing act between the brutal and beautiful seems to me to be one of the defining characteristics of noir fiction. To realistically portray life is to bump up against the beautiful, the brutal, and the banal. Savage portrays it all well.
As a western writer, his work has that essential quality of the mythic or iconic that is part of every true western. As has been said before on MontanaWriter, westerns are the essential American myth. The great challenge for the western noir writer, indeed any western writer, is to balance realism and myth. This balance may be one of the most difficult challenges for a writer of American Fiction to undertake. Yet when it is pulled off well, as Savage often does, it remains one of the most satisfying reading experiences you can ever have.
Les Savage, Jr. who suffered from diabetes died at St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica, California on May 26, 1958, at the age of 35. In his short life he wrote novels, a few hollywood screenplays, and short stories. Some of his work is available again electronically as well as in reprints, most redacted to reflect his original intent. He may be little known but he is not, thankfully, completely lost to us… yet.
Les Savage Jr. Partial Bibliography
* The Bloody Quarter [Nov 1999] * The Cavan Breed [June 2003] * Coffin Gap [May 1997] * Copper Bluffs [Jan 1999] * Danger Rides the River [Aug 2002] * The Devil's Corral [Jan 2003] * Fire Dance at Spider Rock [Nov 1995] * Gambler's Row [Feb 2002] * Hangtown * In the Land of Little Sticks: North-Western Stories [Aug 2000] * The Lash of Senorita Scorpion [July 1998] * The Legend of Senorita Scorpion [July 1996] * Medicine Wheel [Aug 1996] * Phantoms in the Night [Nov 1998] * The Return of of Senorita Scorpion: A Western Trio [July 1997] * The Shadow in Renegade Basin: A Western Trio [June 2001] * Silver Street Woman [July 1995] * Table Rock [Nov 1993] * The Trail * Treasure of the Brasada [Jan 2000] * West of Laramie [May 2003](source: Ultimate Western Database)