Hollywood horse havoc

Review of “Falling from Horses” by Molly Gloss.

 

Roy Rogers and his palomino, Trigger. Trigger was one of the most famous horses in Western films, starting with his debut in Under the Western Stars in 1938.
Classic Media

Falling From Horses
Molly Gloss
330 pages, hardcover:
$25.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

 

Modern movie directors are expected to go to extremes to earn the disclaimer that “No animals were harmed” in the making of their films. It’s easy to chuckle at the thought of studios hiring, say, cockroach wranglers. But the latest novel by Oregon writer Molly Gloss might make readers appreciate the need to enforce standards for humane treatment, not just for animals but for human beings as well.

Falling From Horses is set largely in Hollywood in the late 1930s, when the movie industry cared little for the welfare of animals or even human stuntmen. In a folksy, easy cadence, narrator Bud Frazer looks back on his life, recalling the months he spent trying to succeed as a movie cowboy when he was 19 years old. “Well, I was foolheaded in those days, looking for ways to get myself into trouble — carrying too much sail, as we used to say,” Bud reports.

Bud grew up in Echol Creek, Oregon, on a ranch that his parents later lost. His little sister died for reasons that become clear as Bud’s story unfolds, in chapters that alternate between his life in Oregon and in Hollywood.

On the bus to Hollywood, Bud meets Lily Shaw of Seattle, who is determined to become a great screenwriter, an aim she only achieves after many hard knocks. As Bud and Lily scramble to gain a toehold in the movie industry, they maintain their platonic friendship, which is based mostly on seeing movies together and discussing them.

Bud learns that the cowboy film heroes he grew up admiring aren’t what they appear to be — many of them are “fakes who couldn’t ride worth applesauce.” He also discovers how dangerous filming horse scenes is, especially on shots of battlefields rigged with trip wires and cliff-jumping scenes. Dozens of horses are killed in the business, and several riders are severely injured.

Gloss’ detailed picture of Hollywood’s Golden Age is rich and enlightening, capturing the struggles of low-level movie cowboys as well as those of ambitious women like Lily. Bud’s family’s ranch life and hardships serve as a stark counterpoint to the glossy Western myth that filmmakers created. It’s as though Gloss has flipped over the burnished surface of classic Hollywood Westerns to show the messy stitching underneath.­

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...