Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land

I've loved Richard Boone since the first time I saw him in Big Jake.  I realize that's a rather odd first-viewing impression, considering he's the bad guy... but none of that mattered.  He just had a certain charisma and presence and strength and power and intelligence that I was instantly attracted to.  It's also hard to find a villain who is a truly worthy adversary for John Wayne, and Richard Boone filled that role with ease.  I always looked for him in movies, but it wasn't until twenty years later that I finally got to see a Have Gun, Will Travel episode.  If I hadn't already loved him, that show would have done it.  The show is so well-written, so tight in its half-hour time slot, and Paladin... well, Paladin is magnificent.  Full of depth and nuance and laughter and anger and deadly competence.  He quotes classics in every other episode, goes to the opera, and helps those in need.  If I was in trouble, I'd wire Paladin, that's for sure.

I've always wanted to know more about him, so I picked up this biography by David Rothel.  It's not a normal biography, in that it doesn't tell the story of his life.  Instead, it's a composite image, composed of facts about his life, quotes and poetry from him, interviews with family and co-workers, and a viewer's guide to his movies and television shows.  The format makes for a very quick read.  The interviews were my favorite part, and I would happily have read more of those.  I liked the ones from his family best, as they were the most informative, but the various people he worked with also provide glimpses into the working man as a nice balance.

And I love him even more after reading this book.  I read a quote somewhere from someone who had said he was a lot like Paladin, and he really is.  Extremely intelligent, loved the arts, painted and wrote, worked hard, played hard, didn't put up with baloney from anyone, and supported his family and friends.  I loved reading about how much he loved children, and the charity work he did for them.

There are only two of his poems included, and I wish there were more... at the same time, I'm happy there aren't, because they are devastating to read.  The two included were ones he had written during WWII, in which he served in the Navy as a aerial gunner.  He suffered severe PTSD after the war, and wouldn't fly in a plane until fifteen years after the war ended.  The poems... There's a quote in the book from actor Jan Merlin that I particularly liked.  He said, "One of my favorite people to work with was Audie Murphy; I worked with him several times.  We never mentioned the war.  He had his European war and I had my Japanese.  What was there to talk about?  If you were in it, you knew about it; if you weren't, then you'd never understand.  It's as simple as that."

And that sums up the power of the poems.  The world of fear and death Richard Boone describes so fiercely and emotionally is one I hope I'll never understand.  But that does not make those poems any less powerful.

I really enjoyed this glimpse into his life (and also into the lives of the people who were interviewed), and I respect his talents as an actor even more.

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