Will Henry, Clay Fisher or Henry "Hank" Allen; it matters little by which name he was known for his words sing like no writer before him. His romantic, poetic, often cynical prose is shot with humor and appreciation for a simpler time when a man's world was his bond, and a woman was a warm, noncompetitive companion.
The tall, lanky author of more than fifty books, most of them Western novels that sold more than 15 million copies, once worked as a script writer in Hollywood, where a number of his novels were adapted to film. One of the few of his profession who actually looked like a novelist, Henry described himself as having the "old-hand, far-squinted look, all bearded and Levied, mainly unshorn and eons ahead of the hippies. But God understands that Will Henry is not a hippie." He was a guarded, self-effacing man who said he skulked around life's edges, a reclusive hypochondriac (an occupational hazard), who had reason to to worry about his health during his final years, yet always seemed to find time to come to the defense of his fellow man.
If his collection of awards is indicative of his writing ability, few can match him; nor was he included to talk about the honors heaped upon him. Research uncovered the fact that he was the first writer to receive the prestigious Saddleman Award from Western Writers of America in 1961 for outstanding literature. He also shared the honor with the late Fred Grove of winning five Spurs. Another kudo was the Cowboy Hall of Fame's Wrangler Award.
To tamper with such creative talent would be pure heresy, so the following interview contains his unabridged responses to the question: Who is this Will Henry?
"You must be warned that my name is not Ishmeal, nor was I born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Neither was it the best of times or the worst of times. My name is Will Henry and maybe Clay Fisher, and for sure Henry W. Allen. Likewise, this is as much of my story as I would care to see displayed where small children might get their hands on a legible copy. Attend therefore charitably. It was a raw, cold day that saw my birth in old Missouri. Mean with the bite of sleet in its frozen teeth. One of those westering days when the very wind carried a knife. A perfect day for a Libran child to emerge, gaze in whinnied startlement at the strange world all about, recoil and cry out, "Oh, my God, I thought it was 1812!"
How did your family background shape your life?
They always want to know right off about your family background. And this is a subject that must be approached with some care in the present case. The family background is no stranger to suspicion. Indeed, there must have been an extra-legal scrape, or six, along the way. Even some time served, or owed the State. Who knows? We don't guaranteed a thing here. On me? A fellow whose father was a best personal friend of Jesse Woodsen James III? Who was whelped and reared in one of the two counties that harbored the James gang in its halcoyn raids? Who got to meet Cole Younger in the Confederate Veterans Home at Liberty, when his oral surgeon dad took him along one day when called out to treat the old outlaw? But, after all, how many ten-year-old kids get to meet Cole Younger?
Were were you born?
I was born fit and proper of a married mother and father in the "Show Me" stare of Missouri, which everyone knows is pronounced "Missourah," county of Jackson, city of Kansas City, September 29th, 19 and 12. That made me the middle of three brothers, with two sisters, one each flank, oldest and youngest of the brood.
So you're a Libra.
Yes, that's the brand of starchild I was. Libras are nuts, you know. But mostly just dingy, not dangerous. They drink spunkwater and hang upside down in old barns. And they're sneaky. But excuse me, Ma'am, you wanted specifics?
What were you like as a child? Were you shy? Precocious?
Was I shy? Of course, cripplingly so. Precocious? Not likely. If I knew the antonym for precocious, I mean if I were a writer or something like that, I would know. I'd tell it right out, that I was the antithesis of precocious. Friendly, outgoing? Quite the contrary. I was a crafty and coyotish child. Stealthy, skittish, not above the occasional disinformational mispresentation. Just your typical middleborn neurotic kid growing up bored and restless in the midwest heartland of the early 1900s.
What did you read during your youth?
Weird Tales magazine. Oh, hardcover? Well, there was Sax Romer and old Dr. Fu Manchu, and Edgar Rice Burroughs with the Mars books and At the Earth's Core, and Conan Doyle and that doper Holmes, and Jeffry Farnol and The Money Moon, and Kipling and that talking animal act and Soldiers Three, and, Oh, Lord! all the wonderful old stuff of a better day among reader-people.
Were you a good student?
The answer is still nyet. But I don't want to be misunderstood. I know it is popular in current biographical references to say that they were educated in the streets--street child, street smart--the usual dreary litany of modern validation. But such anti-establishment posturing, with its incurable juvenitis, was not for me. I was not, as they put it, into that. Of course, no generation escapes its rebel youth. I was a bunchquitter, myself, but not in their frame and fashiion. I was in business for myself, a certified lone-hand kid. If I were not a good academic risk, neither was I pointlessly rebellions. I just didn't belong to any crowd, and still don't.
(Next week he talks about his writing, his days in Hollywood and his father's detrimental influence. . .)
Excerpted from my book, Maverick Writers.
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