Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review - Joe De Yong: A Life in the West

In February 2018, author William Reynolds launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish his biography of Joe De Yong, a cowboy and protege of Western artist Charles M. Russell. It was successfully funded and the result was a beautiful hardbound, 320-page book measuring 9" x 11.5". 

Joe De Yong led a fascinating life and the reason I am reviewing his biography here is that much of that life was spent in Hollywood, where he worked in films as an artist and western regalia consultant. Yes, someone had to be consulted about what is and isn't proper cowboy garb. 

His love for the movies began when he was 14 years old and, working on a ranch, had a chance to meet the famous cowboy star Tom Mix. Joe caught the acting bug and wanted to enter the film business as a cowboy himself. Within five years he was making films with Mix, but while shooting a film on location in Arizona he was stricken with meningitis which left him permanently deaf. While recuperating from his illness, he saw an exhibition of paintings by Charles M. Russell and returned to another passion of his: art. 
Joe De Yong spent years with Russell in his studio, working beside him and learning his craft. It was when Russell died in 1926, that Joe returned to Hollywood to work as a designer for costume and gear and sometimes aid in scenic and storyboard art. This began a career that spanned nearly thirty years of his life. It was only for the Cecil B. DeMille films and Shane ( 1953 ) that he received screen credit, but De Yong had a hand in some top westerns of the time: The Plainsman ( 1937 ), Union Pacific ( 1939 ), Susannah of the Mounties ( 1939 ), Northwest Mounted Police ( 1940 ), Tall in the Saddle ( 1944 ), The Virginian ( 1946 ), Ramrod ( 1947 ), Red River ( 1948 ), The Big Sky ( 1952 ), Rio Bravo ( 1959 ), and his last film, El Dorado ( 1967 ). 

Yong's sketch of the Starrett homestead
William Reynolds wrote an excellent account of this cowboy, covering his personal life, his relation with Charles M. Russell, and his years in Hollywood in great detail. Joe De Yong, A Life in the West is packed with original stills and posters, behind-the-scenes photos, costume sketches, numerous correspondence and, of course, De Yong's etchings and paintings. It is just a fascinating book overall. 

Unfortunately, if you did not back the campaign, the book is only available used through Amazon and eBay, but if westerns are your passion, then try to add this title to your bookshelf.

1 comment:

  1. It's always interesting to learn something new...I was totally unfamiliar with Joe De Yong, even though I've seen almost every Western you mentioned him being involved with.