So, one morning I went to Beau
L’Amour’s house and he graciously
spoke with me for a couple hours. I discovered
a lot about The Diamond
of Jeru; most importantly, that it is but
a single rare gem in a vast treasure chest full
of wonderful stories, and that all of these stories
serve to colorfully illustrate an extraordinary
When tales of adventure in the
American West broadened to the exotic Far East,
Arabia and the South Seas, then to war-torn Europe
in the first half of the 20th Century, Louis L’Amour
was actually there. He was a chronicler of the
people he had seen and the places he had been.
great-grandfather was killed by Indians up in
North Dakota, and scalped. My grandfather had
fought Indians, and some of the Indians my grandfather
had fought, used to come around and visit him.
They’d sit around and talk over the old
days and drink a lot of coffee and tea, loaded
half full of sugar. But after my grandfather
died, they never came back. I missed them very
much, always enjoyed seeing them come.”
– Louis L’Amour
Born in 1908, Louis L’Amour
grew up on the edge of the American West. He would
listen to his grandfather’s stories of life
as a soldier in both the Civil and Indian Wars.
Louis would often meet cowboys as they’d
pass through the Dakota Territory on the Northern
Pacific Railroad. Young Louis remembered being
impressed one day with the sight of Buffalo Bill
Cody. As well, an uncle would tell of days spent
in the Hole-in-the-Wall pass eyeing Butch Cassidy
and other outlaws in the notorious hideaway.
Eventually Louis would hobo across
the country on his own, hopping freight trains
and sleeping in grain bins and gaps in piles of
lumber. He would stuff newspapers in his clothes
to keep warm. In Texas, he worked for a man who
had been raised by Indians. In New Mexico, he
bailed hay, always absorbing the people he’d
meet and the lives they lived.
the Kid and two of his pals were buried in a
place right across from where we were bailing
hay one day, and I commented on it, and one
of the fellas said, “Well, gee, if you’re
so into him, talk to old Tom over there. He
used to ride with Billy.” Now, Tom wasn’t
one of these guys who said he rode with Billy
the Kid; Tom is on record for having rode with
Billy the Kid. He’d been riding with him,
wounded in gun battles with Billy, and been
in jail with him. He’d been a rough boy
in his day. He taught me a lot about the west,
about gunfighters.” – Louis
Traveling further west, Louis made
his way to California, arriving in the port town
of San Pedro. He signed up for Marine Service
then waited three months for a ship that needed
him. The one with the vacancy was officially called
The Steel Worker,
but it was known among the more experienced seamen
as “Hell Ship.”
pulp issue (March 1944)
Worker’s first stop was Japan, where
Louis visited Yokohama, Nagoya and Kobe, before
heading south to Shanghai. The year was 1926 and
long months passed with the future writer spending
time in Borneo, then Java, Sumatra, Singapore,
and Port Swettenham near Kuala Lumpur. Threats
among the crew over rough conditions kept tensions
on the ship high. Finally they climbed northwest
to Egypt and Arabia. Passing through the Suez,
The Steel Worker
made its final stop in Port Said, before finally
returning home to New York City.
Louis would spend years drawing
from these experiences exotic tales cast with
seamen, soldiers of fortune and the gangsters
he encountered in such remote places. He began
to make a name for himself in publications like
and American Eagles.
dad would say that, before World War II, if
you told someone in a bar that you’d been
to Borneo they’d call you a liar, and
you’d end up in a fight. Even though there
were people doing that… most weren’t.”
– Beau L’Amour
In his mid-thirties, the world
was at war again and Louis L’Amour entered
the United States Army. He was sent to England
first then Europe where he served as a second
lieutenant before being promoted to first lieutenant.
He commanded a platoon in Germany and France.
with Sean Connery
& Brigitte Bardot.
Once the war finally ended, he returned
to the United States. The market for adventure
stories had gone. And so, an editor friend, while
in Manhattan, suggested to Louis that he do some
writing based on the tales he’d been reciting
about the Old West.
Louis would go on to earn numerous
awards for his western prose. Movies and audio
dramas were adapted from his stories. Such talents
as John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Sophia Loren, Sean
Connery, and Tom Selleck have brought his characters
to life in films. Eventually, Louis L’Amour
became one of the most popular American fiction
writers ever, selling over three hundred million
Since his father’s passing
in 1988, Beau L’Amour has done a remarkable
job keeping Louis L’Amour’s stories
alive. One third of all Louis’ books have
sold since the late 1980’s. Four million
copies of audio dramas have sold through Random
House Audio Publishing, with Beau working as supervising
producer, writer and director. Many have been
recorded in an “old time radio theater”
style with multiple actors, music and sound effects
And, in 2001, Beau returned to the exotic tales
and enthusiasms of his father’s pre-War
days by adapting to film an old jungle adventure
story written for the pulps.
of Jeru, starring Billy Zane, Keith Carradine
and Paris Jefferson, contains many classic elements
of adventure, reminding audiences of films like
Solomon’s Mines, The
African Queen and Casablanca.
Set in 1955, it follows a war-scarred American,
down on his luck in Borneo. He is hired by a wealthy
couple to find a large diamond in a jungle full
of dangerous natives.
The screenplay by Beau reveals the
sophistication of one who has written many, as
there are subtle moments throughout that have
a rippling effect expanding the depth of time,
place and people.
Beau speaks with tremendous authority
and pride in his father’s work, and I did
not take lightly the privilege of spending a little
time with him…
Stephen Jared: What did your
dad think of Hollywood? Did he like movies?
He wasn’t particularly pleased with any
of the versions of his movies. He was pleased
with Hondo. But
later felt it was a good movie for its time, but
wasn’t timeless. In general, he liked movies.
He continually hoped that a good film would be
made from one of his. He was somewhat unhappy
that it didn’t happen.
Tell me again the story of you
and your dad seeing Raiders
of the Lost Ark.
We went to the noon performance
the first day it opened in Westwood. We had a
great time. We got to the part where Indiana Jones
is with the snakes in the Well of the Souls and
my dad leaned over and said, “I wrote this,”
and a few minutes later there was the fight around
the plane with the big guy, and dad said, “I
think I wrote this too.” Truly, there is
a scene that is fantastically similar to the snake
scene in a story of his called South
of Suez. In Wings
Over Brazil there is a scene not quite
so similar to the fight around the plane. But
he wasn’t suggesting plagiarism just that…
He was an influence…
Did he miss writing adventure
stories, once he committed himself to westerns?
Yeah. He really enjoyed writing
the westerns, but I think in the late ‘70’s
he started to feel a little stifled. He started
making forays into writing other things and had
a hard time selling them. He wrote The
Walking Drum in the early ‘60’s,
which was an adventure set in the 11th century.
It wasn’t received with enthusiasm, although
when he finally sold it in the 1980’s, it
became a New York Times bestseller. He also wrote
The Last of the Breed
about a pilot shot down over Russia who has to
escape. The character was a Native American and
so he has to recreate the migration out of Central
Russia to Alaska. That was written in ‘84-‘85.
He was planning on two sequels to Walking
Drum when he passed. He was agonizing over
how to write his autobiography, which would have
included many adventure-esque elements.
How did The
Diamond of Jeru come to be made into a
Billy Zane in
The Diamond of Jeru
It started as a partially finished
short story that my dad had abandoned, probably
in the late ‘40’s. It was sitting
in a box that was left behind after he died. He
left a room that was hip-high in loose paper,
except for this trail that was about eighteen
inches wide that went from the doorway to his
desk - tons of material in there. Articles he’d
clipped from magazines, his own writing, piled
up books, artifacts buried. There were piles of
manuscript pages in no order. The website (www.louislamour.com)
now has a section called Louis L’Amour’s
Lost Treasures full of compiled things left over.
A few years after we had gone through
this archeological project, piecing all the manuscripts
together, we started publishing collections of
short stories. We published eight or nine books
in all, and those books were all stories that
had been uncollected, and at least half of which
unpublished before that time. Some were intended
for the magazine market that existed in the ‘50’s;
some were old pulp stories. So, we started editing
these stories, and I’d sit down and work
out exactly what mixture of stories would be put
into these collections. The way I worked was to
try to make sure a story worked with the least
amount of my editorial impact. However, occasionally
there was a story that needed a lot of work. The
Diamond of Jeru was one of those. We originally
weren’t going to publish it at all. Then
our editor at Bantam Books called me and said
this one collection was short. He asked if I could
find something to bump it up a little. So, I looked
at The Diamond of Jeru
again. I worked on it myself and stretched the
story from about fifteen pages to eighty. As a
result of pretty much writing it myself, it became
a story I knew very well.
Billy Zane and
Keith Carradine in
Diamond of Jeru.
Flash forward a year or two. A friend
was working with a woman from the USA Network
cable TV channel, and she mentioned to him they
were looking to do a classic adventure movie.
They were experimenting with various genres and
wanted this old-fashioned type adventure film.
So, my friend told her that he knew of someone
who could get something like that to her. So,
he called and described what they were looking
for and roughly what the budget would be. The
Diamond of Jeru seemed to fit the bill.
They looked at it for just a couple days and purchased
It was a great opportunity. My
friend, Mike Joyce, wanted me to come on as a
producer, which was terrific. I had produced a
couple movies before, but by then had pretty much
left the business. I wrote the first draft of
the script in three weeks. I had written scripts
before and had trouble selling them. In fact,
when I spent the three weeks writing The
Diamond of Jeru script we were editing
our audio drama, Son
of a Wanted Man, which was based on an
unproduced screenplay of mine.
How much did The
Diamond of Jeru cost?
Carradine with Paris Jefferson in
Diamond of Jeru.
We shot in Australia with a four
million dollar budget. The value of the dollar
was greater there. Had we shot in America it would
have cost seven to eight million. So, we got a
lot of beautiful stuff for the money. We manufactured
pretty much everything in the movie. Here in Los
Angeles, when you need something, there’s
a rental house where you can get it, not in Queensland.
We manufactured canoes, native costumes, European
costumes. We had this giant factory-like space.
It was like an experience from early Hollywood.
It was fantastic to be, not only in a foreign
country, but to be working there, and with a couple
hundred interesting people. Twenty years earlier,
there was a TV series shot there based on a story
of my dad’s called Five
Mile Creek. Our director’s wife had
been an editor on Five
Mile Creek, and the actor, Peter Carroll,
who played Vandover in The
Diamond of Jeru had been on the show. So,
I was running into people who I had tangential
old relationships with.
Some of my favorite adventure
movies have been ones made for television: King
Solomon’s Mines with Patrick Swayze,
Around the World in
Eighty Days with Pierce Brosnan, which
goes back a bit; the relatively recent Arabian
Nights, is another example. Is it easier
to get a good adventure movie made on TV these
days, rather than in the multiplexes?
of Sumatra (1953)
with Anthony Quinn.
In the late 1990’s/early 2000’s,
USA Network had this wonderful, fresh idea to
try new things, which almost never happens in
Hollywood. Their idea seemed to be to do a whole
series of films, each in a different genre. It
was great to be a part of that. One of the things
I’ve learned is that in order to sell something,
there has to be a pre-existing need for that product.
Had I taken The Diamond
of Jeru to any other outlet, there’s
no question that every single person would have
turned me down. It just happened that these people
already had in mind doing something like this.
My friend, Mike, knew exactly the size of the
film they wanted to make and so, when we sat down
to talk about it, we were specific, even to the
point where we set it in the '50's. Originally,
I think they would have preferred something set
in the '30's – they were mining Raiders
of the Lost Ark territory – but we
knew setting it in the ‘20’s or ‘30’s
would up the price on it significantly.
Getting back to your dad for
a bit, he considered himself a storyteller, not
a western genre author…
Why, after World War II, did
adventure stories go out of style?
It was a trend in the late ‘40’s
– the population had a little too much adventure.
In the broader picture, in the early days of American
fiction, westerns were not anachronistic. They
were contemporary adventure stories. They were
stories of current conditions taking place in
the American West. As the West was settled, the
unsettled territory, where things were chaotic
enough to be dramatically interesting, became
other places in the world.
For writers of other nationalities,
the settings for their stories already were other
places in the world. Just after the western period,
you have suddenly H. Rider Haggard, Arthur Conan
Doyle, Talbot Mundy, among others.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, incidentally,
wrote a couple westerns, The
War Chief and Apache
Devil. In the 1890’s, Burroughs,
whose father fought in the Civil War, went to
Idaho and lived like a cowboy. He rode the range,
herded cattle, spent time in what was still a
volatile part of the country. After that, he joined
the 7th Cavalry in the Arizona Territory, which
was General Custer’s old regiment.
So, eventually the West, the place
where adventure stories were often set, became
the Far East. And eventually, by the end of World
War II, these exotic locations, which had been
the settings for all these stories were now considered
to be less attractive, and much better known,
because of the returning soldiers. So, you’d
have a hard time selling an adventure story to
a guy who’d been to these places and had
suffered there. There was a romance to these places
that writers had injected into their work, and
all that was, at least to some degree, lost during
such a costly war. So, after World War II, the
western now offered a chance for readers to feel
Given how much smaller the world
is today, and with stories that hope to appeal
across the globe, and with at least a small degree
of xenophobia perhaps being an essential ingredient
to adventure stories, do you think the classic
adventure genre is dead?
Well, I don’t know how possible
this is to do in Hollywood but if you can accurately
portray the time period, the setting for the story,
then some things can be more easily forgiven.
Helen, for example, in The
Diamond of Jeru, is clearly a smart, tough
woman, and yet she’s treated at times by
her husband in a somewhat misogynistic manner,
and she tolerates it in a way that a character
like that set in modern day wouldn’t. If
you add enough human complexity to the characters
you can make the whole piece more relatable and
more easily understood. My favorite adventure
movie, hands down, is The
Wind and The Lion. The hero is a noble,
Islamic Moroccan, and it’s acceptable and
Wind and the Lion and The
Man Who Would Be King both came out in
1975. What a year for Sean Connery. I’ve
said for a long time that 1975 to 1985 was as
good a ten year period as any of Hollywood’s
previous great decades.
I agree. It was also a period when
series TV was pushed to look much better and then
in the ‘90’s the writing caught up
with the quality levels of the production values,
and now series TV is probably where all the great
performance writing has been in the entertainment
business. It would be great to lure those writers
back to films so we could have less homogenized
work in theatres.
Do you think westerns will ever
make a comeback?
No. Every ten years you might have
something, but essentially it comes down to this:
The type of person who is a creative executive
is not someone who likes westerns. They seem,
from my experience, to be embarrassed to be even
talking about making a western, and it’s
definitely not something they can go to lunch
with their peers and brag about. And that’s
the key. Is it something that is socially acceptable
within the pool of people in Hollywood who make
films? Westerns are socially acceptable for directors
to talk about - they love it. Actors love it.
Creative executives don’t.
In television it’s different.
Television never goes too many years without experimenting
with a western. I get into arguments with people
about something like Deadwood.
I won’t say I’m a big Deadwood
fan, but if you want westerns to go on, you can’t
regulate them to basically being this one particular
kind of thing. You have to let them be Deadwood.
Otherwise you strangle the genre until there’s
nothing left. A lot of western fans want all westerns
to be like old westerns. They don’t want
anything new. You don’t have to like a show
that has someone pissing in a corner every half
hour, but they do have to be open to people trying
things like that.
You’re returning to The
Diamond of Jeru now with an audio drama.
Why The Diamond of
We started doing this radio drama
style book-on-tape in the mid-‘80’s.
That business turned more to single actor readings,
and so we steered away from it for a while, but
then when we put the website together, Paul O’Dell
and I thought it a great opportunity to go back
to it. So, we took my unproduced script, Son
of a Wanted Man, and made it as an audio
drama. When we finished Wanted
Man, we asked the people at Random House
Audio if they were up for another, and they were.
These shows are expensive but they get a lot of
press, so they felt it was worth it.
Left: Actor Time
Winters (mustache) with director Beau L'Amour.
Right: Recording the audio drama The
Diamond of Jeru.
So, all together, since 1986, The
Diamond of Jeru might be our 70th audio
drama and, out of those, only one other was not
a western, and I did not want to do another western.
It was just getting old to record horse-hooves
and squeaking leather and all that, so I wanted
to do something different. When I considered what
to do, it occurred to me that The
Diamond of Jeru still had stuff to say.
In this new The Diamond
of Jeru, the characters, for example, are
considerably more vulnerable. Also, the publishers
require a certain length, which is much longer
than the length of a movie. It’s taken us
in some new and different directions.
And, I understand you’re
working on a biography project of your father?
Yes. It might stretch over three
books. I’m looking forward to it. We’ll
be getting more into that in the new year.