Friday, 28 September 2012
In the novel "Death Valley Scotty" by - ahem - me, Scotty's association with Z. Beldon Gaylord leads to the floating of The Death Valley Scotty Gold Mining and Developing Company. Below is a picture of one of the actual stock certificates.
Integral to the story of Death Valley Scotty is the way our hero distributes large amounts of cash to the people of Los Angeles. Scotty was also famous for his use of large denomination bills.
When I remember back to when I was a boy one of the things that still sticks in my mind is when I used to walk home from school and call in at the local store to buy bubble gum cards. One year the cards were "American Civil War" cards, showing educational and often gruesome scenes from that great conflict. But what really stood out was that each waxed paper pack contained a genuine Confederacy bank note.
Of course they were not genuine, being cheaply printed bills on poor quality paper, but to me and the other kids in the school yard they were MONEY. They came in all denominations and part of the fun was that you never knew what you were going to get. After a while we all had huge bankrolls in our pockets and we felt like millionaires. What I learned from that experience is that people will remember something fondly if it gives them money. It doesn't matter if the money is real or not.
"Look, I hate Los Angeles, like everybody else ... but I have to work here because
in any other part of the country I'm unemployable ..."
I recently came across this jewel quoted on the Web, and being in the middle of publishing my latest novel, "Death Valley Scotty", which is mostly set in Los Angeles, I pricked up my ears. Having visited Los Angeles several times I am well aware just how peculiar the place is. It's amazing how a town which in 1900 was pretty much on track to becoming a regular city has managed to become so irregular.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those snooty Brits who like to regard Los Angeles as beneath their dignity. I'm prepared to fall in love with just about anywhere if I find enough good people there. But I was interested in how the city got to be so unusual. My take is this. It's all down to just two evils: cars and movies.
Cars have been accommodated in L.A. like nowhere else. The rights of people who want to go from A to B have been placed above those who want to stay in either A or B. This has been a mistake. As soon as you build a good road it instantly attracts twice as many cars as can comfortably fit on it. Sprawl is what results when a city encourages cars. Sprawl means that place A and place B are so far away from one another that it's impossible to reach either of them except by car. Thus the car makes itself indispensable, and the last thing you want is an indispensable machine.
As for the movie industry, that too has distorted the city. In every bar and restaurant at least half the waiting staff are just filling in time. They are only acting at being waiters and waitresses while they figure a way to break into Hollywood. What they don't know, and don't want to know, is that Hollywood was closed long ago to all outsiders who happen to exhibit talent or charisma. Such individuals just serve to show up the well-connected but untalented and charisma-free crowd who now occupy virtually all the sought-after positions. (See Carter's Third Law: "Nepotism kills.")
The result is a wannabe wasteland where everyone hopes they're on the way to somewhere better. It's not good for a city to have so many people who are, in a very real sense, refugees from their own lives.
There is a stylish monument to the Death Valley Scotty story just 300 miles from Los Angeles. It's the most impressive building in America's greatest wilderness, both inside and out, with lavish detailing and furnishings. I don't know how many people visit Death Valley each year, but 150,000 of them tour Scotty's Castle and hear recounted some of the many hilarious anecdotes that originate with the man.
Frank Lloyd Wright was consulted over the plans to build the Castle. It took over a decade to construct and was never completely finished. Today it is owned and operated as a museum by the U.S. National Park Service. It provides a lasting focal point for the Death Valley Scotty legend, and a wonderful reminder for anyone touring the region.
Scotty's grave is on ground overlooking the Castle. The plaque which memorializes the grave sets out his "four don'ts" . Actually, Scotty is one of the few men to have escaped his own grave. Shortly after he was buried a flash flood carried off his coffin and he had to be committed to the earth a second time.
It just goes to show that you can't keep a good man down.
The Indians called it "the Burnt Land". At 130 degrees, it's one of the hottest places in the world, and at 286 feet below sea level it contains the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. It's a place of desolate, forbidding beauty. It's called Death Valley with good reason: its beauty is of the deadly kind.
What better backdrop could there be for those contemplative moments that point up the amusing, touching or dramatic scenes in a busy narrative? At the heart of the novel I have Albert Johnson and Scotty alone together in the desert. Johnson listens to Scotty talk about the meaning of life. This is a crucial moment on which the whole outcome of the story turns. I wanted to write it so that a reader would have the opportunity to capture scenes of rare natural splendor in his or her mind's eye.
I want readers to come away from the book appreciating what is out there waiting for them to see.
There is a mystery at the heart of the Death Valley Scotty story. Did he or did he not have a gold mine?
What first compelled me to write this novel was the thematic richness of Walter Scott's story. It seemed to say that money is what we all think we want, but what we really want is contentment -- and the ingredients of contentment cost surprisingly little.
This novel is about love and friendship and the truly important things of life that we are apt to take for granted or to overlook. They are encapsulated in the freedom from pain (Albert Johnson's injured back), the realization of dreams, the establishment of real friendship, the leaning how to laugh and the appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. The gold here only plays the role of 'siren' -- the seductive distraction that draws us off the proper track of life. When true contentment is gained, the ownership of gold becomes unimportant.
This philosophy is heartwarming and uplifting. It has a consolation for the common man who has no hope of riches: that the rich man has gone up the wrong road anyway. It asserts that we're all as good as one another, irrespective of what we own, which seems to me to be a noble idea that I may have heard somewhere else ...
Death Valley Scotty
This is a name well known to many Californians and Nevadans. It is also the title of my latest novel.
Walter E. Scott was born in Kentucky, but he lived almost all his life in California, and he is buried in Death Valley. He was a "true character". His fascinating life spanned the transitional years from the Old West to the new, the youth of Los Angeles and the creation of Hollywood, many of whose stars befriended him. It was quite a surprise to find that a novel had yet to be written about him, so I decided to write about him.
Scotty began as a cow-puncher, later rode in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and became famous as a gold millionaire, but his real skill was keeping people guessing. He managed to keep himself in the newspaper headlines for half a century. Scotty's life was so rich that I found myself with the luxury of having too much material to choose from. Events represented in the novel as all having taken place during the summer of 1905 actually took place over a much longer period but I telescoped time for dramatic purposes. It's what we writers do.
"He sleeps quite as well one place as the other. But he does like to keep his body clean and is always bathing; and I have never seen Scotty in my life when he wasn't freshly shaven. Part of the water in his canteen is always kept to shave with."
So said Albert Johnson's wife, Bessie, who grew to know Scotty well. Scotty's story has for me something of the true American spirit about it. He was a natural showman who could ride and shoot and prospect along with the best but he was hall-marked with some particularly American virtues - a shrewd self-reliance, a man of the great outdoors, a man who knew how to live free. There's no doubt that he loved razzmatazz, but he could recognize life's true values behind the tinsel. California is, even now, still a young place, and whenever I'm there I find a yearning for history and for historic figures. Walter Scott is to me an authentic Old California hero.