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The Searchers
Cover of The Searchers
The Searchers
The Making of an American Legend
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In 1836 in East Texas, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanches. She was raised by the tribe and eventually became the wife of a warrior. Twenty-four years after her capture, she was reclaimed by the U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers and restored to her white family, to die in misery and obscurity. Cynthia Ann's story has been told and re-told over generations to become a foundational American tale. The myth gave rise to operas and one-act plays, and in the 1950s to a novel by Alan LeMay, which would be adapted into one of Hollywood's most legendary films, The Searchers, "The Biggest, Roughest, Toughest...and Most Beautiful Picture Ever Made!" directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Glenn Frankel, beginning in Hollywood and then returning to the origins of the story, creates a rich and nuanced anatomy of a timeless film and a quintessentially American myth. The dominant story that has emerged departs dramatically from documented history: it is of the inevitable triumph of white civilization, underpinned by anxiety about the sullying of white women by "savages." What makes John Ford's film so powerful, and so important, Frankel argues, is that it both upholds that myth and undermines it, baring the ambiguities surrounding race, sexuality, and violence in the settling of the West and the making of America.

In 1836 in East Texas, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanches. She was raised by the tribe and eventually became the wife of a warrior. Twenty-four years after her capture, she was reclaimed by the U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers and restored to her white family, to die in misery and obscurity. Cynthia Ann's story has been told and re-told over generations to become a foundational American tale. The myth gave rise to operas and one-act plays, and in the 1950s to a novel by Alan LeMay, which would be adapted into one of Hollywood's most legendary films, The Searchers, "The Biggest, Roughest, Toughest...and Most Beautiful Picture Ever Made!" directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Glenn Frankel, beginning in Hollywood and then returning to the origins of the story, creates a rich and nuanced anatomy of a timeless film and a quintessentially American myth. The dominant story that has emerged departs dramatically from documented history: it is of the inevitable triumph of white civilization, underpinned by anxiety about the sullying of white women by "savages." What makes John Ford's film so powerful, and so important, Frankel argues, is that it both upholds that myth and undermines it, baring the ambiguities surrounding race, sexuality, and violence in the settling of the West and the making of America.

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About the Author-
  • Glenn Frankel worked for nearly thirty years for the Washington Post, as a reporter, a foreign correspondent, and editor of the Washington Post Magazine. As Jerusalem bureau chief, he won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for "sensitive and balanced reporting from Israel and the Middle East." His first book, Beyond the Promised Land: Jews and Arabs on the Hard Road to a New Israel won the National Jewish Book Award. His second, Rivonia's Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa was a finalist for South Africa's prestigious Alan Paton Award. Frankel has been an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellow and a Hearst Visiting Professional in the Department of Communication at Stanford. He is currently the Director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 12, 2012
    John Ford’s classic 1956 western film The Searchers, starring John Wayne, drew inspiration from the 19th-century kidnappings of Cynthia Ann Parker: first as a child by Comanche warriors, and over two decades later—as a wife and mother—by misguided whites seeking to rescue her from her captors and adoptive family. In this powerful dual history, Frankel (Beyond the Promised Land), winner of a Pulitzer in 1989 for his reporting on Israel and the Middle East for the Washington Post, dexterously interweaves the testosterone-fueled Hollywood backstory of the film with the bloody turmoil that too often characterized relations between Native Americans and settlers pushing west. While the behind-the-scenes look at the classic flick is entertaining, the drama of the movie set pales in comparison to Frankel’s riveting depiction of the real-life tragedy, out of which arose an unlikely hero: Quanah, Parker’s elder son and half-Comanche warrior–turned–ambassador of peace, whose existence paved the way for a touching reunion between generations of his Texan and Comanche descendants. Cynthia’s story is one of a heartbroken yet tough survivor, and Frankel’s retelling is a gripping portrayal of a mesmerizing period of American history. B&w photos. Agent: Gail Ross, Yoon Ross Literary Agency.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2013

    Myth- and filmmaking go hand in hand, as myth is both the source for and perpetuated by cinema. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Frankel (formerly of the Washington Post; dir., Sch. of Journalism, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Riviona's Children) tackles this dichotomy by investigating the mythology around the story of Cynthia Ann Parker and how it later came to be immortalized in the 1955 film The Searchers. The book is divided into biographies of the four central figures, beginning with Parker and then her son, Quanah. In these first two sections, Frankel lays out the story of Parker's capture by Comanches and her eventual reclamation by the U.S. Cavalry and discusses how the Parker story has changed through the years as family members and historians have rewritten the narrative. Then, Frankel turns his attention to Alan LeMay, whose novel The Searchers inspired the film, and John Ford, the director who brought the film to life. VERDICT Despite a few unfortunate errors (e.g., Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar is referred to as "Governor"), this is an enjoyable book that will appeal to film historians/buffs as well as to those with an interest in Western history.--Michael C. Miller, Austin P.L. & Austin History Ctr., TX

    Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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