Texas Book Festival — San Antonio Edition
Interview with Glenn Frankel
Published: April 10, 2013
The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend with Glenn Frankel
Moderator: Clay Smith
You know what they say, writing about filming is like painting about mixology, or something. By many accounts Pulitzer prize-winning Glenn Frankel has reversed the traditional course, writing a rich, dramatic investigation into the classic John Ford Western The Searchers, which cast John Wayne as an obsessed ex-Confederate soldier on a years-long hunt for his abducted niece. Frankel documents both the film’s production and its Cynthia Ann Parker-inspired backstory. We asked Texas Public Radio’s resident cinephile Nathan Cone, who has seen The Searchers “at least three times” to interview Frankel about his investigation into this genre-defining movie. http://tpr.org/post/texas-history-behind-john-fords-searchers. Listen to the interview here. 2:15-3 p.m., Gallery Shop, Ursuline Campus.
Interview with Glenn Frankel
By Nathan Cone
When did you first see The Searchers, and what drew you to the film?
I think the first time must have been when I was 10 or 12 years old. And I saw it on television in that sort of black and white, cut-up version. Even then it seemed to stand out as fairly different than the average Cowboy and Indian movie that made it to Rochester, N.Y. [ed: where Frankel grew up]. The first time it really had an impact on me was when I saw it at Columbia University several years later in a film course. On the big screen, in full VistaVision and color, it was so beautiful, and so powerful. The emotions that are displayed in The Searchers really affected me then, and still do. I think I’ve seen it 15 or 20 times, and I still sort of have tears in my eyes at several points. It just made a personal connection with me. I know I’m not alone—it made a personal connection with some much more famous people like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and Martin Scorsese, when they saw it as young people. It had a formative impact on who they became, and they’ve been quoting from it ever since. But that’s where it started with the movie, and just the sort of emotional power.
And when did you take it from that “emotional power” to really wanting to find out the history of the story behind it, about Cynthia Ann Parker, and Alan LeMay’s novel, and how that was inspired by her own true story of abduction at the hands of the Comanche Indians here in Texas?
Well I knew nothing about any of that. When you grow up in Texas, and go to school there, Cynthia Ann is in the curriculum in public school. Well, it’s not on the curriculum in Rochester. I was surprised. I thought I was starting off to do a kind of “making of the movie” kind of book. I knew there would be a contextual chapter about captivity narratives, but I figured that would be it, and then I would go back to the movie. But it didn’t take very long, once I started looking in to both Alan LeMay’s novel and the film, to hear Cynthia Ann Parker’s name. Online it was pretty easy to find out who she was and some of the details. Then I found myself coming to Texas, and meeting with members of the heirs of her family that were still around, both the Comanche side and the Texan side. So very, very quickly the thing expanded from being a movie book to being a book about America, and about the way we tell stories and the way the stories that we tell gradually take on this kind of mythic status.