Who Shot Liberty Valance?

Way back in 1962, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” opened in theaters around the country. It starred Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, and Lee Marvin in what is arguably one of the best westerns ever made.

What, you might ask; does that have to do with The Snake Alley Festival of Film? Well, Sunshine, hang on to your skivvies. I’m getting there. The story from which that movie was taken was written by a lady who was born in McGregor, Iowa, a little town much like Burlington. And…she was one of the first women; if not THE first woman to write a western that was accepted by what had been an all men’s club. Her name was Dorothy M. Johnson.

Although she was born in Iowa, her family moved to Montana when she was young. There, she fell in love with all things western. After studying English in college, she moved to New York because jobs for women writers were scarce in the west at that time. Writing short stories, poetry and books, she eventually became editor of a women’s magazine.

But she missed Montana and still dreamed of writing westerns. She made her way back and wrote the story that became “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Other stories by her became “The Hanging Tree” starring Gary Cooper and “A Man Called Horse” starring Richard Harris.

She was in her own way a pioneer. She was a woman who broke the barrier into what had been a good-ole boys club.

And…at last year’s Snake Alley Festival of Film, a female screenwriter (another Iowa girl) walked away with the prize for best screenplay. Her name is Danielle P. Smith. (What is it about Iowa that produces so many talented people? Is it the water—or something else?)

So, start writing troops, or filming, or editing, or whatever. The next Snake Alley Festival of Film will be here before you know it.

(This blog was inspired by an article written for CNN.com by Bob Greene.)

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