What History Taught Me
- Written by Tom Van Dyke
- Published November 05, 2012
History has taught me it’s never too late to ride a fresh horse. Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Company when he was 40 years old.
I fell in love with the West when I began producing TV commercials and films on location in Arizona, Texas, California and Colorado.
My biggest regret is not taking a job offered to me by film director Robert Altman.
I am currently reading Wolfville Nights by Alfred Henry Lewis. I was drawn to Lewis as a storyteller for his descriptions and colorful use of words. I savor the flavor of his words. Like Mark Twain, Lewis had a gift for being able to spell the same word many different ways.
I was inspired to write my book A Cowboy Christmas while sitting around a campfire with my sons, Mark and WB, who wondered what it would have been like if they had been cowboys when the West was young. This one’s for the boys.
I like writing historical fiction because imagination is infinite and knowledge is just the facts. The stage production of War Horse is an example of man’s ability to transform a true story with the use of horse puppets to inspire our spirit beyond imagination.
My favorite living Western artist is Howard Terpning, a narrative painter of inspiring American Indian images.
My mother always told me the difference between me and the other kids was worth exploring. She was right.
I was gratified when Elmore Leonard, Michael Blake and Thomas Cobb favored my book with their praise lines. Also, being invited to Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch in Bozeman, Montana, to see the old West from horseback, was a ride bigger and more beautiful than any dream.
When it comes to Western writers nobody can touch Mark Twain, Elmore Leonard, Michael Blake or Larry McMurtry.
A memorable person I’ve met along the trail is Andy Warhol. In 1967, Warhol visited my college to lecture on his film Chelsea Girls. By chance, I played a game of checkers with him. After the game, he asked me if I would like him to turn the checkerboard into Pop Art, and he did. I don’t remember who won the game.
The best Western films ever are Hombre, Dances With Wolves, Lonesome Dove and McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
My favorite movie quote is “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges,” from 1974’s Blazing Saddles.
The best idea is always the best idea. No matter who thought of it. Give them credit—yours is in recognizing it.
When you have nothing to lose—be careful! There may be nothing to gain.
Tom Van Dyke, Author
Tom Van Dyke lives with his wife, Mary, on their ranch in Cave Creek, Arizona. A member of Western Writers of America, he has been writing screenplays since 1970. He also wrote the American Bicentennial public service announcement, “Stand Up and Be Counted,” given by John Denver. He creates fine art in the form of sculptures, paintings and photography, which have been exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, the Henry Ford Museum, the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Butler Institute of American Art. His first book is A Cowboy Christmas: An American Tale.