~ by Jim Collier
Once upon a time, when my world was new, a book called ARIZONA provided a welcomed escape from the hot days of summer in Nogales, Arizona.
This action-packed Arizona novel by Clarence Budington Kelland takes place during the turbulent birth of a territorial outpost called Tucson. Its pages are peopled with an assortment of outlaws, homesteaders, ranchers, migrant miners, thieves, holy men and hardy women – colorful people who bring the saga of the American West to life.
Reading between the lines of this dramatic piece of fiction are carefully researched facts that shed new light on the taming of Tucson, the Arizona frontier town that grew up to be the state’s second largest city.
Now, if Kelland isn’t a name that rolls off your tongue, let me just say, at one time this multi-talented writer was among the most widely read and highest paid authors in the world. His body of work includes 60 best-selling novels, 20 Hollywood movies, over 10 million printed words and more than 400 published short stories. Even so, somehow his impressive body of work slipped through a literary crack in time, earning him the title of America’s Most Forgotten Author. Now’s a good time to rediscover this lost treasure and his prized Arizona novel.
This Arizona book called Arizona, tells the story of a headstrong, young, 19-year-old girl named Phoebe Titus who, along with her father, becomes stranded in a shanty village in the middle of nothing called Tucson.
To survive she bakes pies and sells them to eager Tucsonians at a dollar apiece. It is the beginning of a phenomenal career that is clearly stated on the book’s jacket – The Girl Who Made Pies, Money and American History.
This tough talking, trigger-fast teen (think Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley) is set on running her own ranch and freighting business just when the Civil War was winding down. Swindlers, scalawags, crooked politicians and Apaches couldn’t stop her, but a handsome, young Union army sergeant name of Peter Muncie, came close...
Phoebe stood by the roadside and watched the soldiers enter the town. Riding toward the end of the column was a tall, slim young man, with an angular, handsome, humorous face.
His uniform, worn and dusty, became him, and he sat a horse with ease. She stood tense and still, but concealed beneath the grimness of her face, and the controlled waiting of her eyes was a tumult such as she never had known. It was a strange, even unwelcome, sensation.
It made her knees tremble. And then the eyes of the slim young Sergeant met her eyes…
-from ARIZONA by Clarence Budington Kelland
A book called ARIZONA was published in 1939 by Harper and Brothers Publishers and became a major, best-seller. Later, Columbia Pictures bought the movie rights and built a replica of 1860’s Tucson, where the story unfolds. Jean Arthur was cast in the lead, co-starring with a young, newcomer, William Holden.
When filming ended, Hollywood went home, leaving the wonderful Tucson set to the whims of nature. Fortunately, location scouts soon rediscovered this desert gem and once again the cameras rolled into Old Tucson. Since then, many major motion pictures have been shot here. Old Tucson today is not so much about movie making as it is about making dreams come true for families who want to actually live the western experience.
If you’re ever in the Tucson area, step back in time and visit Old Tucson. You’ll be glad you did!
It was a serendipitous coincidence of events that inspired this Arizona Stories segment. While rummaging through my old books, I was happily surprised to find my old friend, ARIZONA among the stack. It was fun to revisit the characters in the book, which by the way is still available at Amazon.com The next evening I stumbled across ARIZONA - the movie, on TCM, Turner Classic Movies. That little gem provided the perfect ending for my trip down memory lane.