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Clair Huffaker; Wrote Western Books, Scripts

April 06, 1990|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clair Huffaker, a Western novelist and screenwriter who scripted such classics as "The War Wagon" and "The Comancheros," has died. He was 63.

Huffaker died Tuesday of an aneurysm in Norris Hospital at County-USC Medical Center, where he had been since March 30 for a series of tests, his wife, Norma, said Thursday.

Born Sept. 24, 1926, in Magna, Utah, Huffaker attended Princeton and Columbia universities and the Sorbonne in Paris. He worked in Chicago as an assistant editor for Time magazine before turning to fiction.

Huffaker's stream of novels, many reprinted a decade ago, began in 1957 with "Rider From Thunder Mountain" and "Badge for a Gunfighter."

He converted his 1958 novel "Badman" into a screenplay for the 1967 film "The War Wagon," starring John Wayne. The novel was later reprinted under the film's title.

In 1961, Huffaker co-authored the screenplay for "The Comancheros" with James Edward Grant, adapting the story from a novel by Paul I. Wellman.

Other movies for which Huffaker wrote screenplays based on his own novels included "Seven Ways From Sundown," "Posse From Hell," "Rio Conchos" and "Flap," which in book form was titled "Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian."

Huffaker often adapted his Western themes and positive values to contemporary topics, including the 1970s detente between the United States and the Soviet Union.

His novel "The Cowboy and the Cossack" in 1973 was set in 1880 czarist Siberia but contained clear political allegories with the communists' dependence on U.S. wheat and fear of Chinese aggression.

"Beneath the flabby sentiment is a sinewy story that should appeal to the armchair political analyst as well as the casual cowboy," wrote Ben Reuven in a Los Angeles Times review of the book.

A prolific writer, Huffaker also regularly contributed articles and short stories to several magazines.

He started his own film production company in 1969.

Survivors in addition to his wife are a daughter from a previous marriage, Samantha Clair Kirkeby, and a sister, Nancy Fletcher of Salt Lake City.

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