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A.B. Guthrie Jr., 90; Pulitzer Winner Wrote of Old West

April 27, 1991|From Associated Press

CHOTEAU, Mont. — Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist A. B. Guthrie Jr., whose mountain men and settlers showed the grandeur and grimness of the Old West, died Friday. He was 90.

Guthrie, who also wrote the screenplays for the films "Shane" and "The Kentuckian," had been in poor health for several months. He spent his final days at his ranch near Choteau.

Guthrie was famous chiefly for six historical novels that gave a lusty but unromanticized look at the settling of the American West from 1830 to World War II.

The most famous, "The Big Sky," launched his career in 1947, and "The Way West," published in 1949, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1950.

"These Thousand Hills" followed in 1956, and the three are considered Guthrie's finest works. All three were made into movies that Guthrie disliked.

His other historical novels were "Arfive," which won the 1970 Western Heritage Wrangler Award; "The Last Valley" in 1975 and "Fair Land, Fair Land" in 1982.

Guthrie also wrote short stories, essays and mystery novels with a Western setting, the latest being "Murder in the Cotswolds" in 1989. His first novel was a 1943 cow-country whodunit titled "Murders at Moon Dance," but he considered it so bad that he refused to discuss it and often called it "trash."

The love of the landscape that drove Guthrie to write about the West also made him an unabashed environmentalist who warned that "progress" sometimes is not.

A collection of his environmental essays and environmental excerpts from his novels was published in 1988 under the title, "Big Sky, Fair Land."

Guthrie was born Jan. 13, 1901, in Bedford, Ind. His parents brought him to Choteau when he was 6 months old.

He attended the University of Washington in 1919-20 and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Montana in Missoula in 1923.

Guthrie worked on the Lexington (Ky.) Leader from 1926 to 1947 as reporter, city editor, editorial writer and executive editor.

A Nieman fellowship in journalism allowed him a year of study at Harvard University in 1944-45, and Prof. Theodore Morrison, whom Guthrie called "the best writing teacher that ever was," inspired extensive revision of "The Big Sky," which was published two years later.

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