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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Robert W. Service

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.

When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.

Portage Glacier, Alaska, August 1997

My father had three authors that for him, stood above all others; Rudyard Kipling, Zane Grey, and Robert W. Service. I pretty much always shared his love for Kipling. I was not a big fan of Zane Grey since I wasn’t that much of a fan of westerns. As far as Service was concerned, I didn’t really know anything at all about him other than that his poem, The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew was one of Dad’s all time favorites. It was only when I spent a couple of months in Anchorage one summer on a project that I came to learn a bit more about Service and his career. From his wiki intro:

Robert William Service (January 16, 1874 – September 11, 1958) was a British-Canadian poet and writer who has often been called “the Bard of the Yukon”.[1][2] He is best known for his poems “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, from his first book, Songs of a Sourdough (1907; also published as The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses). His vivid descriptions of the Yukon and its people made it seem that he was a veteran of the Klondike gold rush, instead of the late-arriving bank clerk he actually was. “These humorous tales in verse were considered doggerel by the literary set, yet remain extremely popular to this day.”[3]

Service did not write blockbuster, New York Times best sellers. He wrote verses about a time and place just a few years in the past. The Klondike Gold Rush had run from 1896 to 1899. Service arrived in the Yukon in 1904 and published his book of poems Songs of the Sourdough in 1907. The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee were both in this book and are probably Service’s best known poems. The only other poem of his that I am somewhat familiar with is The Men Who Don’t Fit In.

Service’s poems may have been considered “doggerel” and his words downplayed by critics of his day, yet he still was able to capture the allure and the fantasy of a time and place no longer around but still strong in some folks’ memories. His wiki lists 15 books of poems plus another nine collections of his work; six novels; three non-fiction, and seven pieces of music. has two pages of books for him.

His IMDB page lists 19 writing credits with ten of these for movies from 1915 to 1928 and seven of these ten from his poems. There have been eight short films/animations from Service poems with voice work from actors such as Walter Brennan and Bea Benaderet.

Service died in Lancieux, France, at the age of 84 on September 11, 1958.

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Small town Kentucky country boy lived all over the country. Currently in Ruskin, FL