Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Prairie Pet: Marcial Antonio Lafuente Estefania

By Andrea Downing
His is not the first name we think of in relation to western writing, nor is it a name that will trip off the tongue for most of us, but Marcial Antonio Lafuente Estefania was the most prolific of western writers—and he was a Spaniard.
He was born in Toledo, Spain, in 1903, and went on to study Industrial Engineering, a profession he practiced not only in Spain but in Angola, Latin America,  and the USA as well. His time in the US, between 1928 and 1931, allowed him to travel the West, an experience he never forgot and would eventually put to good use.
When the Spanish Civil War erupted, Estefania served as an artillery officer on the side of the Republicans.  At the end of the war, he refused to leave Spain and was subsequently jailed and intermittently threatened with death. Forbidden to return to engineering, Estefania started to write—an occupation his father, a lawyer, had also followed. His books were what Americans might call ‘dime novels’—kiosk novels in Spanish, and were initially romances written under the name of his wife, Maria Luisa Beorlegui.  With the success of those, he moved on to adventure books using pseudonyms such as Tony Spring, Arizona, and Dan Lewis, and these eventually evolved into the westerns for which he became famous. His first western, The Prairie Pet, was published in 1943.

How did Estefania get his ideas, sitting there in Spain? For one thing, he used an atlas, a history book, and a phone book, as well as his own in-depth knowledge of the Spanish Golden Age, which stories he transferred to the American West. Most of the plot lines were repeated in slightly altered forms—and no wonder, when his publisher at the time, Bruguera, demanded a novella a week.  The books had ‘dime novel’ covers, kitsch and suggestive.
The language is fast-paced and also outlandish, but the books flew off the kiosks.  Estefania was only one such author at the time; the inability to return to their previous lives left many lawyers, doctors, and other professionals with no choice other than to try their hand at writing, and write they did. Authors like Silver Kane and Keith Luger emerged from the Republican army into the American West. Hard-bitten cowboys, rustlers, corrupt marshals and sheriffs, Native Americans, and soiled doves can all be found on the pages of these novels—with the good guy always winning at the end.  Republican attitudes were hidden in the storylines, and high moral principles were never violated.
By the time Estefania had passed on in 1984, his sons had taken up the profession and continued the stories under his name. Starting in 1958, a story may have been written by the father or one of his sons, Francisco or Federico; grandson Francisco continued along with uncle Federico in his seventies, bringing more than sixty-four years and no less than 3,000 titles of novels by Estefania. This eventually resulted in some fifty million books sold!
When Estefania started in Spain, there was no copyright. His books were sold for a single fee to the publishing house.  Translation rights?  Forget it. All Estefania knew was that some books were available in Brazil, but as to sales, nothing—and no knowledge of what Bruguera was earning from his work. If Estefania needed money for a car or a down payment on a house, the publisher would lend him the money against future earnings. It is no wonder then that Bruguera disappeared in the 1980s under a financial cloud. 

The family business was eventually moved to Editions B but sales slowly dropped below 10K with the advent of other forms of entertainment—television mainly. Federico then ran his own publishing house, Ediciones Cies, and continued to knock out stories on an old Olivetti, the sound of the keys being similar to gunshot in his mind. While the highest sales had been in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with WEEKLY print runs of 100K, the novels continue to be popular today with the Latino population in the USA, despite the fact, as with many westerns, Latin heroes never play a role. Current print runs of the reissued classics reaching 200K are not infrequent, but remember that these novellas are only around one hundred pages and quick to read.  Digital versions were being considered to reach the wider market.

While the books are banned in both Venezuela and Cuba due to their pro-American stories, in Spain alone approximately 2,500,000 copies are still sold per year.  If one includes Latin America, the number is apparently practically double. Keep in mind that the company publishes approximately three hundred of the titles per annum, now grouped into collections such as Aces of the West, Bison, Heroes of the Prairie, and so on. And while there are no new titles now being written, the pulp fiction covers remain the same.

My thanks to Hernando Saffon Salazar for bringing Estefania to my attention, and to Daniel Saffon Laverde and Cristal Downing for help with translating certain research from the Spanish.
To see my own books, please check out my Amazon page at https://www.amazon.com/Andrea-Downing/e/B008MQ0NXS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Photo’s original source unknown.  No copyright infringement intended.




6 comments:

Julie Lence said...

Hi Andrea: I never heard of him or his books, but what a man! I'm in awe of the many works he wrote, and to his children for carrying on the tradition. Love the covers. So vivid in color; I may have to look for him on Amazon. Hugs and thank you for introducing him.

Andrea Downing said...

You're very welcome Julie. I thought he was a real find, and very interesting with his background.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

What a little known publishing fact. Thanks for sharing, Andrea. As with many things, truth is far stranger than fiction lol.

Andrea Downing said...

Kristy, you're right! It is strange that the western has such a following internationally; one would think it is a very North American genre. But I guess these stories blend excitement and adventure and have universal themes.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

What a strange and interesting writer's story. I never heard of him. Love those covers!

Andrea Downing said...

Yes, the "Indian' one is particularly fetching. One can just envisage these on a kiosk in Madrid or something. And I thought 'Comarca sin Ley' looks like Brett Maverick--wouldn't be surprised if they used James Garner as the model!